From the BarryS Coaching Training Library

Heart Rate Zone Training

by ShawsRunning

I was asked by a friend, an aspiring runner, about my opinion of heart rate training and it’s usefulness. His own initial research on the Web turned up info that was kind of all over the place so I thought it would make a good subject.

The idea behind heart rate zone testing is to find your personal Functional Threshold Heart Rate (FTHR). Also referred to as Max Functional Heart Rate and is similar to Lactic Threshold. Your FTHR is the maximum heart rate your body can maintain for a measured 20 minutes. This is done under controlled conditions after a thorough warm up while well rested. Regular testing of FTHR is very useful in determining optimal training and racing paces as well as gauging progress in ones fitness either up or down.

Having established you FTHR, it is used determine your personal Heart Rate Training Zones. Starting with the FTHR a percentage is used from approx 80% to 106% to determine the correct Heart Rate Zone Target for particular workouts. 80% would refer to a “Zone 1″, very easy pace and 106% refers to “Zone 5C”, maximum effort sprint with several more zones in between.

This type of training has proven highly effective as it is very focused and removes the guess work. It allows the runner to truly “dial in” a training session. It is also a good measure as to the runners current condition for training sessions. An inability to achieve and/or maintain particular heart rate zones may indicate the need for rest.

While very advanced runners may prefer to train by pace as they attempt to push their fitness to absolute maximal limits, heart rate zone training can be more effective for the majority of recreational runners. As a runner becomes stronger and more efficient their paces may increase at a much faster rate than their FTHR resulting in the runner progressing in terms of speed while maintaining the same effort.

Like they say, it never get’s easier you just get faster.

Heart Rate based training plans are laid out with Target Zones being the focus along with time or distance for the session.

For instance, a long run may look like: 20 minutes Zone 1 increasing to Zone 2 for 120 minutes CD 10 minutes Zone 1.

A tempo run may say: 15 minutes Zone 1, increase to Zone 3 for 35 minutes CD 10 minutes Zone 1.

Again, while the Heart Rate Zones may not change a whole lot over the course of a season, although some increase would be expected particularly for the newer runner, the runners paces may increase quite dramatically.

FTHR testing is best done every 3-4 weeks to maintain accuracy in training zones. A decrease in FTHR is also a big red flag for over training assuming proper testing conditions are met.

Some of the best info I’ve found on Heart Rate Training has been put out by World Class Trainer Joe Friel. He’s had a great book out called Total Heart Rate Training for several years and is still one of the most useful resources out there.

Best of luck. Run On!

See Determining Your LTHR »


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