How to set your heart rate zones, power zones, and pace zones
If you're new to training with data sensors - such as a heart rate monitor, cycling power meter, or GPS watch - you may be unfamiliar with how to use these tools effectively. One critical area you'll need to learn about is training zones, and how to set your zones properly.
Why is setting training zones important?
Simply put: the effort you perceive on a workout is probably not the actual effort. Numerous studies have shown that humans are very poor judges of perceived effort. To that effect you need to know if you’re on target, overtraining, or undertraining. By measuring our heart’s response (or power output) to an actual training session we can get a more precise measurement of effort.
How do I find my heart rate zones?
There are many methods. But all of them depend on finding your personal range of heart hate beats per minute (BPM). The upper and lower end is called resting and maximum heart rate. So let’s find those first.
Find your resting heart rate
Measure your pulse first thing in the morning before you get out of bed using a stopwatch. Count the number of beats in 20 seconds and multiply by 3. For example if you count 17 beats your resting heart rate is 51.
Find your maximum heart rate
The best known formula to calculate your maximum heart rate is (220 – age). The formula has been around for ages but research has shown this is a terrible estimate. Assuming you have a heart rate monitor (HRM) you can do much better with a maximal heart rate stress test.
Before a time trial test, make sure you are in good health, well rested, not injured or haven’t raced recently.
Start by warming up for 5 minutes. Then, do two intervals each 4 minutes long. During the intervals you should be at 85% of full effort – not able to talk for lack of breath. Between the intervals do 3 minutes of “active rest”. Start the third interval and after 2 minutes go “all out” until you can’t continue. Your maximum heart rate will be recorded by your HRM, and you can review the workout afterwards in SportTracks to see your maximum heart rate.
Joe Friel’s heart rate zones
With your resting and maximum heart rate you can use any of a variety of methods to determine our training zones. To illustrate we’re going to use Joe Friel’s training zones. Joe’s zones are based on finding your lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR). To estimate your LTHR you can do a 30 minute time trial and measure your average heart rate for the last 20 minutes. You can either use the lap function on your GPS watch for this, or the segment selection tools in SportTracks.
Another trial test? Well… unfortunately yes. But if you are a reasonably fit individual you can estimate it at 85% of your maximum heart rate.
LTHR = 0.85 * HR Max
And with your LTHR you can determine your zones. Go to the My Account page in SportTracks and click the Training tab to set your heart rate zones.
Zone 1 = less than 85% of LTHR
Zone 2 = 85% to 90% of LTHR
Zone 3 = 90% to 95% of LTHR
Zone 4 = 95% to 100% of LTHR
Zone 5 = 100% to 105% of LTHR
If you’re a multisport athlete, your heart rate zones will be considerably lower when cycling compared to running. To get accurate cycling zones you should do a 30 minute cycling time trial to find your cycling LTHR, then do the same calculations above.
How do I find my cycling power zones?
A cycling power meter is another sensor to measure your effort output. Similar to heart rate zones, you will need to first find your range of power output. For cycling you need to find the functional threshold power (FTP), which is just the average power watts based on a 30 minute time trial. Once you have determined your FTP, use Joe Friel’s zones below:
Zone 1 = less than 55% of FTP
Zone 2 = 55% to 74% of FTP
Zone 3 = 75% to 89% of FTP
Zone 4 = 90% to 104% of FTP
Zone 5 = 105% to 120% of FTP
Zone 6 = more than 120% of FTP
You can set these zones in the My Account > Training page by clicking the power icon at the top of the page.
How do I find my pace training zones?
The methodology for pace zones is similar to heart rate and power. Determine your pace zones with a 30 minute time trial, using the average pace for the entire time in the calculation below:
Zone 1 = slower than 129% of trial pace
Zone 2 = 114% to 129% of trial pace
Zone 3 = 106% to 113% of trial pace
Zone 4 = 99% to 105% of trial pace
Zone 5 = 97% to 100% of trial pace
Analyzing training zone performance
Once you've set your zones, you can see your time in each zone for a particular workout by going to the workout and clicking the Analysis tab.
Here you'll see a breakdown of each zone which allows you to target your workout intensity precisely. And more importantly, make sure your actual workouts are meeting your performance goals. Using zone training you can maximize your training effectiveness and make sure you're getting quality workouts.
Ready to started with heart rate training?
We recommend the Garmin Forerunner 220 as a great entry into GPS HRM watches for runners.