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Curating your training based on Heart Rate Zones

After the blog regarding HR zone based training was published, we got requests from many of you to extend it to a sport as an example so that you can try implementing it in your own routine. So here we are, with this piece for you. If you haven’t gone through HR Zones - The Fundamentals, we highly recommend you read it first and then come back to this page to get a better grip on what we are discussing today. The earlier blog explained why HR zone-based training is important to peak performance while avoiding injury and how to calculate one’s HR zones and use them in training.

Now let’s assume you are a 30-year-old marathon runner (amateur). Your theoretical maximum heart rate is calculated as

HR max = 220–30 = 190 bpm

Your various HR Zones will be at

Training modes in various Heart Rate Zones

Zone 1

Effort required in this zone is very less. You can train n this zone throughout the year in the following modes.

(a) On training days: If you are planning to conduct a total of 90 minutes of the running/ workout session on your training days, then the initial 10–15 minutes of the total duration you should be spending in zone 1 to perform general and specific warm-up. You can include general warm-up such as all joint movements (shoulder rotations, arm swings, neck rotations, wrist movements, pelvic rotations, trunk bending, hip rotations, leg swings), brisk walking, jogging and skipping. Specific warm-ups help improve your overall training and includes squats, lunge walking, backward walking, side walking, dynamic stretches, high knees and butt kicks. After completing your training, 10–15 minutes of cool-down including slow walking, static stretching and breathing exercises needs to be performed in this zone.

(b) On recovery day (i.e. a rest day after a workout day): After heavy training, you can conduct 60–90 minutes of short recovery session completely in this zone. The recovery training can include active recoveries such as brisk walking, yoga, indoor/outdoor cycling, or passive recoveries like contrast bath or a massage session.

Zone 2

The intensity in this zone is below the aerobic threshold and therefore the effort required in Zone 2 is easy. The majority of your marathon training, as well as the maximum distance of any marathon, will be covered under this zone. Zone 2 training helps to improve endurance without much need for recovery.

In a 90-minute duration training, about 30 minutes can be excluded for a warm-up and cool down, and the remaining 60 minutes of training can be done in this zone if you are focusing on endurance training. You can add different Zone 2 training methods such as swimming, cycling and bodyweight training to improve your overall endurance capacity. As an example, if you are planning to go for a 5 km running, then run in this zone for almost all the time. Even while doing the training, almost the entire duration minus the warm up and cool down time should be in this zone.

Zone 3

The intensity in this zone reaches the aerobic threshold level, and therefore the effort required is moderate to hard. Don’t try to push yourself in this zone for more time as this results in fatigue and you would require more time to recover from the training effort. Zone 3 doesn’t give much improvement in continuous running outcomes. Instead, give short intervals of this Zone 3 while doing long easy running in Zone 2 as this zone helps to improve interval training.

In your 90 minutes of total running, you can take 2–3 sets of 3 minutes each in Zone 3 while continuing to spend majority of your running in Zone 2. If you are a marathon runner, you only need to go up to your Zone 3 during your training. But, transitioning to an upper zone of heart rate or should happen very gradually and without forcing yourself. Let’s assume that you are planning to improve your training duration in Zone 3. Taking the above example of a 30 year old runner, your Zone 3 limits are 151- 164 bpm. During those short bouts of Zone 3, you can run until you reach 164 bpm, followed by walking to bring back the heart rate to 151 bpm and later back to Zone 2.

Zone 4 and Zone 5

You have to be highly cautious while training in these zones. These zones are meant for highly trained athletes. If you are a novel athlete and are pushing yourself in these zones then you may land up in injuries. These zones are to be touched after spending sufficient time in the above 3 zones. Zone 5 are almost always used by sprinters.

One should spend the minimal amount of training time in this zone followed by adequate relaxation. If you are a runner who is planning to get trained for small to medium-distance running or sprinting where the duration of the competition is less, these zones are beneficial for you. But, training in these zones should start at least 8–12 weeks before the main competition. Professional marathon runners make use of these zones once in a while to improve their aerobic capacity.

Based on the type of sport you are playing or the type of goal you would want to achieve, you have to curate your training. We hope that this piece helped you do exactly that. :)

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