How to calculate your training zones

March 24, 2023 5 min read

How to calculate your training zones

How to calculate your training zones

Exercise intensity can be determined by several different methods; a popular one being training at different percentages of your maximum heart rate (MHR). During exercise, this is the highest heart rate you can achieve. Elites athletes often use very high intensity training and specific treadmill protocols in order to determine their MHR. However, there is a simple and quick formula which enables you to determine your approximate MHR:

Men: MHR = 214 – (0.8 x your age in years)

Women: MHR = 209 – (0.9 x your age in years)

For example: 

A 30-year-old man will have an approximate MHR of: 214 – (0.8 x 30) = 190

A 30-year-old woman will have an approximate MHR of: 209 – (0.9 x 30) = 182

To find out your working heart rate (WHR), you subtract your resting heart rate (RHR) from your calculated MHR. A resting heart rate is one when you are completely relaxed for example when you have first woken up in the morning. Then for your workouts, use the following training zones: 

Easy = 60 to 75 per cent of your WHR (+ your RHR)

Moderate = 75 to 85 per cent of your WHR (+ your RHR)

Hard = 85 to 95 per cent of your WHR (+ your RHR)

For example:

A 30-year- old man who has a RHR of 60 and is planning an easy workout will therefore have a MHR of 190. His WHR can be calculated by subtracting 60 from 190 (190 – 60 = 130). His easy zone is 60-75% of 130 (+ 60) = 78 (+60) to 97.5 (+60) = 138 to 157.5. Due to this, his upper limit should be either 157 or 158 beats per minute whilst his lower limit should be 138. 

Using the Borg technique to pace yourself during exercise 

Your cardiovascular activity can be paced using the Borg technique as an alternative to using training zones based on percentages of MHR. 

Assuming that you are not suffering from an injury or illness, and you have experienced a difficulty in your ability to sustain a cardiovascular workout, it is likely that the problem is due to a misjudgement of intensity and pace which is a common problem. This can easily be caused by starting your exercise too quickly and then realising you are unable to maintain this pace as you continue. Alternatively, you could feel as though you have more to give at the end of your workout, suggesting that you may have been able to have trained at a higher intensity which once again presents the problem of pacing. Learning how to evaluate your training intensity and mirroring this during your session is the solution to these problems and will enable you to achieve maximum training benefits as well as the ability to enjoy your workout to a higher degree. 

Start exercise as you mean to go on

It is important to begin your workout with a proper warm-up which should be at a slower pace than your main workout; for example, if you going for a run, your warm-up should gradually bridge the gap from being sedentary to active; this is vital because it allows your body to prepare for the main body of the session and therefore enables you to function more effectively. Not warming up poses the threat of injury as you go into oxygen debt too quickly which result in the problems discussed in the previous paragraph. 

Borg training exercises

The Borg scale is an efficient way of checking that you are training at the right pace to how you feel. It measures your effort levels ie how hard you are training and refers to your rate of perceived exertion (RPE). The scale ranges from 6 to 20, in which six is deemed to be putting in no effort at all whilst 20 is working at your upmost rate. 

Rating – intensity of session

6 – no effort

7 – very, very light


9 – very light


11 – fairly light 


13 – somewhat hard


15 – hard 


17 – very hard 


19 – very, very hard

20 – absolute maximum

What are the benefits of the Borg technique? 

In comparison to other methods of training intensity and pace judgements, the Borg technique includes internal and external factors which are included below: 

  • Regardless of differing fitness levels, the Borg scale allows individuals to personally measure the intensity at which you are working when exercising 
  • Exercise in various weather conditions which play a big factor in how you’re feeling when you train, for example: 
  • You may feel that your session is particularly tough when the weather is hot and humid, this is because you become dehydrated quicker in addition to sweating more which causes a decrease in blood volume. As a result, both your heart and you work much harder 
  • Pace can noticeably be affected by windy weather as it becomes difficult to maintain your fastest pace; in a similar way to the weather mentioned above, an RPE guide provides a much better indicator on how hard you are personally working in contrast to a stopwatch 
  • You may be experiencing overall fatigue for multiple reasons and this will have an effect on your workout; it will most likely feel tougher. Being reliant on a heart rate monitor or stopwatch could lead to you overtraining yourself when you are fatigued. 
  • Similarly to the point mentioned above, training will seem much more difficult if you suffer from a lack of sleep; a stopwatch or heart rate monitor may not always reveal that this is why the edge has been taken off of your performances during training. 
  • Fatigue can also be a result of repeated workouts and RPE will provide immediate feedback on how you personally see your session progressing. 
  • Exercising when you are under pressure or stressed will result in evident tension during your movements, thereby making your workout harder. As RPE is an effective method in analysing how tough a session feels, it is particularly beneficial when factors such as stress are involved as this can be hard to quantify. 
  • Ultimately, it is important to listen to your body, and RPE provides a supportive method to ensure your training reflects how you are feeling. Should you feel below your normal standard, you should break off a little bit and if you then feel good, your pace can look to be extended. It is vital to be in control of your training and not the other way around. 

Training tips for using the Borg scale

  • Asking yourself either how hard or easy a pace feels will enable you to continuously evaluate your level of intensity during a session. 
  • By assessing your effort throughout your workout, this will allow you to maximise your personal performance, and therefore benefit more from the session 
  • You should always rate yourself honestly when using the Borg technique as this is the best way to make the most out of your session; reducing your training will always be a better option than over training and over exerting yourself with the risk of obtaining an injury 
  • If you grade your RPE at 9 but you’ve planned a hard training session, this gives you the flexibility to push yourself a bit further, but this is also true vice versa. 
  • Asking whoever you are training with how they feel can allow you to train together which can also increase your enjoyment 

Therefore, the next time a heart rate monitor or sport watch does not appear to reflect how you feel during your workout, use the Borg scale to assess and alter your intensity level. As a result, this will allow you to enjoy the session more as you achieve the maximum benefits whilst also reducing the risk of excessive fatigue or injury caused from overtraining due to a lack of efficiency. 

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