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Heart Rate Zones


Updated May 16, 2014

Mio Alpha Strapless Continuous Heart Rate Monitor Watch

Heart Rate Monitor

Wendy Bumgardner © 2013

If you divide heart rate target zones by percentage of maximum heart rate, it breaks out into five zones. Each zone has different benefits.

Healthy Heart Zone

  • This zone is 50 to 60% of your maximum heart rate. This is an easy and comfortable zone to exercise in.
  • You will be able to carry on a full conversation in this zone, although you may be breathing a little heavier than usual.
  • Walkers are often in this zone unless they press themselves to walk faster. Fitness walkers may alternate days of walking in this zone with days of exercising in the higher heart rate zones, to give a recovery/easy day.
  • Your workout in this zone is less intense and won't give the most cardiorespiratory training benefits. But studies have shown that it works to help decrease body fat, blood pressure and cholesterol.
  • In this zone, the body derives it energy by burning 10% carbohydrates, 5% protein and 85% fat.
  • Healthy Heart Walking Workout

Fitness Zone

  • This zone is from 60 to 70% of your maximum heart rate.
  • You will be breathing heavier but will still be able to speak in short sentences.
  • You burn more calories per minute than in the healthy heart zone because the exercise is a little more intense - you are going faster and therefore covering more distance. The calories burned depend on the distance you cover and your weight more than any other factors.
  • In this zone, your body fuels itself with 85% fat, 5% protein, and 10% carbohydrate.
  • You get the same health benefits and fat-burning benefits as the healthy heart zone.
  • Fat-Burning Walking Workout

Aerobic Zone

  • This zone is from 70-80% of your maximum heart rate.
  • You will be breathing very hard and able only to speak in short phrases.
  • This is the zone to aim for when training for endurance. It spurs your body to improve your circulatory system by building new blood vessels, and increases your heart and lung capacity.
  • Aiming for 20 to 60 minutes in this zone is believed to give the best fitness training benefits.
  • You burn 50% of your calories from fat, 50% from carbohydrate, and less than 1% from protein.
  • With the increase in intensity, you burn more calories in the same amount of time, as you are covering more distance in that same time. Calories burned depend most on distance and your weight. If you go further in the same time, you burn more calories per minute.
  • You may not be able to achieve this heart rate by walking, you may have to use racewalking technique or switch to jogging to get into this heart rate zone.
  • Aerobic Walking Workout

Anaerobic Zone - Threshold Zone

  • This zone is 80 to 90% of your maximum heart rate.
  • You will be unable to speak except a single, gasped word at a time.
  • This intense exercise will improve the amount of oxygen you can consume - your VO2 maximum.
  • This exertion level takes you to the limit where your body begins to produce lactic acid. Racewalkers use this zone to build their ability to go even faster.
  • Workouts in this heart rate zone should be in the 10 to 20 minute range, or part of an interval training workout.
  • You burn more calories per minute than with the lower heart rate workouts, as you are covering more distance per minute.
  • The body burns 85% carbohydrates, 15% fat and less than 1% protein in this zone.
  • You may not be able to achieve this heart rate by walking, you may need to use the racewalking technique or switch to jogging/running.
  • Anaerobic Threshold Walking Workout

Red-Line Zone

  • The top zone is from 90 to 100% of your maximum heart rate. You can't go any higher, and most people can't stay in this zone for more than a few minutes.
  • You will be unable to speak except for gasping single words.
  • This zone should only be used for short bursts during interval training, where you work intensely for a minute and then drop back down to a lower intensity for several minutes, and repeat.
  • You should consult with your doctor to ensure you can work out at such a high heart rate safely.
  • While you burn lots of calories per minute in this zone, 90% of them are carbohydrates, 10% fats, and less than 1% protein.

Varying Your Workout

Which zone should you work out in? It is best to vary your workouts for length and intensity, and allow a recovery day between days of intense exercise in the aerobic, anaerobic, and red-line zone. Racewalker Dave McGovern has a suggested weekly walking workout schedule which varies the workouts for intensity and heart rate to improve speed, endurance and distance capacity.

Sources: Chad Tackett, Global Health and Fitness, 1998. Dave McGovern racewalking workshop, 1999.

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