I've started running a couple of months ago. I'm 27, average height and normal weight. However it seems that no matter how slowly I run, my heart rate quickly climbs into the Max Effort zone of 170-180.

My GP checked me out before I started, and I recently had an ECG taken - everything was fine.

After I learned to run just a tad faster than walking pace (it's tricky!) I can keep the HR in 170-175 and run like this for 45 minutes or so.

Is this me simply being extremely unfit? :) Is it likely to improve if I keep running in this zone? I can't really run any slower, and fast walking at the same speed gets me an HR of 125, which I also don't feel will improve my fitness unless done for several hours a day.

  • Any idea as to what your pace/speed is at that heart rate?
    – Ivo Flipse
    Commented Apr 15, 2011 at 12:36
  • @Ivo at 170 I go 5km in 35 minutes, i.e. 8.5km/h or 5.3 mph.
    – RomanSt
    Commented Apr 15, 2011 at 14:49

3 Answers 3


My advice is to ignore the 'zones'.

  • If it doesn't FEEL like max effort, then its clearly not max effort.

  • HR is an individual thing. I can push my HR above 220 if try hard and I'm not unfit.

  • If you can run for 45 minutes at any pace you are NOT unfit.

I'd say you should pay more attention to how you FEEL, not to the numbers infront of you.

  • This reminds me of another thing: I certainly wouldn't feel comfortable speaking to anyone while running at this pace. I have to use the full capacity of my lungs to sustain this pace. That's another thing that made me think I'm going too fast - the "guides" usually suggest running slowly enough to be able to chat.
    – RomanSt
    Commented Apr 15, 2011 at 14:51
  • +1 heart rates are completely variable (based on current fitness level). If you run and feel tired you're hitting the anerobic zone. Back off a little until you get into better shape or push it if you feel ready. Commented Jun 2, 2011 at 23:03

In contrast to @rmx's answer, I'll say that the zones are a very useful way to intelligently build up your cardiovascular performance. The key is to get tested to find your personal heart rate zones. They will also provide you with a set of workouts that incorporate some intervals to increase your overall performance.

The zone testing will find your AB (Aerobic Base) and AT (Anaerobic Threshold). The interval training will be designed around improving your performance by increasing your AB and/or the distance between your AB and AT levels. The idea is to improve the cardio to the point where your running heart rate will be within the aerobic region.

By your description of your running and heart rate, you are in the same boat as me:

  • Your Anaerobic Threshold is low, causing your running to be at an oxygen deficit
  • Increasing the amount of lower heart rate work will help improve your aerobic performance
  • Intervals cycling through zones 2-4, spending more time in zones 2-3, will help increase the distance between your AB and AT.
  • Including the occasional zone 1 workout will help increase the AB.

That said, since I lift and I do martial arts, my performance in the anaerobic range is pretty good. I can sustain a high heart rate for a good while. I just get into the anaerobic range a little too quickly.

Working smarter will get you results quicker.

  • Heart rate zones are great for people who don't speak the same language as their body. If you don't understand the signals your body is giving you, heart rate zones help you err on the safe side and help you quantify the signals your body is giving you.
    – Ivo Flipse
    Commented Jun 1, 2011 at 15:12

Maybe you should try interval training? That way you can change pace once your heart rate goes up, run/walk slower until it's gone down again, and so on.

The first time I started running I followed the Nike+ 5k plan, and the first session was 20 min alternating walking and running. My max heartrate on that first session was 186. After 5 weeks I did it again and my max heartrate had dropped to 171.

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