How to Use “Zone Training” to Reach Your Fitness and Weight Goals

Why do you work out?

No, I mean, really, why do you work out? What are your goals? What are you trying to achieve? 

Just like most things in life that take time, work, money, and commitment, having clear-cut goals for what kind of return you want on your investment is crucial for justifying those big investments. 

BB Image Woman Rowing.jpg

So, if you haven’t had any specific goals up until now, please sit down and figure it out. 

In most cases, in order to find out what our return on our investment is (i.e.: did we reach our goals sufficiently considering how much time, energy, etc we invested in the endeavor) we use quantifiable metrics. We need to measure something to see if we have reached our goals. 

For fitness this often takes the form of a scale for the vast majority of people. Unfortunately, that is a pretty terrible and unreliable measure of our fitness success. 

I have a much better way for you to measure your progress. It’s called “Zone Training”. It’s not quite as simple as getting on the scale, but it gives you a LOT more information. And once you have the tools you need and you start doing it, you’ll find it is much more exciting than a scale and WAY more inspiring. 

There are a few different philosophies or styles of zone training. I’m going to outline a style that is pretty simple but also quite accurate. It does take an investment in a piece of equipment. But that equipment will be well worth the investment if you use it regularly. AND remember that it will maximize your return on the investment you are ALREADY putting into your workouts in the form of time, money, effort, and sweat. 

Follow these basic steps to get started with zone training.

#1 Get a chest heart rate monitor.

I recommend the following device. You can get it directly from Polar:

Or, the same product from Amazon:

Disclosure: When you click on a link to a product I recommend from this site I do make a small commission from those sales. This does not change the cost to you, but it does help support this blog. My goal in recommending these products is to make life better or easier for you, therefore the commission does not ever change my opinion of the product. 


#2 Determine your resting heart rate.

First thing in the morning, before you get up, put your heart rate sensor on. Lie down quietly and measure your heart rate for 5 minutes and record your average heart rate for that day. You can take this measurement using the Polar Beat app on your phone. Just set it to the “Indoor No GPS” setting. Do this for 3 days. When you are done take the average overall for the 3 days. That is your Resting Heart Rate (RHR).

#3 Calculate your zones using the Karvonen formula. I’ll use myself as an example. 

Step 1: Subtract your age from 220 to get your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR). 

For me that’s 220 - 47 = 173

Step 2: Subtract your Resting Heart Rate (RHR) from your MHR to get “X”.

For me that’s 173 - 59 = 114 (we call this value X)

Step 3: Find your range of zones using the “Zoning Methodology”, which has 3 training zones. So we want to see what your heart rate would be in Zones 1, 2, & 3. These 3 zones range from 65-95% of your maximum heart rate. So in order to find the 3 zones you find 65% and 95% of your MHR to get the upper and lower numbers and then you divide that into 3 equal parts to get the 3 zones. 

Find the lower limit of Zone 1 (65% of MHR). For me: 114 x .65 = 74 for X1. 

Then add your RHR to X1. For me: 74 + 59 = 133

So 65% of my MHR is a heart rate of 133. 

Now to find the upper end of these 3 zones I do the same math but use .95 instead of .65. 

Find the upper limit of Zone 3 (95% of MHR). For me: 114 x .95 = 108 for X2

Then add your RHR to X2. For me: 108 + 59 = 167

So 95% of my MHR is 167. And my range is 133-167

Now to get the 3 Zones. 

Subtract the value for 65% of MHR from value of 95% of MHR and roughly divide that number by 3

167 - 133 = 34

34 / 3 = 11

Add 11 to each zone.

So my 3 zones are:

Zone 1 133-144

Zone 2 145-156

Zone 3 157-167

 


I’ll put the formula here so you can use it as a quick reference

MHR = Maximum Heart Rate

RHR = Resting Heart Rate

Step 1

220 - Age = MHR

MHR - RHR = X

 

Step 2

X x .65 = X1

X1 + RHR = 65% of MHR

 

Step 3

X x .95 = X2

X2 + RHR = 95% of MHR

This will give you your range of zones from 65-95% of your MHR.

Then you'll want to divide that range into 3 zones. 

 

Step 4

Value for 95% of MHR - Value for 65% of MHR = Range of 65% to 95%

Range of 65% to 95% / 3 = Range of each Zone

 

Step 5

65% of MHR + Range of each Zone = upper end of Zone 1

Zone 1 upper limit + Range of each Zone = upper end of Zone 2

Zone 2 upper limit + Range of each Zone = upper end of Zone 3

 


Example

Age 40     RHR 70

 

Step 1

220 - 40 = 180

180 - 70 = 110 (X)

 

Step 2

110 x .65 = 72 (X1) (rounded up)

72 + 70 = 142 (65% of MHR)

 

Step 3

110 x .95 = (X2) 105 (rounded up)

105 + 70 = 175 (95% of MHR)

 

Step 4

175 - 142 = 33 (Range of 3 zones)

33 / 3 = 11 (Range for each zone)

 

Step 5

Range of Zone 1: 142-152

Range of Zone 2: 153-163

Range of Zone 3: 164 + 174/175 

(the math gets a little funny here but you get the picture)

If this is all overwhelming and complicated for you, contact me with your resting heart rate and age and I’ll do the math for you. 

Watch the video below about Resting Heart Rate and determining your Training Zone

#4 Start training in those zones based on your specific goals.

Assuming that all made sense to you, now you need to figure out how you are going to train in each zone. 

Here are some guidelines and tips:

Make sure you take at least 5 minutes to warm up before you start ANY training.

Give your body some time to get warm and allow your heart rate to rise steadily but slowly. This 5-minute warmup is also great for burning off any excess fuel from a previous meal (but even if you are fasting, please warm up!). 

Zone 1: Endurance Zone, Fat-Burning Zone, Relatively Easy Zone 

BB Image Woman Jogging slightly overweight.jpg

Zone 1 is 65-75% of your Maximum Heart Rate and requires the least amount of effort. You should easily be able to carry on a conversation in this zone. 

I can train in this zone for hours and I would be burning lots of fat for fuel. Training in this zone is a great way to begin training if you are out of shape. Training in this zone for several hours a week is also great for any athlete that wants to increase their endurance. In Zone 1 you will burn less calories than Zone 2 or 3, but fat will be your predominant fuel so it’s great for fat loss!

Zone 2: Muscle-Building Zone, Mixed Fuel-Burning Zone, Moderate Zone,

Zone 2 is 75-85% of your MHR and requires moderate effort. In this zone you can have a conversation but the pace of your breathing will be increased. You will be burning both fat and carbs for fuel.

I train in this zone at least once a week for 20-30 minutes. This zone is great for building more muscle and still burning some fat for fuel. If you are out of shape you can start by doing mostly Zone 1 (building endurance and burning fat in a safe way) and after a few weeks you can start training in Zone 2 for 10 minutes or so at a time. Be sure to warm up first! 

Zone 3: BIG Bang-for-your-buck Zone, Carb-Burning Zone, Intense Zone

Zone 3 is 85-95% of your MHR and requires maximal effort. In this zone you should be panting and things should be burning. It would be hard to converse while in this zone. You are burning mostly carbs for fuel. 

This is the zone where you don’t want to spend a lot of time. It’s great to be used for interval training. Typically I do 2 15-18-minute sessions a week of HIIT (high-intensity interval training). I warm up for 3-5 minutes and then I do intervals of Zones 2 and Zone 3. Once I’ve warmed up I usually do 30 seconds in Zone 3 and 1 minute in Zone 2, then I do 1 minute in Zone 3 and back down to Zone 2 for 1 minute, then 90 seconds in Zone 3 and 1 minute in Zone 2, finally I do 120 seconds in Zone 3 and again 1 minute in Zone 2 and then a cool down. 

This is a quick way to burn several hundred calories. But please don’t start off doing this. Get your endurance up and build some muscle by training in Zones 1 and 2 regularly for a month or more, depending on your fitness level. Then you can start the interval training. 

HIIT has many wonderful benefits such as: increased cardiovascular adaptability (you are forcing your heart to adapt into the different zones quickly), higher rate of caloric burn, and it boosts metabolism (especially AFTER you are done working out). 

In any given week you should be doing at least one session in Zone 1 (the more fit you are, the longer these sessions can run), at least one session in Zone 2 (30-60 minutes), and at least one session of HIIT (interval between Zones 2 and 3). 

Give this a try for a month or two and watch as your body changes. If done consistently you should see more strength and endurance. Also, watch your heart rate recovery time. This should shorten, indicating improved cardiovascular fitness and adaptability!