TL;DR.: For speed training, is it better to run longer at 80% of the max HR, or faster at 95% of the max HR?

Long rant:

I'm able to run 6Km in 50min if I control my speed based on the HR, by not allowing it to got past 80-85% of the HR limit for my age. I'm also able to run 5Km in 35 minutes, if I allow te HR to go up to 92%...

... which sucks (time-wise).

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Today I peaked at 185bpm after 19minutes running at 9.5Km/h. I "assume" my max HR is 187bpm, although I happened to be having a conversation for 2 minutes while fluctuating around 183bpms (oddly enough, I wasn't grasping for air).

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So, the question comes down to: Is it better to keep pushing the "distance" at 80% of my calculated max heart-rate, or should I also bet on speed by once in a while push it to 95-98% and keep it there for a few minutes?

Some background: I'm 34. My couch to 5k was done about 9 months ago. Although I trained martial arts from 17 to 27, I did become overweight and pretty sedentary during my PhD and postdoc (last 7yrs). I assume that 7yrs of no training completely reversed the heavy training I did in my youth ;-)


I would question the fact that your Max HR is at 187bpm. The maximum HR is highly individual and independent of your training level.

Especially your statement that you were able to hold a conversation for two minutes while running at 183bpm suggests that your max HR is much higher.

Anecdotal evidence: my own max HR is at least 20 bpm higher than the calculated value for my age. According to most of the formulae my max HR should be 177bpm, but I (repeatedly) measured values around 197bpm, and I am still alive (and feeling well).

One of my recent training runs was an hour at an average 177bpm.

So get your max HR properly tested (I never did) or just listen to your body.

The other answers regarding interval training and HR zones are all correct. But they are all assuming you know your true max HR as a reference point. Which you apparently don't know.


I’ll preface this by saying that I am not a runner. However, like you, I am an endurance athlete who competes as a rower. I race two different distances: 1000 meters (sprint, or, side by side) and 5000 meters (“head race”). My goals are the same – improve speed over a specified distance thus finishing quicker. And, like you, I utilize heart rate training. Early on in my racing pre-season, my coach often has us tested for individual Lactate levels while performing a specified rowing “piece” (ie. distance). We then adapt our training to our individual VO2 Max limits based on the Lactate testing. A valid assumption would be to constantly train at VO2 Max levels. However, in the long run, this would be detrimental as it leads to constant exhaustion. Instead, we train in intervals. That is, mixing shorter bouts of higher intensity training, with rest periods, allows us to train closer to 100% VO2 Max levels before reaching total exhaustion. So, to answer your question, I’d suggest you take a look at mixing in some VO2 max interval training. If for nothing else, this type of training should provide a spark to elicit better results from your running.


To get better, you need to put a training load on your system. As you get more fit, this becomes harder to do. After a certain point, an 80% effort will not put enough stress on your system, and you will stop improving.

To keep improving, you need short efforts at higher exertion. In other word, intervals.

There are tons of resources out there that can give you programs for intervals.

  • Isn't that what I already suggested? – rrirower Jan 16 '15 at 10:43

Both types of training are important for maximum running performance.

For running-specific advice, you might want to start with the Jack Daniels method. This includes periodization and "training zones," including both longer "tempo" efforts and shorter, faster "interval" efforts.

(From Runners' World)

Run about 12% of your weekly mileage at your lactate threshold (LT), or tempo pace. When you run at LT pace, you enhance your running economy and your body's ability to function with increasing amounts of lactic acid. LT pace is your 5-K pace, plus 25 to 45 seconds per mile.

Run about 8% of your weekly mileage at your interval pace (INT). This pace improves your VO2 max and your ability to run at a fast pace. Your INT pace is 5-K pace, minus 10 to 20 seconds per mile.

You can either use HR zones (as you mention) or paces suggested by the Daniels' VDOT tables.

The tempo/LT efforts do help with VO2 max training, but traditional VO2-max training corresponds more closely with Daniels' "interval" efforts. Personally, I do tempo efforts (e.g. injecting into a longer run) year-round, but focus on shorter-faster intervals as we approach racing season.

I tend to prefer 1k to 2k tempo efforts with shorter rest, or sometimes 4-5k circuit. For intervals, I tend to go to a track and do 400m or 800m repeats w/ a jogging rest.

Wikipedia also has a nice summary of the concepts and training effort ranges.

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