Training Zones

Before you can align your workouts with training zones, you'll need to understand your own heart rate. Visit my page on heart rate training to learn more. If you already understand and know your resting heart rate (RHR), working heart rate (WHR) and maximum heart rate (MHR), read on.

For starters, I recommend breaking your week up into a minimum of two aerobic workouts (Zone 3) and two anaerobic workouts (Zone 4). There are more than these two zones, and you are certainly not limited to four workouts per week. However, it is important to allow proper rest time. You should typically allow one day of rest per week. Below I list the five heart rate training zones in detail. Each zone is determined by one of the following: your maximum heart rate, your VO2 Max or the RPE Scale.

Zone #1: Warm-Up
  • MHR: 50-60%
  • VO2: <48%
  • Lactate Concentration: <2mmol/l
  • RPE: 6-9
  • Description of RPE: easy, talking very comfortable, hardly notice breathing
  • Result: more fat burned, approximately 4 calories/minute (150lb person)
  • Exercise Type: light effort - warm-up, cool down, rehabilitation
  • Duration: 15-30 minutes
  • Benefits: prepare for harder exercise, improved self-esteem, stress reduction, blood chemistry, get fit
Zone #2: Recovery
  • MHR: 60-70%
  • VO2: 48-60%
  • Lactate Concentration: 2-3mmol/l
  • RPE: 10-12
  • Description of RPE: easy to somewhat hard, comfortable talking, aware of breathing
  • Result: mostly fat burned, approximately 7 calories/minute (150lb person)
  • Exercise Type: moderate effort - long, slow distance, recovery and regeneration
  • Duration: 60 minutes
  • Benefits: improves the heart's ability to pump blood and improves the muscles' ability to utilize oxygen - the body becomes more efficient at feeding the working muscles and learns to metabolize fat as a source of fuel
Zone #3: Aerobic
  • MHR: 70-80%
  • VO2: 60-73%
  • Lactate Concentration: 3-4 mmol/l
  • RPE: 13-14
  • Description of RPE: somewhat hard to hard, very aware of breathing, still comfortable to talk
  • Result: nearly equal amounts of carbohydrate and fat burned, approximately 10 calories/minute (150lb person)
  • Exercise Type: upper moderate effort - endurance and steady state
  • Duration: 45 minutes
  • Benefits: increases your cardio-respiratory capacity (your ability to transport oxygenated blood to the muscle cells and carbon dioxide away from the cells) and increases overall muscle strength - most effective for overall cardiovascular fitness
Zone #4: Anaerobic
  • MHR: 80-90%
  • VO2: 73-86%
  • Lactate Concentration: 4-8 mmol/l
  • RPE: 15-16
  • Description of RPE: hard to very hard, can still talk but not comfortably
  • Result: more carbohydrate than fat burned, approximately 15 calories/minute (150lb person)
  • Exercise Type: hard effort - time trials, intervals, tempo, hill work
  • Duration: 10-20 minute pieces
  • Benefits: increases the lactate threshold (the point at which the body cannot remove lactic acid as quickly as it is produced), which improves performance
Zone #5: VO2 Max
  • MHR: 90-100%
  • VO2: 86-100%
  • Lactate Concentration: >8mmol/l
  • RPE: 17-20
  • Description of RPE: Very, very hard to maximal, can't talk except for short phrases
  • Result: mostly carbohydrates burned, approximately 20 calories/minute (150lb person)
  • Exercise Type: maximum effort - sprinting, high speed intervals
  • Duration: 1-7 minute pieces (lactic acid develops quickly as you are operating in oxygen debt to the muscles)
  • Benefit: increase fast twitch muscle fibers, which increases speed
Typical Week
Given all of the above information, what would a typical week look like? Below is a guide that I use, but please note that it is not the blueprint for every week. Aerobic workouts can be substituted anywhere. I would tend to substitute it on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. An anaerobic workout could be substituted in on Saturday. Again, this is a general guide, not the rule.

Looking for an easy way to calculate your heart rate zones for your training? Click on the link below to download my Excel-based Training Zone Heart Rate Calculator.

3-Fitness Triathlon & Personal Training, USAT Coach Ken Johnson
Sweat 365, Lisa Sabin
Sports Coach, Brian Mackenzie

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