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Heart Rate Zones - Running to the Beat

on February 12, 2019

One of the great things about running on Zwift is that you don’t have to keep looking down at your watch or the treadmill display since key metrics are laid out on screen in front of you.

As runners, we often focus on pace and speed as the primary stats. Whether it’s minutes per mile or kilometers per hour, it makes sense because we judge our race performances on how fast we can run over a given distance. But in addition to considering pace and speed, runners can monitor their heart rate to help focus their training in specific areas.

What is Heart Rate?

Your Heart Rate is your pulse measured in beats per minute. A healthy adult will generally have a resting HR of approximately 60-80 BPM. Regular runners may find their resting HR can be as low as 40 BPM and elite athletes even lower. Olympic 5000 and 10000m champion Mo Farah has a recorded resting HR of 33 BPM!

What are Heart Rate Zones?

In order to help target your training, Zwift divides Heart Rate into five specific zones. You can see these on the top left of the screen in any Zwift run outside of Workout Mode. Each zone is colored:

  • Zone 1 is Blue. We sometimes refer to this as Endurance Zone.
  • Zone 2 is Green. This is sometimes called the Fat Burning Zone.
  • Zone 3 is Yellow.  This is Tempo Zone
  • Zone 4 is Orange. Often referred to as Threshold Zone
  • Zone 5 is Red. This is Anaerobic Zone

Dividing HR into zones allows us to work on specific areas of fitness during training runs. It reduces the possibility of ‘junk miles’ because every run can have a purpose, a goal. Even if the goal is as simple as recovery!

Determining Max Heart Rate

In order to use heart rate zones effectively, we need to identify our max heart rate. This is the maximum number of times your heart should beat in one minute during intensive exercise. The most basic method of working out your max HR is to subtract your age from 220. However, evidence suggests a more accurate way is to subtract 64% of your age from 211. This should give you a good idea of your maximum HR.

Open settings in Zwift or on the Zwift Dashboard and enter your Max HR. Zwift can then work out your HR zones. This is important because everyone is different. Zone 3 for person A may be markedly different from zone 3 for person B.

Using HR in Training

Once you have determined your max HR and Zwift has created HR zones specific to you, how do you use this information effectively in your running?

Let’s say you are training for a marathon. 26.2 miles is a long way and you know you need to do some long runs. In general, your long runs should be done at conversational pace, slower than your intended marathon pace. You want to build endurance and stamina. Therefore, long runs should see you in zones 1 and 2 for the majority of the time. If you stray into zone 3 for too long, you know to ease back on the pace.

Similarly, if your training plan calls for a 5-mile tempo run, you know to stay within zone 3 for most of the run. If you find you are dropping into zone 2, you need to speed up. If you are spending too long in zone 4, you are probably going too fast.

Your marathon training will likely also include some fast-paced interval training. This involves hard effort. During these sessions you will want to be touching zone 5 during the fast parts of the interval session, certainly towards the end of the run. If you are not in zone 5 for at least some of those hard efforts, then your coach could legitimately request a little more from you next time!

Heart of the Matter

Using heart rate in your training does not mean you no longer utilize pace and speed. Far from it! Learning to manage and target pace in your races remains as important as ever.

Adding heart rate, especially in Zwift, gives you a very clear indication of how hard you are working during your activities, allowing you to modify your effort levels to suit the requirements of each day’s training. This is important because too much fast running risks injury and fatigue, while not enough means you may not reach your goals.

So eyes left on the Zwift screen. Keep a check on those HR zones and take control of your training with Zwift Run!