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Heart Rate Training Zone Calculator

by Taren Gesell

Blog ▸ Heart Rate Training Zone Calculator

One of the best ways to measure how hard you should be training as you’re preparing for your endurance races is by heart rate. Unfortunately, many of the typical methods of calculating heart rate training zones aren’t accurate because just use arbitrary numbers based on your age, or some percentage of your theoretical maximum heart rate.

We’ve created the heart rate training zone calculator below based on a superior method of calculating training zones that, in our experience, gets far more accurate results for running, triathlon training, and cycling training zones. Check it out!

Drawbacks of Traditional Training Zone Calculators

Typically, most heart rate training zone calculators like the MAF Method or Age-Related Methods generate zones based on some or all of the following factors:

  • Age
  • Maximum heart rate in a max HR test
  • Your answers to some yes/no questions

The problem with these methods of calculating training zones is that the factors that go into the calculations are completely arbitrary, and in our experience generate inaccurate results in roughly 20-30% of the users of the calculators.

Karvonen Heart Rate Training Zones

We choose to use the Karvonen Formula to generate the heart rate training zones we recommend for endurance athletes because it appears to be far more accurate for a greater number of athletes. We have yet to meet an athlete who didn’t find it to be as accurate or more accurate than typical calculators, and this method even generates very similar training zones to those found in lab results.

The reason the Karvonen Formula seems to be a superior method of generating training zones is because it’s based on the athletes individual physiology. If you have an abnormally high or low heart rate while training, this formula accounts for that. If you have an abnormally high or low resting heart rate, the formula accounts for that.

As opposed to assigning training zones based on random numbers, the Karvonen Formula takes your unique physiology into account.

Using the Karvonen Formula

Using our heart rate training zone calculator is very simple and requires only two steps:

  1. STEP 1: this is the easier step. Just wear a fitness watch with a built in heart rate monitor for a few nights while you sleep. Take the lowest overnight resting heart rate you measured while sleeping and enter that as your resting heart rate.
  2. STEP 2: this won’t be pleasant. Perform a maximum heart rate running test as follows:

Max HR Test Protocol

Use a heart rate chest strap to get accurate data during the following test:

  • 2 miles easy jog warm up
  • 1 mile at strong tempo pace to bring the HR up
  • 400m at maximum effort
  • 400m where you push harder at every 100m interval to get the maximum HR possible

Find the maximum heart achieved during this run, enter 2bpm higher than the highest heart rate you achieved during this test. We like to enter 2 beats per minute higher because you could probably have pushed a littler harder if there was a gun to your head.

Conclusion

You’ll now have accurate heart rate training zones that you can use in all of your endurance training. Perform these tests every three months to keep your heart rate training zones up to date and you’ll have your training dialled in!

Taren Gesell

"Triathlon Taren" Gesell is founder of MōTTIV and one of the world's top experts on helping adults become endurance athletes later in life. Best known for his YouTube channel and podcast Taren is the author of the Triathlon Foundations series of books and has been published featured in endurance publications around the world.