When getting started with heart rate training it is important to understand what training zones are and how you need to utilize them. The best way to look at zones is to compare it to speed limits on roads.
Essentially you want to differentiate the speed at which your heart beats at different times during a training session, and between different intensity sessions as well. Just like when you drive from one town to another, you will probably start off at a relatively slow speed limit in an urban environment, and gradually speed up to a highway speed, while eventually slowing down again.
Dependent on how much you train and whether you are aiming for high or even professional performance the division of heart rate zones will differ. But at the very least you will be looking at three zones that target entirely different goals.
1. Fat burning heart rate zone
For a lot of people who are not targeting weight loss this is still an important zone. It is the ideal zone to target for warming up exercises, as the strain on the muscle, tendons and joints is generally quite low.
Another use of this zone is for recovery, which anyone doing regular workouts should be doing. It allows your muscles to replenish any spent glycogen and help them recover from tough performances.
For anyone targeting weight loss, this is the most important zone. Training at 50 to 75% will make sure that the source of energy is stored fat in your body. And that is exactly what you want to be targeting. Many people that try and exercise to lose weight often do so at to high a rate, as they falsely believe that the harder they exercise the more weight they will lose.
That is why everyone can gain from using a heart rate monitor for training.
Exercising in this zone has several impacts on your body. Over time your heart will become more efficient at pumping blood through the body, bringing vital oxygen and nutrients to muscles that are performing all the work. Also, you will be training your lungs which will over time increase your lung capacity. This means that you will need to take fewer breaths to achieve the same amount of oxygen intake.
At this level, about half your energy will be sourced from fat, and the other half from fat. Training for long distance events will be best done in this zone, as it will greatly improve your cardiovascular fitness levels
3. Anaerobic heart rate zone
At this level of exertion, about 85 to 95%, your body will be vastly reducing the amount of fat it uses as an energy source. Instead, energy will be sourced from glycogen stored directly in the muscle tissue, resulting in a build up of lactic acid. You will know when this happens, as you will feel a strong burning sensation in your muscles.
At some point your body will not be able to remove the lactic acid quickly enough and this point is known as the anaerobic threshold. Regularly training at this performance level will result in the anaerobic threshold to be gradually pushed up, allowing you to perform at that level for longer periods of time.
First of all you need to set yourself a goal; are looking to lose weight or are you training for a half or even a full marathon. These require entirely different levels of zones and you need to be aware of this based on the above zone information.
If you are exercising in order to lose weight then you should be targeting the fat burning zone. This is a relatively modest tempo, which results in your body sourcing its energy from fat tissue, rather than stored energy in muscles.
If you are looking to improve your fitness levels, then you should be looking at varying your heart rate during exercise. Always start off at a slow pace to make sure your muscles are warmed up, but then you should be working as much as possible in the cardio zone.
In order to really train your muscles and push your performance you should incorporate short periods of maximum speed. This could be like short sprints during an otherwise modest pace run. You will notice that you can only stay at an anaerobic level for short periods of time before lactic acid builds up in the muscles. But over time you will notice that your body becomes more tolerant and you can perform more often and for longer periods at maximum performance. This is great indication of how much your fitness is improving, and you can keep track of this with a heart rate monitor.