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Heart Rate Training 101

By Tony Rich, 02/06/17, 11:45AM EST

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A quick primer on using this key metric on your runs.

Runners from beginner to advanced can benefit from using a heart rate monitor in their training. The runner can train with a purpose by target training of specific energy zones. This allows the runner to have a better chance of training efficiently, and maximizing the impact of every training hour.

For example, lactate threshold (LT) is the point where an athlete “redlines” and the lactate in his or her blood begins to accumulate. Athletes typically can sustain LT for shorter periods of time before they have to slow down or even stop. Increasing an athlete’s lactate threshold is a key part of increasing endurance and speed. The athlete must train at or near LT for increasing periods of time to increase his or her lactate threshold.

Without a heart rate monitor, the runner must guess the LT pace. This is commonly referred to as RPE (Rate of Perceived Effort). But with a heart rate monitor, you can accurately determine your lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR) with what’s called a field test.

After a 5-10 minute dynamic warm-up and light run, wear your heart rate monitor, and set it to an average pace. Run the fastest pace you can sustain for about 20 minutes. The average HR for that period is a good unbiased estimate of your Lactate Threshold Heart Rate. Now you have everything you need to determine your heart rate zones using the five zone in the table below.

  Zone Running Heart Rate Zone
1 Recovery Resting HR to 85% of LTHR
2 Aerobic 85% to 94% of you LTHR
3 Sub Threshold 95% to 99% of LTHR
4 Lactate Threshold 100% to 102% of LTHR
5 Anaerobic/Vo2 Max >106% of your LTHR


Depending on the type of watch, you may be able to program your zones, giving you real time feedback of your training intensity. Some watches will even alert the runner if he or she is outside a desired zone. You know when you need to speed up or slow down based upon the intensity and purpose of the workout. There’s no more guessing, and it potentially eliminates “junk miles.” The advanced user who analyzes post-workout data with cloud technology can get an accurate distribution of the impact of his or her workout with the duration in each heart rate zone.

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