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Cardio Heart-Rate Zones

author image Jonathan Thompson
Jonathan Thompson is a personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise and has extensive experience working with clients as well as teaching. Thompson holds specializations in longevity nutrition and muscle management for runners. He began writing in 2004.
Cardio Heart-Rate Zones
A woman is checking her exercise monitor. Photo Credit: Jacob Ammentorp Lund/iStock/Getty Images

A chart divided into five training zones is conveniently displayed on many treadmills, exercise bikes and other pieces of cardiovascular exercise equipment. These zones allow you to adjust your level of exertion, measured by heart rate, to achieve the desired effects. The various zones are defined by percentages of maximum heart rate, which can be calculated in different ways.

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Finding Maximum Heart Rate

One of the easiest and most popular methods to find maximum heart rate is to subtract your age from 220 for men and 226 for women. This formula has been highly contested since its introduction because it does not consider factors that can affect individual heart health, including fitness level and genetics. The most accurate methods for finding maximum heart rate require specialized equipment and a professional trained to administer the test. Submaximal tests are available at some health clubs, and cardiologists can perform a stress test.

Warm-Up Zone

The warm-up zone consists of a heart rate at 50 to 60 percent of your maximum heart rate. This is the easiest zone and is a proper starting point for those beginning a workout program. Skipping the warm-up stage can increase your risk of injury. A proper warm-up increases blood flow to your muscles and flexibility in your joints, preparing your body for activity.

Fat-Burning Zone

Also called the fitness zone, the fat-burning zone requires a heart rate of 60 to 70 percent. This has similar biological effects and benefits to the warm-up, but is more intense, requiring your body to burn more calories. During both the fat-burning and the warm-up zones, approximately 85 percent of the calories burned are from fat.

Endurance Training Zone

The challenging nature of this zone causes the heart and lungs to work harder, improving overall cardiorespiratory fitness. The endurance training zone is between 70 and 80 percent of maximum heart rate and is appropriate for endurance athletes. Although more calories are burned, at this level the body can not process fat fast enough to meet the needs of the muscles, and only 50 percent of the calories burned are from fat.

Performance Training Zone

At 80 to 90 percent of maximum heart rate, the body enters an anaerobic training mode. This means that oxygen is no longer the primary cellular fuel and lactic acid is being produced in the muscles, causing fatigue and a burning sensation. This is an intense and difficult heart-rate zone that will greatly improve both muscular and cardiorespiratory endurance. Beginning exercisers should not enter this zone of training.

Maximum Effort

Maximum effort is 90 to 100 percent of maximum heart rate and is very intense. Highly conditioned athletes can only maintain this amount of effort for short periods of time. This zone can be dangerous and should not be attempted without the supervision of a doctor.

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