If you’ve been running for a while then chances are you have probably heard about heart rate training. I’ve toyed with it off and on but it wasn’t until recently that I’ve been able to see the true benefits that come with it.

As you all know, after about two weeks of consistently not being able to hit workouts and being pretty worn down I knew that I had to make some changes before full on burn out hit me hard. I could see the signs almost immediately:

  • Dreading workouts
  • Having a hard time finding any motivation to run
  • Feeling really down and frustrated
  • Feeling no desire to race

Those are just a few of the warning signs I was beginning to experience last week. You can read more about burn out and the warning signs in this post.

I immediately contacted my coach and told her I wasn’t in the mental or physical state to keep pushing my body through workouts and needed to back off. It’s so important that you take ownership of your training even if you are working with a coach.

After thinking for a while, discussing with my husband, and my coach I decided to take a step back for a week and really focus on slowing down and getting my body back. It’s so hard when you want to run fast, but your body just has other plans. We all know that we NEED to slow down on our easy days, but it isn’t always easy. Some days we go out thinking we are running easy, but if we really measured our heart rate we’d discover that we are putting in too much effort.

The first step I took was to get a Garmin Heart Rate Monitor off of Amazon. Most newer Garmins will measure your heart rate on your wrist; however, I know sometimes if it isn’t in the right place or isn’t tight enough on your wrist then it can be off. I wanted to ensure that I was accurately measuring my exact heart rate so I figured the heart rate monitor was my best option.

Heart Rate Training

Now before we get into much more let’s talk about how to calculate your maximum heart rate.

The most common way you’ll see people tell you to calculate is to take 220 and subtract your age. Therefor in my case it would be 189. This is a way to do it, but because everyone is created differently it isn’t necessarily accurate.

If you want to be really accurate the best way to figure out your maximum heart rate is to run a test. There are different tests you can find but I used my recent 10k as a judge. I will say that I didn’t want to wear my chest heart rate strap for the test so I did use my wrist heart rate monitor during the race.

My heart rate data indicated that I had a max heart rate of 207 that day. Most heart rate zones are calculated based on your lactate threshold which TYPICALLY is considered 90% of max heart rate. That means that my lactate threshold is 186.

If you don’t have a race coming up you can also do this simple test to help determine your maximum heart rate and then your lactate threshold:

Warm up with easy jog (just 5-10 minutes)
Run as far as you can for 30 minutes (wearing HR monitor)

Check your data after the test and your average heart rate during those last 10 minutes of the effort is going to be your lactate threshold heart rate.


Now let’s look at your training zones:

  • ZONE 1 (Low Aerobic): 75-80% of threshold heart rate
  • ZONE 2 (Moderate Aerobic): 81-89% of threshold heart rate
  • ZONE 3 (Threshold): 96-100% of threshold heart rate
  • ZONE 4 (VO2 Max): 102-105% of threshold heart rate
  • ZONE 5 (Speed): 106+% of threshold heart rate

**Zones and lactate threshold test taken from the McMillan 80/20 running book.

These are estimates and depending on where you look you may get different zones but this is what has been working for me. 


If you use myself as an example, my easy days should be within zones 1 and 2. Therefor ranging anywhere from 139 to 165 bpm. I usually try to keep mine around 150 but sometimes it will creep up or even go slightly lower. The goal is simply to stay within the zone.

The important thing to note when looking at these zones is the “grey zone” that you may notice is skipped in the chart above. This would be 90-95% of lactate threshold. This is the zone that really doesn’t have any benefit to your body. If you are in this zone for your recovery days then you aren’t truly recovering. I think this is where many people who run too fast on their easy days fall. It’s easy to get in this zone because it still doesn’t feel super hard but it also isn’t easy. While it may seem manageable, your body isn’t getting the true recovery benefit from the run. For me, this would be 167-176 bpm.


True heart rate training focuses on making sure you hit these zones for your workouts as well. I have only used heart rate training for easy days and don’t look too much at it during my workouts. Those are the days I focus on pace and all the other days I focus on my heart rate zone.

I can tell you without a doubt that slowing down and making sure I stay in the appropriate HR zone for my recovery days has made a world of difference! I feel more recovered, I don’t even worry about pace, and I’ve been able to start hitting my workouts again!

Be aware that even though many people post their “easy days” (even guilty here) it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is truly easy. Everyone also trains differently. Don’t be ashamed of slowing down there is truth in the saying “we must slow down to get faster.” I think seeing my husband who is a 2:25 marathoner (5:25 pace) start HIS easy days with me at a 9:00 minute pace showed me that even the faster runners slow down just as much too!

So, there you have it! That’s how I’ve been approaching my recovery and hopefully for some of you who have asked – it will help you too!


Have you ever tried HR training?

Pin It on Pinterest