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Every app and device have now have their own heart rate zones, they are so wildly different, and it seems no one went to the detail to explain the differences.

For instance the traditional 50/60/70% of Max HR zones are entirely different from those of apple watch, for instance, given a max heart rate of 190:

Zone Traditional Apple Watch Strava
Zone 2 114-133 137-148 112-148
Zone 3 133-152 149-161 148-166
Zone 4 152-171 162-173 166-184

As you can see, some of these don't even overlap! Why are they so different and which should I reference against?

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I have never been a fan of heart rate training zones or heart rate training. There are too many factors that can change your heart rate, and heart rate lags behind or lasts past higher efforts. As an example, say I drink 2 cups of coffee extra and my heart rate is elevated by 10 bpm. Does this mean I'm working harder because my HR is higher?

That being said, many of these models are based off of the 220-age as a max HR which is false. Even if you change to the Karvonen formula and include resting HR, there is a huge amount of variance. As far as the difference between the various companies/watches/apps, every one uses their own interpretation or variation to calculate them. They may be documented somewhere on the website or they may not.

Your best bet is to perform your own max HR test, establish zones for yourself and manually set those zones on whatever device you are using. Just be aware that stress, fatigue, dehydration, outside temperature and a few other factors may all influence your heart rate.

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  • The question isn't about max heart rate though (I can get a pretty good estimate by just trying really hard), it's about the different methodologies that are popular and yet it seems nobody has tried to explained the differences and why they are different.
    – Rocky Li
    Commented Feb 15 at 10:22
  • Specifically, how to decide the zones are AFTER the max heart rate is established.
    – Rocky Li
    Commented Feb 15 at 10:59
  • @RockyLi - The HR zones are pretty much just every 10% from 50 on up. And there are quite a few MHR formulas, I would just do an average of all of them. No one formula has proven to be "Yeah, this is it" yet.
    – JohnP
    Commented Feb 15 at 15:07

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