As a runner, heart rate monitors are great devices that can help you train because they let you know when you are working too hard or not running hard enough.
They aren’t fooled by weather, terrain or your level of fatigue going into a workout; they know exactly how hard you are working at any given moment no matter the conditions.
The problem, of course, is how do you interpret what the heart rate monitor is telling you? Having a heart rate of 165 beats per minute may be an all out sprint for one person but could be a leisurely jog for somebody else. (Okay, the extremes in heart rates aren’t nearly the same thing as the extremes in running pace, but it is still a very individual number.)
The most common method is to train at a percentage of your effective max heart rate.
So, if you had an effective maximum heart rate of 180 beats per minute, an 80-85% effort would mean that you were running between 144-153 beats per minute during your workout. Personally, I think that that is too easy and isn’t going to help you reach the gains you are looking for in your training.
Another method to calculate your heart rate zones is to use the Zoladz Method, which is simply to delete the target number of beats from your max heart rate and try to stay within 5 beats per minute of that number. The training zones and heart rate values in the Zoladz method are:
- Easy/Warm-up: 50 bpm
- Moderate: 40 bpm
- Aerobic: 30 bpm
- Anaerobic: 20 bpm
- All-Out: 10 bpm
For example, if you want to run at an aerobic pace and have an effective max heart rate of 180 beats per minute, then the formula would be:
180 max bpm – 30 bpm +/- 5 bpm = 150 bpm +/- 5 bpm = 145-155 bpm as your target range.
The best method, however, is the Karvonen Method.
By using the Karvonen Method, you take into account not only your max heart rate, but also your current level of fitness as determined by your resting heart rate. Instead of treating your max heart rate as a total of what your heart rate is capable of, you would instead find your training zone based only on the difference between your resting heart rate.
The formula, then, would be: Effort Level * (Max Heart Rate – Resting Heart Rate) + Resting Heart Rate.
So, if you wanted to work out at 80-85% effort and your effective max heart rate is 180 beats per minute, and your resting heart rate is 70 beats per minute, then the formula would be:
Minimum: 0.8 * (180-70) + 70 = 0.8 * 110 + 70 = 88 + 70 = 158 beats per minute
Maximum: 0.85 * (180-70) + 70 = 0.85 * 110 + 70 = 94 + 70 = 164 beats per minute
So, for a max heart rate of 180 beats per minute and a resting heart rate of 70 beats per minute, an 80%-85% effort workout would have you running between 158-164 beats per minute after your warmup and before your cooldown.
Obviously, those numbers would change based on your effort level and your own max and resting heart rates, but the Karvonen Method is able to best account for your level of fitness and current fatigue levels when trying to find the right training zones on any given day.