HR Zones Explained

by Natalie Johnston

Heart Rate Zones

How do you train? Do you just go out and run for a specific set of miles? Minutes? Do you tend to run by how you feel on any given day, a specific pace, or maybe even power training? As a coach, I try to take a holistic approach to training my athletes. Meaning, there are multiple ways you can track your training and performance including heart rate.

Now there are pluses and minuses to solely using heart rate training alone; however, I still believe it is a good tool in your tool box, and here is why.


  • Great for beginners learning their zones and their bodies limits. It helps them to become more connected to how they feel and get more of an idea how their body is responding.
  • Good indicator for recovery. If your RHR (Resting Heart Rate) is becoming elevated and your runs themselves are ranging on the higher side, most likely your body is saying,”Take a chill pill and rest, or run slower.”
  • Good for keeping you on a specific target and goal instead of running as fast as you can each time you run. Most tend to run harder than they should especially on easier days. Training with HR keeps us more honest.
  • Can be used as a progress tool. If your heart rate is decreasing on your runs and your pace is starting to become easier, could be a good indicator that one’s aerobic fitness has improved.
  • Teaches new runners to to be safer on hot days due to its propensity to increase.


  • Heart rate tends to lag behind. When you increase the intensity suddenly, it takes some time for heart rate to climb to the level that it will ultimately plateau. This can make heart rate unreliable during short intense intervals.
  • Heart rate also tends to drifts. Heart rate drift refers to the natural increase in heart rate despite little or no change in pace. This drift is connected with an increase in core temperature and body water losses, resulting in an elevation of heart rate. While this drift happens under most conditions, it is significantly worse in hot and humid climates. Pay close attention to your hydration to slow the rate at which your heart rate drifts.
  • Heart rate monitors aren’t always accurate.

Pro/Con (Could be viewed as both):

  • Your heart rate response is related to many factors (fatigue, caffeine, stress, temperature, etc) therefore these factors can cause your heart rate to become elevated making it seem your may have worked harder than you actually did. That being said, if you are stressed and fatigue it could indicate a potential overtraining syndrome, which we would want to keep an eye on.

So how do you find out your zones? I use Joel Friel’s Lactate Threshold Testing. I would suggest having a mileage base before attempting since you have to run 30’ at your max effort.

Heart Rate Zones Explained

LTHR Test:

Warm Up Easy 10-15’

Then run a 30 minute time trial on flat course/track. Punch HR monitor ‘lap’ button 10 minutes into Time Trial. Average heart rate for last 20 minutes predicts Lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR).

You will need to do this test alone.

Be aware to not go out too hard the first 10 minutes, so that the remainder of the test is slower than the first half. That will give you inaccurate results. The more times you do this test the more accurate your LTHR is likely to become as you will learn to pace yourself better at the start.

How to compute your data :

  • Zone 1 Less than 85% of LTHR
  • Zone 2 85% to 89% of LTHR
  • Zone 3 90% to 94% of LTHR
  • Zone 4 95% to 99% of LTHR
  • Zone 5a 100% to 102% of LTHR
  • Zone 5b 103% to 106% of LTHR
  • Zone 5c More than 106% of LTHR

 Natalie JohnstonNatalie Johnston has been running since she was 13 years old, and has been a competitive athlete since the age of 3. She competed in sports ranging from horseback riding, competitive swimming, to dance. However, running was the one sport that stole her heart! She says,”Running frees my mind and soul, you can just grab your shoes and run anywhere!” Through many ups and downs in her life, running was the one place for her to let go, meditate (aka release her emotions), and grow as a person.  She believes running is more than just getting fast times, it’s about connecting to something deeper in yourself; She believes that running saved her life in many ways. Through High School and College all Natalie thought about was being the best and getting fast, since then she has changed her way of thinking, and believes that you should train like you want to run until your 100. With that mindset, she has been able to run faster, be less stressed, and enjoy her runs even more now than she did before! Learn more about Natalie and her coaching at RUN F.I.T. Coaching.