HR perceived effort test

I promote Heart Rate training in running… I think it’s great. It’s a great guide to help you to run easy, hard and in between.  I find heart rate (HR) a better marker for how you feel when you’re running, as opposed to pace or time.

HR is the effort you put in, time and pace is the result of your effort and the conditions.

I’ve shared how to work out your Heart Rate zones and how to do HR training here on my blog previously… but what if it doesn’t work for you?  What if the numbers are out? What can you do to learn your HR zones instead?

Heart Rate Training
Heart Rate Training Page

Someone asked me recently, so I thought I’d get this guide together:

Slow Burn HR Zones

Usually using the formula from the book Slow Burn… for your ‘effective zone’… take your age from 180 to get your minimum effective HR and add 10 to get your maximum effective HR.

slowburnI’m 36, so my effective zone would be 144 – 154… anything above 154 is me working hard (or in an anaerobic zone – without oxygen) anything below 144 is easy (or in an aerobic zone – with oxygen).

So my Slow Burn HR Zones are:

Easy / Aerobic:                   up to 144
Effective:                             144-154
Hard / Anaerobic:             154+

See my Heart Rate Calculator based on this method, on this page here.

Another way to workout zones, are simply using your Garmin….it has  graphs and zones it puts you in based on your age:

Garmin HR Zones

Another formula, based on Garmin’s calculations is:

Max HR is 220 – your age, then there are 5 heart rate zones:

Zone 1: Z1 – 50-60% max HR = Warm up HR
Zone 2: Z2 – 60-70% max HR = Easy HR
Zone 3: Z3 – 70-80% max HR = Aerobic HR
Zone 4: Z4 – 80-90% max HR = Threshold HR
Zone 5: Z5 – 90-100% max HR = Anaerobic HR

So if you’re 40 it would look like this:

Zone 1 Z1 Warm up



Zone 2 Z2 Easy



Zone 3 Z3 Aerobic



Zone 4 Z4 Threshold



Zone 5 Z5 Anaerobic



Once again, sometimes the formula doesn’t work. Everyone is individhr-zonesual… and sometimes a good old ‘perceived effort’ test, relating it back to heart rate can work instead.

(One more thing, I know there are various ways to work out Max HR… but I like to keep it simple, and I usually find that 220 minus your age isn’t usually all that far out).

You can work out your Garmin HR Zones using this calculator (in excel) – just put in your age.

See the image to the right to show my Garmin HR Zones and how they appear in the graph section on the Garmin Connect App (it was spin, not a run, but you get the idea).

What happens if the formulae doesn’t seem to work?
With the many people I’ve coaching in running, I’ve found that the formula works for some, but not for all.

I’ve coached someone who is 35 (zone should be 145-155), and she felt comfortable running with her heart rate at 180-190… and someone who is 42 (zone should be 138-148) who felt comfortable with her heart rate at 170-180.

Is it realistic to expect that a 60 year old will have an effective HR zone of 120-130 when running?  …perhaps not. This, or when formulae don’t work, is when ‘feel’ or perceived effort can come in.

Slow Burn talks a lot about how you feel, how you experience your run… the sounds the sights – there are ‘indicators for each zone’ which you can look out for as you run.

Perceived Effort HR test

I’ve found in the past that a good Heart Rate test run with perceived effort along with regular tracking of heart rate when running, can give runners a good idea of what their heart rate zone are. How it feels and the heart rate that comes as a result of that, can be another guide for your HR zones to run in.

This is one of the first test runs I’ll do when I’m coaching someone, to get a feel for how they feel when they run – to find out what is easy, ok and hard for them.

So here’s how to do a perceived effort test to figure out your heart rate zones: Easy, Effective, Hard.

Think of zones or levels 1-5 as follows:

Level 1: – very easy – walking = Warm up
Level 2: – easy – walking, putting a little more effort in, stairs = Easy
Level 3: – comfortable – running, taking it easy, able to talk not finding it hard = Aerobic 
Level 4: – hard – getting hard, a little breathless, not able to talk in sentences = Threshold 
Level 5: – very hard – eye balls out, sprinting, not able = Anaerobic

35-40 minutes Heart Rate / perceived effort run

  • Run as a warm up for 5 minutes, very easy – level 1.
  • For 10 minutes increase your effort to level 2,
  • Then increase to level 3 for 10 minutes – always comfortable, able to breathe and talk. Don’t push it, be careful that it isn’t hard.
  • Increase to level 4 for 5 minutes, working hard, breathing a little heavier.
  • Recover to level 2 for a 5-10 minute cool down.

Throughout the run take note of your HR when you’ve been running at level 3.
Or look back on your HR graph to see what it was at.

Level 3 is the equivalent of your ‘Effective HR’ zone – comfortable, not too easy, and definitely not hard.

Level 4 is hard, breathing a little heavier, vision and hearing is restricted a little.
Level 5 is eye balls out, hard, horrible sprinting, horrible, can’t keep it up for long.

Level 2 is easy and
Level 1 is very easy.

If unsure, read over the indicators for heart rate zones before you go….3 simple zones:

You’re looking for:

    1. Level 1-2 – Easy / Aerobic – feeling comfortable, releasing tension, you can hear and see lots, you feel energetic and calm. Mind is able to wander easily.
    2. Level 3 – Effective – sustainable, comfortable, not as effortless as aerobic, but not hard either, able to maintain for a long period of time without finding hard / effort having to be expended. Balanced, in control.
    3. Levels 4-5 – Hard / Anaerobic – speed work / tempo / hills / sprints, hard work, not able to keep it up for long, breathing is hard, difficult to hold a conversation, wanting it to be over, eye balls out, tunnel vision.


Then all you need to remember is your level 3 – where you’re heart rate usually is (about a 10 beat range) from being nice and comfortable / easy to just before it starts to get hard – your level 3 – your effective zone.
For me this used to be 150-160, but as I’ve gotten older, it’s maybe more like 145-155.

Running with your HR under this will be easy or aerobic, running with your HR above this zone, will be hard, horrible, anaerobic.

Happy running everyone 🙂

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