Heart Rate Training Zones – Am I doing this right?

Thanks to my knee putting me out of running and messing with my Triathlon plans, I am getting back into running using a 5k training plan from the Garmin web site.

What’s cool is that it drops the workouts into my Garmin 910XT watch, and then it tells me what to do.


Garmin 910XT

The Garmin 910XT. It’s not small or sexy, but it has so many features, you have to forgive it.

I’m already up to 15 minutes of easy jogging using a very basic interval process: 5 minutes jogging, 5 minutes walking. The knee is holding up nicely and now it’s only really getting up and down, squats and lunges that really kill it.

Don’t tell my physiotherapist. I think she’d be disappointed.

I chose a beginners heart rate based program, thinking that it would help me ensure I don’t go too hard or too fast. As it turns out, this heart rate business is the odd part of the program.

Heart Rate Training

It asks me to try to run with my heart rate between 135-147 bpm. I have found that I can’t run any slower than I am and still be running, but my heart rate is consistently higher than 147. In fact, for a whole 5 minutes of my jog, the watch beeps and tweets at me: “heart rate too high”.

I’m usually sitting around 160bpm when I’m running. And I feel like I’m not going too hard. This is meant to be an easy run, “zone 2”, and I think zone 4 or 5 is the highest in the training plan.

So, I had to wonder, how was this setting determined? What % of my max heart rate are they asking me to work in?

If we use the very basic calculation of 220-age to get Max HR, then work out percentages, we can decide if this is even a reasonable request.

But, because I’m not a fan of math, and because I think 220-age is too simplistic, I’ve used an online calculator at Calculate Now. Their page isn’t the shiniest, but I do like their calculations. Going through their steps leads me to this information:
Calculate your Heart Rate Reserve and Training Zones

Resting Heart Rate: Resting Heart Rate(RHR): 70 Calculate MHR
Maximum Heart Rate: Maximum Heart Rate(MHR): 185
Heart Rate Reserve(HRR): 115
Fat Burning: From 128  to 139 beats per minute
Aerobic: From 139  to 151 beats per minute
Steady State: From 151  to 162 beats per minute
Anaerobic: From 162  to 174 beats per minute
Maximal: From 174  to 185 beats per minute

This suggests to me that I am still working in a zone that is not over-reaching, and probably zone 3, but honestly, I cannot figure out how to run ‘easier’. Maybe I’m out of shape, or maybe it’s my age, the heat, or maybe I am just running too fast, but this just seems to be where I settle.

I’ve read plenty of running column advice that summarizes excellent training into:

Make your easy runs easier. Make your hard runs harder.

But right now, I don’t think I could do either and still accomplish anything.

I want to build fitness, lose weight, fix this silly knee… so I’m not going to stress too much about being in the higher heart rate zone.

I think, instead, I might ignore the beeps, tweets, and whistles from the watch that says I’m going too fast, and instead, think of it as saying, “Keep going, you’re doing great!”

Perhaps, once my fitness is up and my knee is happy, I’ll have a much better play with my zones, but for now, I think I will stick to ‘feels good and safe’ as my guide.


5 responses to “Heart Rate Training Zones – Am I doing this right?

    • I’ve corrected the link to Calculate Now (thanks so much for pointing it out). It’s meant to be: http://www.calculatenow.biz/sport/heart.php

      I feel like the knee is really about 80% already. I don’t have any acute pain when running (granted, I’m not going hard or long) and there’s no long-term swelling, so definitely on the road to recovery. 🙂
      Still a bit of work to go to be able to do marathon distances without damage but I’m confident I’ll get there 🙂

  1. Pingback: 5k: Simple HR Heart Rate Based | Sub 20 | minute running and training plan | the5krunner·

  2. The 220-1ge formula is wrong for many people (Use LTHR based on Friel – see my site). Your aerobic threshold is the point where you are just about unable to hold a conversation. That’s where you want to run at and it will be quite hard. Yes also some faster runs but in your case with a dodgy knee then going faster might not be wise.
    Your knee is PROBABLY the symptom of something being wrong somewhere. Rest will get rid of those symptoms…running again will probably cause them to re-appear.
    Your problem is that different physios will probably give different diagnoses and I can’t profess to being able to diagnose based on your nice article.
    It could be your running mechanics. It could be your skeleton and having unequal leg lengths or your posture could be quite twisted/not symmetric.
    I would bet that you heel strike and that their is wear on the heel of your running shoes.
    Heel striking WILL cause more knee stress (and maybe injury). You could change your footstrike (and instead knacker your calves!!)
    If I were you I would do gym work and strengthen your glutes, hams, hip flexors and quads AND increase the flexibility of those areas. While you are at it work on your core if you want. good luck.

    • Thanks for the awesome feedback. I’m sorry it took me so long to reply!!

      I think you’re right in a number of areas:
      – my running mechanics are less than ideal, and the problem is due to muscular imbalance. The outer quadriceps muscles are much stronger than the inner thigh muscles and are essentially pulling my knee across, causing a misaligned knee-cap, which leads to pain and swelling.
      This started with an injury I got while walking 40+ kilometres through rough bush terrain in under 12 hours, and I’ve been working on healing/strengthening/balancing these muscles ever since.
      I can really tell whenever the inner thigh muscles fatigue, because I go from running straight to my knee rotating out, my heel rotating in, and I actually kick myself in the opposite ankle with my heel. Definitely a sign to slow down and rest the leg! 🙂

      – I don’t do nearly enough strength training. This is my big area where I miss out, and I know this is seriously lacking in my training routine. I have some exercises specifically for helping balance my leg muscle strength, but don’t do them routinely. My whole body is lacking from proper strength routines, and I can’t even do pushups properly anymore… but I digress. Must fix this! 🙂

      – I don’t think my flexibility is a major issue. I teach yoga, tai chi and pilates, and although I am not flexible enough to do the splits, I have good flexibility through the quads and hip flexors. My IT bands could use more work, and I use a foam roller occasionally to work these out when they are not right.

      – I would love to get my running form evaluated, but this isn’t something easy to come by out here in the stix. I think I have a better mid-foot strike than I used to, but can only claim this because I don’t have the Plantar Fasciitis pain I used to get, so feel the efforts I have been making on that part of my form are working to some extent. However, I have no proof of it.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read and especially to put forward such a thoughtful comment. 🙂

      Hope all is well with you! 🙂

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