People are all different.
In fact, only 20% of people have a max heart rate that is functionally close to the 220-Age = Max HR calculation which is what most people use to determine heart rate zones these days.
This means for a large majority of people setting zones of 50%-100% off of that formula does not result in zones that are meaningful or correct.
Knowing about your body is important, and just being aware of what your maximum heart rate should be in a controlled environment can help you monitor your exercise. However, for those who want to exercise intelligently and be healthy through exercise, setting and monitoring personal heart rate zones is a critical practice.
Using Personal Heart Rate Zones vs. Calculated Zones
220-Age was never supposed to become a standard. If you are using the Haskel Fox formula, it is highly likely you are exercising in zones that are too high or too low, sometimes significantly. In fact, only about 20% of people fit comfortably in that Heart Rate Zone formula (220-Age), and even then only for certain activities.
The formula was developed from male runners, and running zones don’t typically apply to other sports. Each person has unique ability and physical development in specific activities. That’s why a runner who feels great after a long run at 85% max hr can only do about 10 minutes at that heart rate on a bike feeling totally exhausted after.
- If you are in zones that are too high your workout will exhaust you and possibly be dangerous.
- If your zones are too low, you will not be pushing yourself enough to develop the base fitness you need to get healthy.
Custom zones from fitness assessments are one of the keystones of proper training and planning.
We encourage you to get our great heart rate training apps (monitor required), and make sure your zones are right for you by performing a fitness test, or manually customize your own zone sets to suit your needs.
Custom heart rate zones are helpful for:
Heart Rate Training, Benson, Connolly et al, 2011 p.9
See also: Why Should You Know Your Fitness Level?
Health Issues or Major Weight Loss
If you have or had heart issues, knowing your danger zones (above max HR) and your “optimal” zones for developing the base level of fitness (typically Zones 1 and 2, the Fat-burn and Endurance Zones), is both smart and critical to monitor. In addition, it can provide the motivation to push yourself a little bit harder to help build fitness, but still be safe.
Just Trying to Lose Weight
When you are concerned primarily with losing weight, typically you want to develop your fat-burn and endurance systems. By knowing these zones, you don’t end up mistakenly developing your carbohydrate-energy converting systems or never get into the endurance development zones. If you never get into the endurance development zones, you will never develop the endurance you need for long term weight loss and building your basic metabolism to burn calories even when not working out.
Being Fit & Healthy
What does it mean to really be fit and healthy? It means that each of your energy systems are performing properly and at optimal levels. If you often spend too much time in the same routine, you overload on one system versus the others. For example, spending too much time in the fat-burning zone and endurance zones and not enough in the anaerobic zones will result in not developing stamina, speed or power systems. Conversely, working out too hard in the Anaerobic, carbohydrate driven energy zones and not enough time in the lower zones will lead to your body not becoming very efficient at burning fat. Either of these scenarios can result in unbalanced systems, and while that isn’t critical, true health = true balance.
Another reason for fit & healthy people to create custom zones is to help you avoid injury and bodily harm. Races are more fun and enjoyable. This is one of the primary reason this CEO completed his more recent half marathon so enjoyably. He understood his maximum effort. When you know the maximum your body can do safely over a long period of time and can monitor that level of effort real-time, you can manage to it and manage the expectation. Congrats Dean on a great half-marathon!
For many of the fit and healthy, a large part of why you might want custom zones is simply one of self-realization and self-actualization. Self-knowledge strengthens the mind-body relationship,and knowledge is power.
When you are trying to optimize your fitness level, custom zones becomes not just important, but critical. When you are training for optimal performance, it is widely agreed that the only thing better than heart rate training is training with power sensors, but those are only available for bikes, and power sensors can be quite expensive. If you don’t know your personal heart rate zones, training for optimizing performance using the zones is simply a crap shoot. Without accurate zones, it’s like training in the dark. Perceived effort is fine for some, but nothing beats working out with heart.
See also: Why Should You Know Your Fitness Level?