Heart Rate Training & What you should know

Hello Fitness Friends!

Today I am going to talk about heart rate training and what you should know to make your workouts the most efficient you can. First off, most people think more, bigger, faster, harder, etc. is better for you when working out…well this is FALSE! Exercise is stress, you are applying an external load. If you are applying a lot of external stress to an already time ticking stress bomb (your body) this is not a good idea, and I highly encourage you to reevaluate your workout program. When your body is under a lot of stress, you are more prone to inflammation, injuries and produce higher levels of cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone, too much cortisol production leads to muscle breakdown and excessive fat storage, especially in the belly area. I am not saying that you can gain results and hit your goals by hardly pushing yourself in your workouts, but I am saying be mindful of your workout program and what you have going on in your life. So you may now be asking yourself, “how hard do I push myself and how do I know where my heart rate should be during my workouts?” Lets break it down…

There are 5 different heart rate training zones:

Zone 1: this zone is where you burn the highest amount of fat. You can hang out in your zone 1 for a very long time and not get super tired. This type of training is known as low intensity & high fat burn. Most people are doing zone 1 training when they go out for a walk, casually ride a bike, take a gentle swim, etc. (of course this is all dependent on the individual’s current fitness level and health). The key here is to do these types of activities for a longer period of time. Often times when I have clients do this type of a workout, they say things like, “I barely feel like I am working out…,” well that is kind of the idea. You want to train your body to utilize fat storage as fuel to be able to perform daily activities. If we only train at high levels, we start to teach our body to only utilize sugar when we workout, which in return can lead to overworking the body and burnout. We can’t underestimate the power of low intensity high fat burn cardio, we want to have a large zone 1, meaning we can push our intensity, elevating our heart rate and still be utilizing fat as our main source of fuel. People who have a small zone 1 will often fatigue quickly and find that they become breathless easily from little to no exercise. If you are sitting there saying, “that is me,” then I encourage you to start participating in low intensity movement for 30 plus minutes a few times a week, then gradually to everyday. Building this zone 1 base will allow your body to learn how to burn fat and will also strengthen your heart so you can begin to push yourself a little more with other types of workouts.

Zone 2: when you are in your zone 2 you are still burning a high percentage of fat. It is totally okay to bounce back and forth between zone 1 and 2 when doing your high fat burn training. Depending on how big your zone 1 range is, you may have a smaller zone 2, but you are still able to hold this level of intensity for a while without being uncomfortable.

Zone 3: you start to enter your zone 3 when your exercise load increases, here you become more sweaty, and you feel like the intensity couldn’t be held for a super long time, it may be more difficult to hold a conversation with someone while performing this type of exercise. You are still utilizing fat stores, but also starting to tap into your carbohydrates available.

Zone 4: when you enter zone 4 your workload becomes so intense that your body can’t utilize your fat as fuel any longer. Fat cannot go through the breakdown process fast enough to be used as the primary energy needed to produce the level of effort (exercise) being performed, so carbohydrates take over as the primary source of fuel. In this zone you become breathless quickly and cannot hangout here for an extended period of time.

Zone 5: this is your ALL OUT PUSH ZONE! Sometimes referred to as the RED zone…your body will have to stop at some point to catch your breath and recover. When you are truly in your zone 5, you are only here for a couple minutes to seconds.

The stronger your heart is, the quicker your heart rate will recover. If you have a difficult time recovering, you just need to take longer rest intervals between sets. With consistent and appropriate training this will improve and your rest intervals will shorten.


How can you measure your zones? Your zones can be a subjective measure, using the descriptive feelings I listed above. You know your body the best and what your limits are. The only issue with subjective forms of measurements, are that they can have an extremely variable scale from individual to individual. For example my rate of perceived exertion and your rate of perceived exertion could be very different. I like to encourage my clients, to not be afraid to push their limits. The body is an amazing machine and can handle a lot of stress. If people fear the uncomfortable feelings associated with exercise they could be limiting their greatest potential for success. Another way to track your heart rate and find your zones are to complete assessments and use a tracking tool such as a heart rate monitor, fitbit, iwatch, etc. Life Time Fitness offers a great and accurate assessment to find your zones, as well as many University’s for a cost. These types of measurements will be the most accurate and are fun to reassess as you get stronger and set new goals.


What is the most effective method of training for you? This depends on your fitness goals. If you are new to exercise and want to lose weight, doing low intensity cardio 3x-5x per week for 30 plus minutes is the best way to start. All individuals will benefit from zone 1 & 2 training. Remember this is where we burn a high percentage of fat. HIIT (high intensity interval training) has also become popular in the fitness industry. This form of exercise also has many benefits and can aid in weight loss and performance enhancement. With HIIT you perform quick episode of high intensity exercises, drills followed directly by a quick recovering and you repeat, allowing your heart rate to go up and down. HIIT should only be performed 2-3x per week though. If you are truly completing a HIIT workout you need to allow your body to recover between episodes, otherwise you are more prone to injuries and burnout. HIIT allows for a greater after burn effect. When you push your limits and bounce up into zones 3, 4 & 5 you allow your body to burn a higher percentage of calories during and after your workout. Weight training should also be performed a minimum of 2-3x per week. Weight training allows you to build lean muscle and increase your metabolism. When you strength train your heart rate will be up and down. As you perform your lift, your heart rate elevates, when you complete that set, you rest for a short duration and allow your heart rate to come back down before moving to your next exercise. Some people don’t enjoy weight training because they may not experience that same type of sweat, calorie burn or “cardio high” that you get when completing cardio, BUT I promise you, weight training on a regular basis will allow you to build muscle, improve your metabolism, increase bone density, improve balance, prevent muscle atrophy and future injuries, and allow you to feel tight and toned in your own skin.

Just like everything in life folks….everything in moderation — sprinkle in some HIIT on top of your low intensity cardio training, and mix in a few total body strength training routines. We should be aiming for a minimum of 3-5 workouts per week. For optimal results, YES I want movement EVERYDAY! We don’t earn our body by sitting on it, we earn it by moving it and fueling it properly.

For questions on heart rate training or to find your ideal zones, please let me know! I am more than happy to help complete a basic assessment with you to help ya out 😉

Cheers to a healthy and happy body!!


Alex Andrea Wellness




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