Ask most people how hard you should exercise and most people will just tell you to keep your heart rate between 60 to 90-percent of your maximum heart rate. While this is good advice, it’s also very broad. Sixty-percent is very much down at the easy end of the intensity spectrum and ninety-percent is almost the top.
There are five recognized training zones that can be applied to any type of cardio exercise – running, cycling, swimming, rowing or anything else. Using these zones means you can tailor your training to suit your goals, whether it be it weight loss or sports performance related goals. You can use various ways to help you measure how hard you’re exercising.
THE RECOVERY ZONE – 50% to 60% of MHR
Very easy workout. Good for beginners and for warm-up/ recovery
As the name suggests, this training zone is very low intensity and will put more into your body than it takes out. Your pace will be slow and your heart rate will be around 50 to 60-percent of your maximum. In terms of RPE (a 6 to 20 scale of perceived exercise intensity) you should feel as though you are working at around 6 to 9. Training in zone one should allow you to exercise for a long period of time. This type of training is ideal for the days following a very tough interval training session or race and is also ideal if you haven’t exercised for a long time.
AEROBIC THRESHOLD ZONE – 60% to 70% of MHR
Comfortable workout designed to put in more than they take out.
This zone will develop your basic long-haul fitness and is the cornerstone of most endurance athlete’s training. In this zone, your heart rate should be around 60 to 75-percent of your maximum. This type of training is commonly called long, slow distance training or LSD for short. This zone is the most commonly used training zone and many people fall into the LSD trap by doing too much of their training at this level. Although beneficial, training at LSD pace will train your body to run/cycle/swim etc a long way slowly. LSD workouts can last several hours depending on your fitness. If you want to increase your fitness levels, you need to move up and out of this zone from time to time. Your RPE should be around 11 – 12 when exercising in this zone.
AEROBIC ZONE OR LACTATE/ ANAEROBIC THRESHOLD – 70% to 80% of MHR
Comfortable enough workout to hold a conversation. Workouts will improve cardiovascular fitness and endurance. Most training is done in this zone.
Also known as speed endurance, zone three elevates your heart rate to between 75 to 90-percent of your maximum. Your RPE should be around 13 to 15. This causes a significant rise in lactic acid which is the stuff that makes your muscles burn. Used for a type of fast, sustained training called tempo training, exercising in zone three will increase your top-end fitness where level two increases your ability to keep on keeping on. Zone three workouts are generally shorter than zone one and two workouts because the intensity is much higher; 20 to 40 minutes is typical. When training in this zone, you should feel you are working at close to your maximum sustainable pace and that going any faster will force you to slow down because of fatigue. Think of zone three as being race pace workouts.
ANAEROBIC ZONE – 80% to 90% of MHR
Comfortably hard workout. Workouts tend to be shorter or broken up with periods of rest i.e. interval training. High intensity exercise where oxygen is in short supply and lactic acid is produced.
In this zone, you are dipping your toe into anaerobic (or without oxygen) energy production. You aren’t quite flat out but you are very close. Your pace should be sustainable for up to three minutes but only just. In athletics, this zone is representative of 400 and 800 meter running and boxing is also a good example of a zone four activity. RPE for this zone should be 16 to 17 and your heart rate will probably hit 95-percent of maximum. Training in zone four usually involves interval training – periods of exercise interspersed with periods of rest. For example, you may run 400-meters as fast as you can and then rest three minutes before repeating.
RED LINE ZONE – 90% to 100% of MHR
Sprinting and other high-intensity workouts that are exclusively anaerobic.
Where zone four is sustainable for several minutes, zone five is only sustainable for several seconds; think flat-out sprinting. This means that your heart rate might not actually get chance to respond to your sudden short burst of RPE 19+ activity. However, as you are (or should be) working as hard as you possibly can, your heart rate may well hit 100-percent of your maximum heart rate once you stop your sprint. A 100-meter track sprint is a good example of a zone five activity. Like zone four, interval training is the name of the game for level five although work periods will be shorter; ten seconds of work alternated with 60-second recoveries are appropriate for this training zone.
Check out how to measure exercise intensity, so you know how hard you’re exercising and which zone you’re in. There are several very easy ways in which you can measure exercise intensity.