What Is Zone Training?

Level up your training season with heart rate training!

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Everyone wants to be in the zone! And while this may mean something different for every sport, for runners, zone training is uniquely tied to heart rate training. For a majority of runners, pace is typically gauged by intensity — the better your time per mile, the harder your workout is. But when was the last time you glanced at your heart rate? 

More and more, runners looking to optimize their performance turn to zone training. By strapping on a heart rate monitor or activity-tracking device, you too can take advantage of heart rate training. 

Explore the different zones, and how you can take full advantage of each one.

Heart rate tracking watch

Zone training tracks your heart rate as you run either by beats per minute (bpm) or maximum heart rate (mhr). The reason many people benefit from zone training is because it allows you to train efficiently, without stressing out your muscular and skeletal systems — it’s the beautiful balance of not pushing yourself too hard, while leaving just enough left in your tank. 

At the end of the day, heart rate training is wonderful for those looking to optimize their running prowess while avoiding overtraining.

A woman running with her dog.

Zone 1 is an intensity that you should be able to maintain for hours and is the perfect intensity for recovery days, while zone 2 is slotted for runs under 90 minutes — longer and slower distance runs.

Zone 2 is also the area where your body burns fat, making it excellent for weight loss. It is recommended that runners training for a half marathon or more of a distance race train upwards of 80% in zone 2.

A group of people running on the beach.

If you’re looking to rev up cardiovascular benefits, this is what zone 3 is ideal for. To improve aerobic capacity, tempo runs — 30 to 45 minute runs — are the sweet spot.

Zone 4 incorporates a merging of aerobic and anaerobic metabolism, and utilizes carbs for energy. For the best performance boost and improving your lactate threshold, this zone will be your trusted ally.

A woman working on speedwork

Zone 5 is reserved for high-intensity intervals such as sprinting and track speedwork that is under five minutes per round. The point of zone 5 is to run fast, so there shouldn’t be anything left in your tank.

Depending on your training goals, whether they be a sub-three hour marathon time or you’re training for a 50 mile ultramarathon, what zone you train in will vary.

In the end, becoming a diverse runner means training all of the zones to maximize performance.

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