Understanding Heart Rate Zones


| LAST UPDATE 08/29/2022

By Peral Simons
Heart Rate Monitor Zones
@ryakhov_fitness via Instagram

Heart-rate-zone training is now all the rage - a scientifically-backed approach to exercise that promises to help curate the perfect workout just for you. Monitoring your heart rate and then using this to determine the intensity level you should train sounds simple enough. So how exactly is it done, and what are the potential benefits? Summer Sides, an exercise scientist for Orangetheory Fitness (OTF), a fitness company that uses this concept to create workout classes, has all the information we need.

To begin, you'll need to find your maximum heart rate. As instructed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for most people, this can be done by subtracting your age from 220. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) has also created a heart rate calculating tool which uses your age and fitness to create the resulting figure. Once you have your max heart rate, you'll need to measure your heart rate while exercising.

Heart Rate Zones Colors
@orangetheory via Instagram
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This heart rate can then be compared to the maximum heart rate to calculate a percentage and, therefore, a "zone." No heart-rate monitor? Do not fret! Sides explains, "you can still use the theory of zones through a measure of perceived exertion." Each zone has a percentage of max heart rate and a description of how it feels to easily identify where you're at it. According to OTF, the zones range from Zone 1 (50-60%) to Zone 5 92-100%. The former is described as a "very light activity zone- warm-up, cool-down, and active recovery," which will leave you with "easy breathing and the ability to easily have a conversation." On the far end, the latter is described as "a max intensity that can only be maintained for 30-60 seconds," leaving you "unable to talk."

"Heart-rate-zone training allows our members and coaches to have that real-time feedback in each class to push harder or pull back as needed," Sides told Poosh. Outside of OTF, this applies to everyone who can use heart-rate training to adjust their workout accordingly. The trick is to familiarize yourself with the different zone characteristics and benefits and continuously check in with yourself throughout the workout. Remember, no zone is more important than the other! 

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