Determining Your Heart Rate Training Zones

Personalized Heart Rate Zones are a crucial tool in planning, tracking and implementing workout routines in the Fitdigits app. The most accurate way to get custom heart rate zones is with a metabolic assessment done at a professional assessment center. However, that can be a pricy and time consuming option. A much more affordable option that also provides accurate training zones is a Fitdigits Fitness Assessment.

However, if neither of these options work for you and you are not up to taking an assessment, there are many equations to find custom heart rate zones. If you know your Max and Resting Heart Rate, you can get a wide variety of zones on the Determining Your Heart Rate Training Zones page.

Here you will find HR zones using percent of Max HR, the Karvonen method, Zoladz method, Joe Friel Running or Biking formula, and ABCC/BCF guidelines.



Scott lost 130 pounds with Fitdigits

Scott decided to change his lifestyle

Testimonial by Fitdigits user Scott B.

Last September my wife and I made a strong and ongoing commitment to get into and maintain healthier lifestyle. I was 41 and had been morbidly obese much of my adult life. At one point I weighted almost 300 pounds. I had also been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes seven years ago and severe sleep apnea too. I knew it was critical I make some significant lifestyle changes or face even worse health risks.

We started by eating healthy and incorporating a variety of exercises, including cardio and resistance-based activities, into our daily activities. I had owned several heart rate monitors in the past and found them helpful. Both my wife and I started to use them again to track workout intensity and caloric burns. In Mid-September of last year I discovered the Fitdigits app and was blown away by its features. It quickly proved to be one of the more essential tools I used to get down to 170 pounds by April of this year and see other health improvements: I no longer have sleep apnea or have to wear a CPAP mask every time I try to sleep. More importantly, my blood sugar/glucose levels are now within very healthy levels without the need for medication! My resting heart rate went from the low 80s to upper 50s now. For the first time as an adult I can both jog and run respectable distances.

The Fitdigits app stands out from the other heart rate monitor and running apps because of the broad feature set, level of customization, the Fitdigits website, partner integration, ease of use despite the large feature set, and great support.

After getting familiar with the app and features my wife and I did the Fitdigits fitness assessments. From that we had something to measure our progress, more accurate and personalized heart rate zones, and other information the Fitdigits app uses to more accurately measure and display your heart rate related data and calorie burn. I like that the heart rate zones the Fitdigits app created support more modern information regarding optimal fat burning, aerobic, and anaerobic heart rate zones and not the old 10% increments of your maximum heart rate that have been used in the past.

The next thing I did was setup custom dashboards to display different data based on the activity we were doing. The custom dashboards are capable of displaying up to 12 items per screen, and you can have multiple screens! As an example, when I am on the elliptical I want to see my heart rate, what zone I am in, total calories burned, current calories per minute I am burning, average calorie burn per minute, total workout time, etc. If I am doing a custom workout routine I want to see how long I have left in the current zone, and how much time is left in the routine. How is all that data useful? The data is like a coach telling you how hard you are working your body, and if your efforts are in align with what you are trying to accomplish with that workout; I can look at the screen and see if I need to keep my effort as is, push it harder, or slow down.

The ability to easily create custom routines is very nice. Sometimes I just want to burn a lot of calories, other times I am doing a structured high intensity interval training workout to boost my cardio, and other times and am focusing on cardio endurance. Routines help guide you so that you stay on track with the proper intensity levels throughout the workouts.

As mentioned, the Fitdigits app has the ability to display a lot of useful data during the workout but it also stands out from other similar apps in what you can do with the data post-workout. The app itself saves all the workouts locally and syncs them to your Fitdigits account online. I find it incredibly useful and motivating to compare past and present workouts to monitor my progress. I can see very clear improvements in my cardio and running speeds on a regular basis. Doing the fitness assessments regularly and comparing those is also very helpful to track progress and ensure the cardio related settings within the Fitdigits app update and maintain accuracy.

The web site allows you to setup different types of goals so that that you can better track, measure, and get reports on your progress. Both my wife and I have found the goal related features very helpful in staying committed. We both have weekly calorie burn and workout duration goals. Since I can now run, I also have a weekly distance running goal too.

One of the other great features about the Fitdigits Ecosystem is that they have partnered with some of the other popular fitness-related resources. My favorite is MyFitnessPal. Many people, including my wife and I, use that free site to plan our meals and track food consumption. We like that our workouts get synced to the site so we can track net calories (consumed calories minus burned calories).

I previously purchased two Garmin FR-620s ($450 each) for my wife and I before Fitdigits implemented the BLE stride sensor feature. I have to say, after using my Polar HR strap and stride sensor with the Fitdigits app—the Garmin watches will only be used on very long runs. Thankfully Fitdigits has made it very easy to import data from Garmin and other companies that use common exportable data logging formats.

Overall I feel the small cost of the Fitdigits app, compatible heart rate monitor, their optional MVP program features, and taking a little time to both understand how to use the features and setting up an obtainable action plan are an amazing value and a must have investment for anyone that wants to improve their fitness.

Heart Rate Monitoring is at Fitdigits’s Core

Testimonial by Fitdigits user David S.

Having decided I needed more Heart Rate analysis than my Garmin 310 Forerunner/Garmin Connect combination provided I began the process of testing the myriad of fitness/running Apps available for the iPhone. I finally identified iRunner by Fitdigits as the one that would give me the information I required.

iRunner by Fitdigits stands above other Apps because it is designed with Heart Rate monitoring at its core rather than an added extra; for me heart rate based training is essential for anyone who is serious about improving their performance.

I use a Polar H7 Heart Rate strap and an iPhone 5 and it works seamlessly. The App allows me customization of my Heart Rate Zones and of what I see and hear, allowing me to achieve the goals I have set for each training session; I have found no other App that delivers this kind of functionality.

Once I have completed my training session the information breakdown given by the App is excellent, but when it is uploaded to the Fitdigits website, My.Fitdigits, along with a Fitdigits MVP Subscription the analysis starts to stand out against other fitness sites. I can now analyze my cumulative Heart Rate data for any period and any training type. I now know if I am spending the right amount of time in each zone for any phase of my training. It was this functionality that led me to doing a VO2 Max test to nail my Heart Rate Zones, which then took my training to another level.

I have been using iRunner since June 2013 and have no doubt that it was a major contributor to setting PRs in the Half Marathon and 10k this year!

Using Fitness Assessments to Determine Heart Rate Zones

You’ve begun the journey of learning about your body, your heart. You’ve made the decision to take control of your fitness level. Congratulations! There is very little as key to a great heart rate training experience as having fully customized, personalized Heart Rate Zones and Pace Zones that fit you. When you have this, things just feel right when you are exercising.

Fitdigits includes multiple types of fitness assessments with a Pro Plus or Star Membership, for all levels of users. These assessments help determine your fitness level, using well accepted research as a base for calculating VO2 Max as a proxy for cardiovascular fitness. We’ve taken proven techniques, combined common sense, and designed assessments that can serve to proxy for the full treadmill-hooked-to-a-mask-and-computer traditional fitness test. Why spend hundreds when you have Fitdigits?!

The Beginner Cardio, Advanced Cardio, and Critical Power 30 minute (CP-30) Cardio assessments can help you determine your personal heart rate and pace zones to properly design your exercise regimen and help you hit your goals.

Ready to begin? Let’s do this!

Starting a Fitness Assessment

All Fitness Assessments require a heart rate monitor paired and connected to run an Assessment. Please note any pausing of the workout / assessment will make it null and void as an assessment, though it will still show up as a workout.

To start your assessment, get yourself and your heart rate monitor ready. Find a nice flat and open place where you can move freely. Open the app then:

Starting a Fitness Assessment

  1. Swipe to the activity type you want to do the fitness assessment in.
  2. Tap the gear / settings icon for the activity type.
  3. Tap Fitness Assessments to see a list of the different assessments available.
    1. Assessments like the Rockport Walking Test and Cooper Running Test are only available in some activity types like walking/running.
  4. Tap on the assessment you are going to do.

The description of the assessment will give you an overview of what is expected for that particular type. It’s good to familiarize yourself with what is expected, though you will also be guided through by voice prompts during the assessment.

  1. Tap Launch / Launch Assessment to launch the sensor acquisition and get to the ready state. Once all sensors are acquired, tap Start to begin.
  2. Depending on the assessment, between 7.5 minutes and up to 50 minutes will elapse, guided in stages by voice prompts, taking you through different levels (or continuous levels) of effort throughout the assessment.

When the assessment is complete, you’ll get a summary of Fitness Level and VO2 Max as calculated by the results.

Assessment Complete

Tap Done, which will take you to your assessment results.

Fitness Assessment ResultsAssessment Results

Choose “Set All” to apply these results as your default settings and zones. You can also choose different settings to set individually as well. If you don’t set them as default at this time, you can always do that later.

To see that your Heart Rate or Pace Zones have been set to default, go to the activity you want and tap Activity Settings (gear icon) > Dashboards & Zones > Heart Rate Zones or Pace Zones.

Once you have your own personal heart rate zones, you’ll wonder why you ever did accept the default!

Some experts recommend a new assessment every 6 weeks, some every 6 months to a year, to help track your fitness level and zones through your active life. The newer the active lifestyle is, and the more variation of the training levels, the more often you’ll want to complete one.

Next step – designing custom interval workouts based on your new zones!

5 Heart Rate Training Myths

The Loch Ness Monster. Bigfoot. The Chupacabra. All of these myths have been circulating since the beginning of time. Since we do not have concrete evidence either way, there is no possibility of reaching a verdict as to whether the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, or the Chupacabra actually exists. However, when it comes to myths about heart rate training, we have answers as solid as steel. Read below for some common heart rate training myths, and the truth behind them.

1. If you want to burn fat, it is best to get your heart rate as high as possible. You better be working out until you are sweatier than John Goodman’s third chin after a set of crunches in a sauna.

WRONG: This statement has about as much validity as Manti Te’o’s girlfriend. The best method for burning fat at a higher percentage is a steady, consistent workout in Zone 2 (60-69% max heart rate), the fat burning zone. This zone uniquely targets fat because fat is a slow burning fuel, so if you do a long and less-intense workout, your body will target a higher amount of fat cells then carbohydrates. While you may burn more net calories in higher heart rate zones, you will burn the highest percent of fat calories in Zone 2.

2. The best way to check your heart health is to see how far you can push yourself during a workout and how fast you can go. After the workout is over, check out how far you traveled and what time you got to truly determine if you are in good health.

WRONG: If you are physically active on a regular basis, a great way to check your heart health is by checking your heart rate recovery after an intense 10-15 minute workout. You can figure out your heart rate be either using Fitdigits iCardio’s recovery feature, or by manually figuring out your recovery. Either way, if your recovery is between 22-52 beats per minute (BPM) after a 10 minute ramped up workout, it is average. If your recovery is higher than 52 BPM your heart is very healthy, and below 22 BPM your heart is slightly older then your calendar age.

3. When it comes to Heart Rate Zones, you are fine just going with the default formula of 220-your age for max heart rate. The corresponding zones are very accurate, and you don’t need more specialized zones unless you are a serious athlete.

WRONG: I would not wish this amount of uneducated bliss on my worst frienemy. Custom heart rate zones are the key to informed workouts, which will lead to better results. Not only will custom heart rate zones make zone based training as easy as a Kindergarten spelling test, but it will also result in drastically more accurate calories burned in your workouts if you are using a fitness application. Custom zones also allow for a caloric breakdown of how many fat and carbohydrate calories burned during a workout. Complete a Fitdigits Fitness Assessment to get custom HR zones.

4. In order to become better at endurance workouts, get your Forrest Gump on and go as far as humanly possible. Try to drive your heart rate higher than James Franco was in Pineapple Express. If you are going less than ten miles a day on your workouts, might as well throw in the towel and try your hand at knitting.

WRONG: The best way to train for endurance is to workout with steady pace workouts in the Aerobic Zone, which is zone 3 (70-79%). Do not run a race distance every day because that is just asking for an injury! However, once a week try to work in an LSD workout. No, I’m not saying you should be scoping out Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and “feeling colors” while you run, but rather a Long but Slow Distance workout, in which you run for a long distance at a slow and steady pace.

5. When it comes to working out, monotony is your friend. If you find a routine that works for you at an intensity level that feels right, make like a Carnival ship and keep cruising. If you mix things up too much you are danger of becoming dangerously spontaneous, which often results in a putrid body odor, sore hamstrings and the inability to pronounce “hospitable”.

WRONG: Interval training based on heart rate zones might as well be called the blender, because they are a great way to mix up your workouts. If you find you are constantly doing the same routine or route during workouts, try an interval workout to add a dash of spice to your exercise life. One great type of interval workouts is High Intensity Intercal Training (HIIT), or more specifically Tabata intervals. Tabata interval training is basically when you elevate your heart rate to Zone 5 (or 90-92 % of your max heart rate) for 20-60 seconds, followed by periods of shorter or equal rest. HIIT and Tabata is a great way to burn fat, or just to switch up your routine to keep you engaged!

Part II: Fitdigits CP30 Running Assessment Saved My Half Marathon

CP30 Results

In part I, I described my quest to beat a PR of 1:46 set in the previous year for the same half marathon. Unfortunately, as the race drew closer, there wasn’t enough time left to train normally.

Instead, I turned to the Fitdigits assessments to help streamline my training. I completed the Fitdigits CP30 Running Assessment to determine my maximum heart rate (maxHR)*, heart rate zones** and lactate threshold***. I knew if I could stay below my lactate threshold, I could definitely finish the race. If I went above my threshold, I might bonk, become too fatigued or worse, injure myself.

Taking the CP30 Running fitness assessment ten days before the half marathon was essential to my race strategy and ultimate success. The screen shot on the right is my CP30 results which calculated my lactate threshold (LTHR) of 159 beats per minute (BPM) which became my strategy for race day: keep my heart rate below 159 BPM during the race. View my 30 minute assessment heart chart.

I’m surprised how few of us really know how fit we are. If you accurately identify your fitness level, it becomes incredibly easy to tailor your fitness program. For example, working out too hard or too easy can have a profound affect on your performance and overall enjoyment of your activity. To illustrate my point, the following two graphs show how my heart zones differ between the standard 220 – age and my CP30 assessment.

My maxHR improved by 5 BPM to 168 with CP30 Running Assessment.

Industry Standard: Fitdigits Industry standard 220-age (as used by Fitdigits and other heart rate monitors) calculated my maxHR at 163 beats BPM, Zone three at 113-129 BPM.

CP30  Assessment: Fitdigits CP30 Running Test determined my maxHR as 168 BPM with my lactate threshold at 159 BPM and Zone 3 at 142-149 BPM.

Notice the following:

  • My maxHR measured 5 BPM higher in the assessment vs standard 220-age. My lactic threshold previously calculated at 122 BPM (85% of maxHR) and improved by 21 BPM in the assessment to 159 BPM. For some, differences can be as high as 20 BPM.
  • My Zone 3 significantly changed. As it turns out, my Zone 3 (necessary for race day training) was off by 10 BPM using the industry standard. Standard 220-age calculated my Zone 3 at 113-129 BPM but I should have been training at 142-149 BPM thanks to the CP30 calculations. In fact, 113-129 is actually more like my zone 1 than Zone 3. Big difference.

So what does all this mean? Thanks to the CP30 Running Assessment, I was able to complete my half marathon injury free and very close to my target pace. Knowing my true maxHR, lactic threshold and proper zones made it possible for me to complete the race with minimal training.

I don’t recommend taking the assessment as a replacement for training but given that I’m relatively fit and healthy, it made all the difference. So, if you are training for a race, trying to lose weight or just exercising to stay in shape, take a Fitdigits Assessment to determine your actual maxHR, lactate threshold and proper zones. Exercising with accuracy affects your training, performance and general well-being.

Race Day

We arrived at the Santa Ynez marathon starting point at 6:30AM; 30 minutes before the start. The morning was cool, low 50s, and shrouded in a light fog. Just about ideal race conditions.

The racecourse weaves its way through scenic rolling hills, colored in peaceful green headed to light golden brown and spotted with oaks, cattle and horses. The area is building its appellation reputation due to the growing number of small up-and-coming boutique wineries — hence the name Wine Country Half Marathon.

About 3,000 entrants are milling around, hugging themselves and rubbing their arms up and down, slightly jogging in place, just keeping moving to stay warm. As common to many half marathons, about 70% of the runners are women.

With 5 minutes before the start, Sven and I worked our way forward through the crowd, estimating where the 7:30 – 8:30 pace groups were congregating. I started reminding myself to, “Stick with your race strategy. Watch your heart rate, not the clock, and not your pace. Don’t get swept up in a fast start.  And don’t try to stay with Sven.”

The gun sounded, the crowd slowly shuffled through the starting gate, the pace gradually quickened. I found myself dancing more than running as I avoided the hundreds of falling feet each establishing their footing and pace.

While I had started next to Sven, with less than 5 minutes into the run it was getting hard to spot him in amongst the racers headed off the front. I glanced down at my phone and sure enough, my heart rate had spiked, driven by the adrenalin of race start and chaos of the first half mile. “Okay Dean, settle down, run your race.”

The 13.1 course is split 60/40 as uphill and down hill.  The first leg is a gentle 200 ft uphill grade which ends in a short, steep 150 ft climb. The second half mirrors the first but descends 450ft to end with a 100 foot climb about a qtr mile from the finish.

I like running uphill. And I’ll admit, I like passing runners on uphill climbs. It’s a macho thing which as I age, I’m wisely letting go. The year before I kept a strong pace up the steep grade. But upon cresting I realized that I had spent a lot and didn’t have much kick going down the back side.  I remembered that mistake and promised myself I wouldn’t make it again.

The race was moving along well. I kept my Fitdigits screen on the heart chart and kept my heart in a +/- 3 heart beats around 156.  I was feeling good and strong as I approached the steep climb. As I started up the grade, I watched my hr climb so I slowed down my pace, holding back the horses that wanted to charge upwards.

At 60 min, my heart rate rose to 164 BPM. It was time to slow down and return to race pace (159 BPM).

Just prior to the crest I was smiling as I had stayed my course … but I was feeling a bit too good.  I decided to up my speed down the back side passing a few dozen runners. My heart rate rose to 164 while I wasn’t watching and I found myself breathing hard and noticeably tiring.  I looked at my chart, saw my errant ways and slowed it down. But by then my legs were heavy.  I’d spent too much time in zone 5 and the lactic acid had taken its toll. Even though I was now running a gentle down hill, my pace was noticeably slower and I was working to keep my heart rate at 152. It took me almost 30 minutes to recover in preparation to crank it up for the last 2 miles.

Crossing the finish line.At mile eleven I picked up my pace. I was feeling tired but still had the will and power to press on. When I hit the last short climb, I slowed it down, watching my hr, and made my way up. At the top I started pushing again with just a mile to the finish line. The end of the course takes a sharp left turn into the middle of the town. The turn is about an 1/8th of a mile to the finish. With the turn in sight I let the horses run finishing with a sub 6:00 pace.

I passed through the banners, hit slide to pause and end workout button, finishing with a 1:50:51 Fitdigits time.  Just 4 minutes shy of my personal best.  I was feeling great and a little smug.  For the most part, I kept to my plan, cutting myself some slack for my downhill splurge.

Sven was there to greet me with his big broad smile. He had crossed the finish line 10 minutes earlier.


Sven and my family at the finish line.


*maximum heart rate (maxHR) is the highest number of times your heart can contract in one minute. Max HR is the most useful tool to be used in determining training intensities, because it can be individually measured or predicted.

**heart rate zones are a range of heart beats. Recent research has shown powerful benefits from exercising in several different zones to get maximum benefit.

***lactate threshold or lactate inflection point is when your body starts producing more lactic acid than the blood can remove from your muscles which accelerates fatigue and can lead to injury. Read more )

Customize Heart Rate Zones on the Android

Customizing your Heart Rate Zones is important to personalizing your workouts and calorie burn.

With Fitdigits apps on Android, it’s simple to change your zones, though ideally it is done through a customized Fitness Assessment you’ve taken, where we do the work for you.

  1. Select the Activity you want to use the zones on
  2. Tap Activity Options (gear icon)
  3. Tap My Heart Rate Zones
  4.  Tap Add Zone Set
    1. To edit a zone set, tap that zone set and tap Edit in the top right
  5. Tap on the Title of the Zone Set and the zones themselves to change the names.
  6. Tap on the beats per minute barriers to change them
  7. Tap “DONE” when finished.
  8. To set the new zone set as default in the app, tap “Set Default”