What are Heart Rate Zones and Variability?



Your heart beats a message that technology is now able to interpret into actionable items. We translate this information to understand your sleep patterns, fitness levels, and overall health here at Apeiron Life. We've given a brief overview of how your heart communicates and how you can utilize it to reach your goals.


What is Heart Rate?

To measure your heart rate, you count how many times it beats in 60 seconds. As we are not a machine, this beat does not happen ideally every second. Sometimes it occurs at 1.2 seconds or sometimes at 1.7 seconds. This is why we take an average of how many times the beat occurs.


What your heart rate shows is how often your heart is pumping oxygenated blood around the body. It gets utilized for different scenarios and systems within us. It is a limited resource that has to be shared and partitioned out for all our needs.


There are two main categories that cause our heart rate to fluctuate, Recovery and Activation modes. If we are in an Inactive state (rest and digest), we are recovering and refueling our body to perform everyday functions. The second category is our Active state (fight and flight), which is our alert, high-performance state of being. We need both to occur.


What is Heart Rate Variability?


Heart Rate Variability is the variation between beats of your heart. It is the timed measurement between beats that do not occur perfectly every second but fluctuate. Our heartbeats vary in accordance with our central nervous system's demands. There are multiple inputs that range from sleep, stress, hormones, digestion, exercise, hydration levels, and many other factors.


These competing inputs are all required to complete different tasks in our lives. If we were always in an Activation mode, our body couldn't get the necessary time for sleep, muscle recovery, or even hair/nail growth. If we were always in Recovery mode, our body couldn't muster the actions for sprinting, quick reactions, or even the excitement-fueled feeling from an adrenaline rush. We need both the activating and recovery signals. A balanced system allows for the variation in these actions to occur. This is what heart rate variability shows. Your heart rate is the window into whether these actions and inactions are balanced and performing all of their required but opposing tasks.


Your heart is completing the tasks set out by both sets of instructions. So if it's going up and down a lot, it's reacting to these internal instructions as they occur. This is good. High variability shows your heart is adapting to its environment and your body's needs at that moment.


If your HRV is constantly low, it's showing an overbearance by one side. When you are working out hard, your HRV will be low as it demands many resources. However, if you are in a state of rest and your HRV is still low, it can represent many things, from dehydration to lack of sleep. This window into your need for recovery is why HRV is helpful. After intense training, you'll see this drop occur, so it's good to recognize that you also need to allow time for active recovery in these moments.


A low HRV is not bad; it just shows that your resources are being utilized. Prior to a race or competition, you want to have the maximum amount of resources available to you. So energy wasted on lack of sleep, inflammation, muscle recovery from a heavy lift, large meals to digest, or alcohol will prevent this. It's essential to allow the body time to recover, rebuild and perform normal functions such as healing scars or growing your nails. You want your HRV to show these scenarios are occurring. If HRV is low relative to baseline, it suggests a limited amount of resources are available. If your HRV is high relative to your baseline, then a plethora of resources are available for allocation.


Heart rate and HRV trend opposite to each other, so when your heart rate goes up, your HRV goes down. And when your heart rate goes down, HRV goes up.


Alcohol is a significant disruptor in this scenario as it takes the available resources and redirects them towards liver processing and blood clearing. Inflammation, illness, and infection are also resource gobblers as you can't reallocate the resources they are using. These types of situations bring down your overall available pool. So chronic constant use of alcohol or other inflammatory choices such as lack of sleep lowers your potential at reaching your maximum capabilities. It takes 4-5 days to recover your HRV after alcohol.


Hydration determines your blood volume. So the more hydrated you are, the more liquid is in your system. The more blood volume means the heart has to pump less hard to push the liquid around. Higher hydration means stroke volume goes up and allows your body to be working on getting fitter rather than working against your dehydration.


Nutrition needs differ for everyone, but understanding the timing, quality and quantity is helpful. For example, prior to a big competition, you don't want to force your body to be processing tons of protein and high fiber. You want well-sourced but easy-to-digest carbohydrates to get your energy levels up. This shows in your HRV.


Technology showing HRV and other measurements take away the guessing game of how to improve. It gives you the information and allows you to choose whether to utilize it for your performance. It shows you the choices you're making and how they impact you. But it's still your choice whether you use the information given.


HRV shows everything that is going on inside you. So interpreting these variations can be complex as they are occurring in response to multiple situations. Your Apeiron Life team is here to guide you through these processes and help you get the most out of your training, recovery, and overall health.



What are Heart Rate Zones?

Heart rate zones allow you insight into the body's current state of work. Different zones represent the various percentage levels of strain your body is putting in. HRZ enables you to focus on the goals your body can achieve in a more precise manner.

  • Lower intensity zones allow you to work out longer, burning fat at a more sustainable rate.

  • Higher zones are suitable for power training and reducing visceral adipose tissue (the fat surrounding organs).

Your resting and maximum heart rates are the basis of the benchmarks to determine your zones. Here at Apeiron, we use technology and personal assessments to get accurate, personalized information to tailor your training to your needs. Activity trackers and heart rate monitors allow you constant access to your MHR and RHR without the need to estimate.


What do HRZ Focus on, and Why are They Important?


So why should you care about your Apeiron Life heart rate zones? They allow you to work smarter, not just harder. Efficiency in training, reaching goals, and seeing results are why we're here to help you. Tracking your heart rate, variability, and training zones allow you to reach your goals sooner.


The five different zones allow for different outcomes of your training. Zones allow you to become more efficient in how you reach your goals. There is overlap between them, but choosing the best zone in the moment for your training will allow you to reach your goals quicker with the lowest possibility of injury or overtraining. You should be performing each Zone at different points in your training regime for maximum goal potential outcome.


  • Zone 1 The Recovery Zone

  • Very Light, 50-60% ~ 104-114 bpm (~20-40 minutes)

  • Examples include - Walking, golf, yoga, pilates, or weight training.

  • Training: Assists in recovery, warm-up, and cool-down.

  • Zone 2 The Fat Loss Zone

  • Light, 60-70% 114-133 bpm (~ 40-80 minutes)

  • Examples include - Power walking, golf, yoga, pilates, weight training, jogging, hiking, or cycling.

  • Training: Improves general base fitness, improves recovery, and boosts metabolism. Pace is comfortable with low muscle and cardiovascular load. Aids in recovery and maintenance. Normal breathing.

  • Zone 3 The Aerobic Zone

  • Moderate, 70-80% 133–152 bpm (~ 10-40 minutes)

  • Examples include - Weight training, running, hiking, cycling, or swimming.

  • Training: Improves general training efforts, efficiency, and athletic performance gains. Helps get over plateaus. Pace is controlled, fast breathing.

  • Zone 4 The Anaerobic Zone

  • Difficult, 80–90% 152–172 bpm (2–10 minutes)

  • Examples include - HIIT intervals (biking, running, swimming), Apeiron Uphill Treadmill protocol, or weight training.

  • Training: Improves ability to sustain high-speed endurance year-round. Pace is fatiguing, heavy breathing.

  • Zone 5 The HIIT Zone

  • Maximum, 90–100% 171–190 bpm (<5 minutes)

  • Examples include - Sprinting (maximum running, biking, or swimming sprint), Circuit Training, or the Apeiron Uphill Treadmill protocol.

  • Training: Short interval, final preparation for events. Pushes maximal muscle and breathing exhaustion.


Understanding your body's specific zones allows your Client Advocate to make the best plan possible to reach your particular goals and gives you control over your training. Modern technology has allowed us to view and utilize heart Rate Variability and Heart Rate Zones for your best possible training, recovery, and overall health.



Resources


Apeiron Life - Using Heart Rate Zones


CDC - Target Heart Rate


Runner’s World - Heart Rate Training


Team Polar - Heart Rate Zones


Whoops Podcast - Heart Rate Variability