Heart Rate Training is an excellent way for you to monitor the intensity of your workout. In this blog we will discuss the benefits to heart rate training and how to get started. The purpose of training is to induce adaptations benefitting your cardiovascular, respiratory and skeletomuscular systems. As you become more trained those systems become stronger, more efficient, and ultimately work in a collaborative effort to improve performance.

Before beginning heart rate training there are a few key players we need to identify. Firstly we need to identify your maximum heart rate (MHR). Maximum heart rate is the fastest, highest number of times the heart can beat in a minute. Maximum heart rate doesn’t really change as a result of training but all your training zones are calculated from that number. Secondly, we’ve got resting heart rate (RHR), which is the hearts beat at rest at its lowest, slowest number per minute. Resting heart rate does change with training and generally decreases with increasing fitness. This is the number recorded when you go to the doctors office along with blood pressure. An increase in resting heart rate can also be an indicator for fatigue/under-recovered muscles, overtraining, or illness.

There are several ways you can estimate your maximum heart rate using predication equations, although their predications are fairly unreliable. The most accurate estimations include an actual exercise test with a series of intervals of the same intensity and recording the highest number seen on the monitor. For purposes of this blog, the simplest way to calculate MHR is using the equation 220-age (years). From this number you can also calculate your training zones, parameters for monitoring intensity, energy systems, and sustainable duration. I might also suggest using the Karvonen formula that more effectively estimate training zones because it takes into consideration your resting heart rate. You may remember mentioned above that resting heart rate decreases with improved fitness, furthermore it factors in your state of conditioning and cardiovascular fitness. The Karvonen formula is calculated as follows:

220 – age (years) = MHR
MHR – RHR = heart rate reserve
Intensity = % of MHR x HRR + RHR


There are four basic training phases included in heart rate training outlined below. Each phase has their own specific benefits. Activities in the lower and easier zones result in specific physiological and biomechanics adaptations, whereas those in the upper and harder zones have their own important biochemical and neurological adaptations. It is important that implementing phases occurs in a progressive fashion. Endurance phase is established before moving onto stamina and stamina is developed before moving onto economy etc. Talk to your personal trainer or group fitness instructor for more details.

  1. Endurance (Phase 1): Endurance training is developed at heart rates of 60-75% heart rate maximum. This is where aerobic endurance is developed and physiological changes occur within all systems. This is usually done with long, slow distances lasting longer than 30 minutes.
  2. Stamina (Phase 2): Stamina is developed in heart rate zones of 75-85% heart rate maximum. Training for this stage includes tempo& interval workouts. Physiological adaptations in this phase are primarily centered around improving efficiency, performing harder with less effort.
  3. Economy (Phase 3): Economy is developed in heart rate zones of 80-85% heart rate maximum. Economy and stamina are sometimes combined and can also use tempo and interval based workout just within higher heart rate zones. Physiological changes occur through refining efficiency within all systems.
  4. Speed and Power (Phase 4): Speed and power are developed in heart rate zones of 95-100% heart rate maximum. Although speed can be developed within the other phases, power cannot. Power training is explosive movement requiring maximal efforts whereas speed can improve across a range of sub-maximum heart rate zones. This is usually done with high intensity, continuous exercise, interval training or some sort of combination of the two.

Here are some reasons why we would use Heart Rate Training in our programing:

  • Clients with weight loss and weight management goals. Monitoring intensities and time within different energy/training zones
  • Clients who are interested in improving their cardiovascular fitness
  • Clients who need a quantitative variable to monitor during their workouts to increase motivation
  • Overall, heart rate training is a really great tool to use for monitoring the intensity of a workout, more specifically endurance based workouts
  • When tracked over time, heart rate training data can be a great progress measure and way to monitor effectiveness of a training program

Here’s an example calculating MHR and specific training zones:
Megan is 24 years old and her resting heart rate is 68bpm.
Based on the calculations above her MHR = 220 – 24yoa = 196bpm
Using the Karvonen formula to calculate her training zones
196 – 68 = 128 (heart rate reserve)
60% MHR = .6 x HRR + RHR = .6 x 128 + 68 = 144.8
65% MHR = 151.2
70% MHR = 157.6
75% MHR = 164
80% MHR = 170.4
85% MHR = 176.8
90% MHR = 183.2
95% MHR = 189.6


Benson, Roy, and Declan Connolly. Heart Rate Training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2011. Print.


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