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Heart rate zones: what and how can you calculate them?

If you've ever been on a treadmill, chances are you've already seen heart rate zones pass by. This also applies to people who train with a heart rate monitor or simply people who are engaged in sports and their condition. Heart rate zones can provide insight into the intensity of your training and the effect of this training.

In this blog, we explain what the different zones of your heart rate are, what you can do with them, and how you can calculate them. Then you can get started with your training informed afterward!

What are heart rate zones?

Heart rate zones are different zones of your heart rate, each of which has its own effect. This is displayed on a percentage basis. Your heart rate, on the other hand, is expressed in bpm. This stands for beats per minute and literally means how many times your heart beats per minute. A heart rate zone is a percentage boxed zone of your heart rate, based on the number of times your heart beats per minute.

Heart rate zones
Source Image: https://cdn.pixabay.com/photo/2018/04/10/22/57/clock-3309121_960_720.jpg

The Dutch Heart Foundation indicates that you can estimate a maximum heart rate by means of a simple calculation. You have to subtract your age from the number 220. For example, are you 25 years old? Then your maximum heart rate is about 220 – 25 = 195. If you know how high your maximum heart rate is, it is a lot easier to determine which heart rate zone you are in. More about that further in this blog. We now first explain which different heart rate zones there are.

What heart rate zones are there?

There are 5 heart rate zones that are universally used. We have detailed the different zones below so that you can read what each zone actually entails. Each zone has its own function and therefore different benefits. The percentages you see are based on your maximum heart rate.

Zone 1: 50% to 60%

The first heart rate zone is logically zone 1. It starts at 50% of your maximum heart rate and ends at 60%. You can see this as a light effort, such as a brisk walk or slow jogging. Think of a heart rate that you want to achieve when you are warming up.

This heart rate zone will be able to contribute to physical recovery in the event of muscle pain, for example, by stimulating blood circulation. Furthermore, this will have little effect on your condition or fat burning. Of course, you do burn calories if you go for a walk or jog within this heart rate zone, so it can also contribute if you want to lose weight.

Zone 2: 60% to 70%

Number 2 of the different heart rate zones cover 60% to 70% of your maximum heart rate. This zone will also be easy to reach for most people. You probably won't be able to reach this zone by walking alone. You should therefore be working more intensively, which means that you really have to train to reach this zone.

You will notice that your breathing increases and that talking becomes slightly more difficult, but is still possible. Around 70% of your maximum heart rate is considered an ideal heart rate if you want to encourage your fat burning. Is this the goal of your training? Then make sure your heart rate stays around this percentage.

Zone 3: 70% to 80%

The 3rd heart rate zone is where it starts to get more challenging. You have to make a moderately intensive effort to get to this zone. Think of running at a reasonable pace or a good step on the Stairmaster.

Your breathing will become shorter again, causing you to breathe more heavily. Having a conversation is still possible, but not really comfortable anymore. At the bottom of this zone, the fat burning will be stimulated, but the more it goes towards 80%, the more you are mainly concerned with improving your condition. All in all, a good heart rate zone if you want to both burn fat and improve your fitness.

Zone 4: 80% to 90%

The 4th of all heart rate zones start at 80% of your maximum heart rate and end at 90%. You can only reach this zone with intensive efforts, such as brisk running or interval training. This zone ensures that your breathing becomes very short so that breathing through your nose will no longer be possible and you will start to pant a lot.

It will be almost impossible to carry on a conversation, but you can still pronounce a number of words. This is a good heart rate zone for building your fitness, but there is a catch. In most cases, it will not be possible to stay in this heart rate zone for a long time. Interval training or circuit training is a good method to reach heart rate zone 4 at various short moments.

Zone 5: 90% to 100%

The last zone of heart rate zones is zone 5. This zone goes from 90% of your maximum heart rate to 100%. In other words, the absolute maximum you can handle. This is a zone that you do not want and cannot sustain for long. This is particularly interesting for people who train intensively for a competition, such as a marathon. For people who train recreationally, it is a lot less interesting to reach this zone.

In this zone, it will no longer be possible to talk to people and you will be panting profusely. You can keep this up for short periods, making this zone also suitable for interval training. It is also recommended that only experienced athletes seek this limit, possibly under the guidance of an expert.

How can you calculate heart rate zones?

Now that we know what heart rate zones are and how we can subdivide them, it is of course interesting to find out how to calculate them. After all, you have to find out in a certain way which zone you are in. Below we have worked out in three simple steps how you can arrive at your current heart rate zone.

Step 1: Calculate your maximum heart rate

First of all, you need to know your maximum heart rate. So there is the following calculation for this: 220 – your age = your maximum heart rate. Let's take a 25-year-old man as an example. 220 – 25 is a maximum heart rate of 195. Now that we know that 195 is our test subject's maximum heart rate, we just need to use something to calculate the heart rate.

Step 2: Calculate your current heart rate

You now need to find out what your current heart rate is. You can do this in several ways. One of the most popular ways is to wear a smartwatch. With such a watch you can measure all kinds of things, including your heart rate. You should of course have a smartwatch that has this option, but nowadays almost all of them have it.

In addition to the watches, there are also heart rate monitors for your upper arm or chest. You can then connect this to your phone via Bluetooth so that your heart rate is constantly monitored during the effort. After this effort, you can easily view all data on your phone.

Do you train on a treadmill, stair master, or another device? Then take a look at the options of this device, because there is a good chance that it also contains sensors to measure your heart rate. You need to grab both sensors with your hands, after which the device measures the heart rate via your hands.

Step 3: Calculate your heart rate zone

The final step of the heart rate zone calculation is the actual calculation itself. You now calculate what percentage your current heart rate is from your maximum heart rate. We again take the example of the 25-year-old man. He is running and has a heart rate of 145. His maximum heart rate is 195. We divide 145 by 195 and then multiply it by 100. So the calculation is as follows: 145/195 x 100 = 74%.

We can now compare this with the different heart rate zones that we discussed earlier in this blog. A heart rate of 70% falls neatly between 70% and 80%. We can therefore conclude that the 25-year-old man is in heart rate zone 3. His running training is therefore fairly intensive.

Now you can easily calculate for yourself which heart rate zone you are in. The only thing you may still need to purchase is a smartwatch or heart rate monitor.

Also interesting: Condition tests, what are there?

Why should you measure heart rate zones?

Now we only have the question: why go to all that trouble to measure your heart rate zone? The answer is actually very simple. It provides more insight into your training. So you have more knowledge and you can use this to make your training more efficient.

Suppose you want to focus on improving your fitness. You're doing a workout and you think you're doing the right thing. After calculating your heart rate zone, you find out that you are only just in zone 3. Ideally, you should increase the intensity of your training a bit, so that your heart rate is just a little higher. By finding out your heart rate zone, you can make your training more effective.

You can also keep track of the heart rate zones you reach, in order to slowly intensify your training and reach higher zones. The more you know, the more you can tinker with your workouts. This is of course not interesting for everyone, but if you would like more insight into your training sessions, calculating heart rate zones is certainly a good option.


Source: Heart Foundation. Heart rate during exercise: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/target-heart-rates

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