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Heart rate thresholds during exercise


Posted by Abi M under Fitness & Training on 26 January 2013 at 12:00 AM

The heart rate is one of the most valued tools for exercise analysis, a continual monitoring system telling us if we are pushing ourselves too much or too little, highlighting our intensity levels and rates of adaptation.

Heart rate monitor and watch combinationExercising for some can be a chore, but for many it is an addiction, either way a purpose is essential. Working out at different intensities can produce and develop certain effects, whether it be exercising for general health benefits, to lose weight or to produce specific gains such as an increase in fast twitch muscle fibres. The varying intensities are commonly categorised into four heart rate thresholds, which are: recovery, aerobic, anaerobic and the red line zone. 

A basic understanding of the threshold components is imperative if an exercise regime is to be suitable for an individual’s needs and goals. 

Some key terms to take into consideration when discussing heart rate thresholds during exercise can include: 

  • Heart rate maximum - the highest number of times your heart can beat in one minute
  • Resting heart rate - the lowest number of times your heart can beat in one minute; aerobic, with oxygen 
  • Anaerobic - without oxygen and Vo2 max, which is the greatest amount of oxygen consumed and utilized within the body during maximal exercise intensity

Before starting any form of training based on heart rate thresholds, you need to find out your Heart Rate Maximum (HRM) - check out this guide on How to calculate your heart rate max.

The Recovery Zone

The recovery zone would be exercising in, predominantly an aerobic based activity at approximately 60-70% of your heart rate maximum, this level of intensity for most people would be a form of light exercise such as walking. If an individual’s purpose for exercise is to maintain a general healthiness, then this intensity zone is ideal. If they were to continue to exercise at this intensity over a period of time, then cardiovascular improvements would be made such as, more efficient feeding of oxygen to the working muscles, body composition changes could also occur. 

Have you got a canine friend?! Try this Walking the dog Challenge to help work out at your recovery zone. 

The Aerobic Zone

Running without walking - aerobic exerciseExercising in the aerobic zone is most effective in developing and improving the cardiovascular system, the transportation of oxygenated blood to the muscle cells and removal of carbon dioxide becomes much more efficient. To achieve effects such as this, an activity such as jogging should be performed at an intensity of approximately 71-80% of your heart rate maximum. Exercising at this intensity will work your cardiovascular and respiratory systems hard, but will not over work them, an athlete’s endurance will also be greatly improved at this level of intensity.  

Running for an hour without walking is a good test on your aerobic fitness.

The Anaerobic Zone 

The anaerobic zone is a threshold in which exercise is performed at a high intensity rate of approximately 81-90% of your heart rate maximum. Interval training, hill sprints and fartlek (speed play) training are all common forms of exercise which can work you at this high intensity rate, this level of intense exertion pushes your body and there becomes a point at which your body struggles to remove the lactic acid as quickly as it is produced, this is known as your lactate or anaerobic threshold, training helps increase this threshold. 

Jonathan B offers further advice and a guide on how Fartlek training can help get ‘match fit’ for team sports pre-season. 

Fartlek training to improve anaerobic and aerobic exercise

The Red Line Zone

Vo2 max is the greatest amount of oxygen consumed and utilized within the body during maximal exercise intensity and often occurs during exercise in the red line zone, where a performer is working at approximately 91-100% of their heart rate maximum. Naturally, this level of intensity is only suitable for those of an already existing level of high fitness. Interval workouts which are faster, shorter and of maximum intensity repeated with full recovery periods in between are a sure way to be exercising in the ‘red line zone’. The recovery time in between high intensity periods is essential as there will be increased levels of lactic acid in the muscle tissue. Working in this zone will also burn high proportions of calories per minute. 

The Interval training Tribe offers a variety of guides, discussions, question and answers where you can learn more about interval training. 

You can find out more about the different heart rate thresholds in this guide.

How can we measure heart rate intensities?

Heart rate intensity graph from ramp test on spin bike

This is an example of what a half an hour training session may look like if you had worn a heart rate monitor. This particular workout was a ramp test on a spin bike, performed in an altitude chamber. Analysis such as this can help an individual assess their recovery periods and look at how long they maintained working at a higher intensity for. 

Heart rate thresholds during exercise can often be a confusing concept, it is important to remember that these thresholds are individual to the athlete, and whilst one person may be running at 80% of their heart rate maximum (HRM), another may be running at the same pace but is only at 70% of their HRM.

So if you are looking to get active today, think about the sort of exercise you would like to engage in and the benefits you could achieve. If you’re looking to maintain general health for example, why not you try Tribesports Beginners walking Challenge, if you’re looking to push yourself a little harder, have a go at doing any Aerobic exercise for 30 minutes at 80% of your heart rate maximum Challenge

  • Encourage

    encouraged this.



    Splendid Informations sponsored by Abi ;D kudos to Abi ;D

    Kara A encouraged this.


    All good, never thought about the dog walking idea for recovery zone


    Staying in Recovery window is the hardest thing I do. I have my Zones (0 thru 6) written in sharpie and stuck on the wall next to my turbo trainer. On recovery days, it's a low gear spin at about 80rpm and I can just about keep my HR to below 105bpm.... But sit up out of the usual road tuck, and it goes up 5 beats... Think about by lunch and it goes up 3 beats... think about the job and it's through the roof. A very good blog, and a good follow up would be a periodisation piece that explains how to use the various intensities and durations over specific training periods to get to peak at the right time.

    Abi M encouraged this.


    Thanks guys, i enjoyed writing this piece and glad it's encouraged some of you! Thanks for your info Alan C and David G as well, i particularly like the talk test as i don't personally own a heart rate monitor!

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