Matt Wilpers teaching a Power Zone Ride, heart rate training

How to Maximize Your Fitness with Heart Rate Training

If you’re motivated by metrics, heart rate training could take your workouts to the next level.

By Alyssa SparacinoJuly 10, 2023


Numbers can tell us a lot. Whether it’s a milestone, class streak, or a new pace on the tread, fitness metrics are a useful and motivating indicator of all your hard work. If you nerd out looking at your fitness trackers or are looking to tailor your workouts even more to your specific goals, you may want to consider heart rate training.

What Is Heart Rate Training?

Heart rate training is a technique in which you use your heart rate as a guide to control the intensity of your workouts. “As you exercise, your heart rate increases to deliver oxygen and nutrients to your muscles,” says Peloton instructor Matt Wilpers. “By monitoring your heart rate, you can ensure that you are working out at the appropriate level of intensity to achieve your fitness goals.” That means, whether you want to improve your endurance, speed, or overall cardiovascular health, there’s a heart rate zone that’s ideal for your goal.

Benefits of Heart Rate Training

“The benefits of heart rate training include improved cardiovascular fitness, increased endurance, and better overall health,” says Matt. Training for your cardiorespiratory health results in a lower resting heart rate, improved blood flow, and enhanced oxygen delivery to your muscles, adds Peloton Row instructor Alex Karwoski.

Recovery and injury prevention are also key benefits of heart rate training. “By training at the appropriate heart rate zones, you can also prevent overtraining and reduce the risk of injury, as you are not pushing your body beyond its limits,” says Matt.

Your workouts will also become more efficient, which leads to better performance and endurance. “Being in the right zone specifically targets the energy systems and physiological adaptations required for your activity, leading to increased stamina, improved lactate threshold, and overall better performance,” says Alex. Not to mention, heart rate training can give you a real motivation boost as you watch how your metrics and ability to focus your training improves over time.

Understanding Your Heart Rate Training Zones

Heart rate zones are calculated based on your maximum heart rate, the highest heart rate you can achieve during exercise. The standard equation to calculate your individual maximum heart rate is simple: Subtract your age from 220. (A 34-year-old would have a max heart rate of 186.) There are more individualized tests you can perform to narrow that number even further, but it’s recommended that you work with a professional to help you do so, if that’s something you’re interested in.

Once you have your max heart rate calculated, you can find your heart rate training zones that are “divided into several levels, ranging from low-intensity recovery zones to high-intensity anaerobic zones,” says Matt. “Each zone is associated with different physiological benefits and targets different aspects of your fitness, such as endurance, speed, or fat burning.”

The five heart rate training zones, plus what they are used for, according to Alex: 

  • Zone 1: Very light intensity (50-60% of max heart rate): This zone is primarily for warm-up, cool-down, and recovery exercises. It helps increase blood flow, improve cardiovascular health, and promote active recovery.

  • Zone 2: Light intensity (60-70% of max heart rate): Training in this zone enhances endurance and aerobic capacity. It promotes fat burning and improves the efficiency of oxygen utilization in the body.

  • Zone 3: Moderate intensity (70-80% of max heart rate): This zone improves cardiovascular fitness, enhances endurance, and increases lactate threshold. Training here helps improve performance for longer-duration exercises.

  • Zone 4: Difficult intensity (80-90% of max heart rate): Training in this zone increases anaerobic fitness, improves speed, and builds muscle strength and power. It is beneficial for interval training and improving your race pace.

  • Zone 5: Maximum intensity (90-100% of max heart rate): This zone is for maximum effort and high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Training here improves peak performance and develops speed and power.

Choosing a Heart Rate Monitor

So, how will you know what heart rate zone you’re in? You’ll need to use a heart rate monitor, of which there are several different styles to choose from.

When looking to buy a heart rate monitor for exercise, you want to pay attention to several key elements: accuracy, comfort, compatibility with devices, additional features, battery life, ease of use, water resistance, and price, agree Alex and Matt. 

Peloton Heart Rate Band

The Peloton heart rate band, which wraps around your forearm, connects seamlessly to any Peloton equipment via Bluetooth. You can also get metrics delivered to your phone or tablet, and connect the Peloton heart rate band with other fitness apps. Band vibrations and colored LED lights indicate what heart rate zone you’re working out in at any given moment, so you can easily adjust your intensity. The band offers up to 10 hours of battery and can be easily washed in your sink thanks to its waterproof design. (Buy It: Peloton Heart Rate Band, $90, available in sizes small or large.)

More Heart Rate Monitors

In addition to the Peloton Heart Rate Band, some other popular devices with heart rate monitoring include:

Apple Watch®.: Check your heart rate while wearing the Apple Watch Series 4 or newer at any point by opening the Heart Rate app. Those devices with at least watchOS 5.1.2 software can also get irregular rhythm notifications. If you have Peloton equipment or use the Peloton App, you can also easily track your heart rate in classes with the Apple Watch integration.

Garmin: The popular fitness device manufacturer has smartwatches (such as the popular Forerunner series) that measure your heart rate 24/7 while wearing the device, but Garmin also has its own heart rate monitor chest straps. This particular placement is known for its accuracy.

Polar: Whether you want a heart rate monitor that’s fairly simple in design for ease of use or prefer something with all the bells and whistles, Polar offers a monitor or smartwatch with heart rate capabilities for any kind of athlete. Try the Polar H10 heart rate sensor.

Fitbit: The range of Fitbit products and trackers includes the brand’s PurePulse heart rate monitoring tool. Popular models include the Fitbit Luxe, Fitbit Versa, and Fitbit Inspire

How to Use a Heart Rate Monitor for Exercise

Ready to create a heart rate training plan and get one step closer to your goals? To do so, you’ll want a clear understanding of your current fitness level, target heart rate zones, and the type of training you want to do, says Matt. Here’s a general guide to help you get started:

  1. Remember, you want to first find your max heart rate.

  2. Then using that number, you’ll be able to calculate your Zones 1-5 using the percentage range given for each. 

  3. Next, determine your goal(s). “For example, if you're training for endurance, you may want to focus on longer, steady-state workouts at a moderate intensity,” says Matt. This would be largely in Zones 2 and 3. “If you're training for speed or strength, you may want to focus on high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or resistance training,” he says, which means your workouts will be more so in Zones 4 and 5. 

  4. Plan your type of workouts, the duration of each, and the frequency of your training. An example week of rowing workouts might look like six days of training that follows a pattern of low intensity workout, another low intensity workout, difficult, low, moderate intensity, and another difficult day at the end, followed by 1 day of rest, suggests Alex. 

  5. Monitor your progress along the way. Keep an eye on your heart rate zones not just during each workout, but also over time. As your endurance or strength changes, your heart rate ranges may, too.

The most important thing? No matter what your heart rate says or what you have scheduled for your workout that day, nothing trumps what your body is telling you. “Listen to your body,” says Karwoski. “If you consistently feel too tired [for the planned workout intensity], you probably need to adjust your goals—and vice versa if you feel like you can always go harder.”

Heart Rate Training with Peloton

Peloton Members can connect any compatible heart rate monitor with the Peloton App or Peloton Bike, Bike+, Tread, or Row machine to view their real-time heart rate and zone during classes, as well as record your heart rate performance in the Peloton App to easily refer back later.

What’s even more notable about heart rate training with Peloton, however, is your Strive Score. This is a unique metric only available to Peloton Members that is calculated based on the time spent in each heart rate zone. “If you’re new to training with heart rate zones, this tool takes the math out of the process, allowing you to track your progress and compare your workouts based on heart rate as well as [how you] feel,” explains Matt. “You earn a fraction of a point for each second that you’re in a [particular] zone. The higher your Strive Score, the more effort you put into your workout.”

What’s cool is that your Strive Score follows you through every type of class, so you can compare your performance across all workouts with the Peloton heart rate monitor or another compatible device. Peloton Members can use the Strive Score to set goals, track their progress, and compete with others on the Peloton platform.

No matter how you decide to use heart rate training zones as part of your exercise routine, understanding how your exercise heart rate changes with different types of activity is a valuable tool for getting more in tune with your body.


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