Heart Rate Zones

author : Team BT
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Targeting different zones in your triathlon training

If you've never paid much attention to your heart rate, now is a good time to get acquainted with heart rate training. Such training can increase your aerobic capacity and ultimately help you access your own speed and endurance.

There are a few methods of heart rate training, and some focus solely on keeping your heart rate in a low range for all of your training for several weeks of being a beginner.

Other methods have you train in different heart rate zones for different workouts.

Whichever method you try, you'll learn about yourself and your body, and increase your fitness.


We recommend you use a heart rate chest strap that communicates with your watch or other device. Although many high tech watches use LED lights to optically sense your pulse in your veins, in our experience these are not as accurate as a chest strap, and can drastically under-report your heart rate. In one test, a medium-hard run showed a 160 bpm heart rate for a 40-year-old female runner, but the wrist monitor showed only 140 beats per minute. That's a big difference, and that's why we recommend a chest strap, especially if you are a beginner and don't have a sense of what the reading "should be" by feel so that you can detect false readings.

Calculating Zones

Most apps and watches will do this work for you, but you can also calculate your heart rate zones manually. Here are some methods you can use. You'll want to write down your Zone 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 ranges and keep it handy at the beginning of your workouts.

Training by Heart Rate

There are a number of training plans that use heart rate as the primary driver of the workout, instructing you to swim, bike or run a certain number of minutes in designated heart rate zones. (Swimming is more difficult, as chest straps don't work in the water. Usually you have to take your pulse at your neck while you rest at the wall.)

Any of the Training Plans here at BT that end with "HR" in the name are heart rate plans.

Having Fun with Heart Rate on Your Own

It's also OK to track your heart rate and use it to learn more about your body and your fitness. And to see which workouts get you into the different zones.

It's useful for training and fitness to push yourself into various heart rate zones. Some athletes who have trained into old age credit a strategy of doing at least one workout per week (or a few minutes per day) of Zone 5 to get their heart racing.

For most everyone, it's difficult to get into Zone 5 cycling, or at least much harder that it is to get into Zone 5 by running. Strength workouts can seem pretty tame, but often lifting a difficult weight will spike the heart rate to its max. Experimenting with heart rate in this way can provide insight into which parts of a race will be most taxing, and when it's best to try to eat or drink. (The digestive system works better when your heart rate is lower.)

One of the benefits of triathlon is that you are training in several sports, each of which have different median heart rates. This gives you an opportunity to experience a variety of heart rate zones and understand its impact on your breathing, sweat rate, and ability to continue at that effort level.


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date: May 31, 2020

Team BT