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  • Louise Hathaway

Settings your training zones for running and why its so important

To optimize your training and enhance performance, understanding and setting your training zones is crucial. Let's explore the science behind training zones and provide practical insights on how to tailor them to your specific needs for a successful triathlon experience.

Training zones are specific intensity ranges that dictate the physiological adaptations your body undergoes during exercise. For triathletes, these zones encompass swimming, cycling, and running. Establishing your training zones allows you to train efficiently, prevent overtraining, and target specific fitness goals.

man running
Do a run test to set your training zones


With new athletes we regularly do a run test so that we can set heart rate zones and have an indication of run paces to be used when we set sessions.

  1. Determine Your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR):

  • The first step is to find your MHR, which is the highest heart rate your body can achieve. While there are various methods, a simple and widely-used formula is 220 minus your age however this doesn't take into account the individual so a run test would be more beneficial. While there are a few ways of doing this we usually set a 5km time trial run following a good warm up. This test brings the heart rate up and allows us to measure 5km pace which we use to set zones and measure progression.

  1. Identify Your Resting Heart Rate (RHR):

  • Measure your resting heart rate, preferably in the morning before any significant physical activity. This provides a baseline for calculating heart rate reserve (HRR).

  1. Calculate Heart Rate Reserve (HRR):

  • HRR is the difference between your MHR and RHR. It reflects the range within which your heart rate can safely fluctuate during exercise.

  1. Establish Training Zones:

  • With HRR in hand, divide it into different percentage zones. Commonly, training zones are categorized as follows:

  • Zone 1 (50-60% HRR): Very light intensity (for warm-ups and cool-downs).

  • Zone 2 (60-70% HRR): Light intensity (for aerobic base building).

  • Zone 3 (70-80% HRR): Moderate intensity (for endurance and lactate threshold).

  • Zone 4 (80-90% HRR): Hard intensity (for interval and tempo training).

  • Zone 5 (90-100% HRR): Maximum intensity (for sprint and anaerobic capacity).

By using these zones in your training you can set the right intensity for your training goals. When building an aerobic base with long runs we would often maintain a zone 2 heart rate. When working on building your threshold we would then start working on intervals of different lengths in zone 3 and zone 4 and even zone 5 depending on goals.

As a coaches we don't use just heart rate to measure and monitor. Pace and how the session felt are as important which is why we encourage feedback from our athletes. We use Training Peaks with all our athletes as it provides a fantastic range of metrics which we can utilise to improve our athletes progress.

There are similar tests to set up training zones for swim and running.


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