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Understanding Heart Rate Zones

Most people wear a heart rate monitor, but many don’t know what to do with that information or how to utilize it to optimize their training efforts to get the results they want.

A better understanding of the information our devices are giving us (Apple Watch, Garmin, Whoop, etc.) can be the key to unlocking a new level of health and fitness.

Heart rates fall into five zones, and in each of these zones, our body has a unique metabolic response which gives us different benefits depending on the zone we are training.

Five Heart Rate Zones

Zone 1: 50-60% of max heart rate

Benefits: Promotes Recovery, Puts us in Flow State, Improves Digestion

Zone 1 is often overlooked but can be super value. You’re probably not breaking a sweat in this zone, but your core temperature is still elevated. Most people enter Zone 1 when doing simple tasks like walking the dog, mowing the lawn, cleaning the house, etc.

Many people enjoy doing these tasks outside and find themselves in a flow state because they’re working just enough to distract their bodies, but their minds can still be free.

Zone 2: 60-70% of max heart rate

Benefits: Endurance and Improved Body Composition

Zone 2 is where you are mostly burning fats for fuel. It’s the zone where your body can keep up with its energy demands by metabolizing fats. It takes us longer to break down fats to use for energy, but when we do, it gives us WAY more energy than carbs.

This is also the zone where you build the most endurance because your body utilizes fats for fuel and can preserve the carbohydrates later in a workout when things get tough.

By working in this zone more often, we are teaching our bodies to use fats for fuel during a workout and throughout the day when you leave the gym.

Zone 3: 70-80% of max heart rate

Benefits: Improved Circulation, Metabolism, & Aerobic Capacity

Zone 3 is where we spend most of our time at Arsenal, and it’s especially effective at improving blood circulation.

Training in this zone makes our body more efficient at moving things like blood, oxygen, and waste products around our body.

The more we train in this zone, the more we can improve our lung capacity. In zone 3, our bodies mostly rely on using carbs for fuel, but some highly trained individuals can burn up to 50% of fats as well.

Zone 4: 80-90% of max heart rate

Benefits: Improved Heart Rate Variability, Higher Lactate Tolerance

In this zone, carbs are fuel, and your body quickly produces lactic acid. Most people can find it tough to reach Zones 4 and 5 on their own and find it much easier when surrounded by people in a group setting.

Zone 4 training is very beneficial for training speed. If you’re in a competitive sport that requires all-out bursts like hockey or lacrosse, this is where you’ll be spending a lot of your time.

Zone 5: 90-100% of max heart rate

Benefits: Improves VO2 Max, Reduces Stress Temporarily, Increases Confidence

Zone 5 is the “oh shit, I left my wallet in the car, and my flight takes off in 45-minutes zone.”

When you’re training at this level, your body is working so hard that you’re unable to speak, your mind can only focus on the task at hand, and you’re likely to get an endorphin rush once the workout is over.

Zone 5 is not a pace you can sustain for long, and spending time here will make working out in other zones and completing everyday tasks seem easy by comparison – hence the confidence boost.

How much time you should be spending in these zones will be different for everyone depending on their training experience and goals. In the future, we’ll discuss how to determine your max heart rate, identify your zones, and how to utilize them in a training plan.

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