Beginner’s guide to Zone 2 running

If you're new to heart rate zones and training, Zone 2 runs are the best place to start for runners of all levels as they can benefit your health and fitness in many ways. Coach Taren Gesell explains…

Male athlete running in the park on a sunny day
Welcome to this beginner’s guide to Zone 2 running! If you’re new to the idea of heart rate zones and training, Zone 2 runs are a type of low-intensity cardio that runners of all levels can benefit from in many ways, such as:
  • Mitochondrial development: Zone 2 runs are a type of low-intensity cardiovascular exercise that can help your body use oxygen better and increase your endurance.
  • Burning fat: Running in Zone 2 can help you burn fat more efficiently because, at lower intensities, your body uses fat as a fuel source.
  • Injury reduction: Zone 2 runs will create a smaller stress response than high-intensity workouts so you’ll be much less likely to encounter injuries and overtraining.
  • Increased recovery: Zone 2 runs are less intense than other workouts, so you’ll stimulate blood flow to help with recovery without the pounding of more intense workouts.
  • Mental benefits: Running in Zone 2 can also be good for your mental health because it can help you feel calm and happy.
Advertisement
In this guide, we’ll talk about what Zone 2 running is, how to figure out your Zone 2 heart rate, and how to use Zone 2 runs as part of your training plan.
We’ll also talk about staying motivated while running in Zone 2 and dealing with the main problems runners face when they start running in Zone 2.
By the end of this guide, you’ll have a good idea of how to start running in Zone 2 and how it can improve your fitness and performance overall.

How to calculate your Zone 2 heart rate

We recommend using the Karvonen method to figure out your Zone 2 heart rate because it works for most people and is the most accurate. You’ll need to know your maximum heart rate (MHR) and resting heart rate (RHR).
  1. Determine your MHR. Doing a maximum heart rate test is the most accurate way to determine your maximum heart rate, but for now, you can subtract your age from 220.
  2. Find your RHR by taking your pulse for a full minute before you get out of bed in the morning.
  3. To find the bottom of your Zone 2 heart rate range, take your resting heart rate (RHR) minus your maximum heart rate (MHR) and multiply it by 0.6, then add this number to your resting heart rate.
  4. To find the top of your Zone 2 heart rate range, subtract your resting heart rate from your maximum heart rate and multiply the result by 0.7, then add this number to your resting heart rate.
With the above math, we can figure out an example for someone 30 years old.
  • Lower Zone 2 heart rate range: RHR 60 plus ((220 – age 30 – RHR 60)x0.6) = 138 beats per minute.
  • Upper Zone 2 heart rate range: RHR 60 + ((220 – age 30 – RHR 60)x0.7) = 151 beats per minute.
The Zone 2 heart rate range for a 30-year-old with a resting heart rate of 60 would be between 138 and 151 beats per minute. Remember that these numbers are just estimates, and your Zone 2 range may be slightly different.
Always check with a coach or trainer to know your heart rate zones. Use this calculator if you want to figure out your heart rates for Zone 1, Zone 2, Zone 3, Zone 4, and Zone 5.

Adding Zone 2 runs to your training plan

When you add Zone 2 runs to your training plan, it’s essential to know how long you should train in this heart rate zone. Most experts recommend spending about 80% of your training time in Zone 2.
The other 20% is split between higher-intensity workouts and rest or recovery days.
Several kinds of runs are suitable for training in Zone 2, such as long runs, easy runs, and recovery runs.
  • Long runs are an essential part of any training plan and can be a great way to do Zone 2 training. These runs should be done at a steady, comfortable pace that lets you talk without stopping to catch your breath.
  • Easy runs are another way to work on your fitness in Zone 2. These runs should be done at a slow pace, and you can use them to build your endurance and get in better shape for running in general.
  • Recovery runs are a vital part of any training plan and should be done at an effortless, relaxed pace. These runs are meant to help your body recover from more strenuous workouts and can be an excellent way to add Zone 2 training to your plan.
Focusing on these kinds of runs and spending most of your training time in Zone 2 will help you work this type of training into your plan and get the most out of it.

How to overcome the three biggest challenges of running in Zone 2

Heart rate is too high

One of the most common problems with running in Zone 2 is keeping your heart rate in the correct range. You can try a few things if your heart rate is too high when you run in Zone 2.
  • Make sure your Zone 2 heart rate range has been calculated correctly. You can use the Karvonen method or talk to a coach or trainer about this.
  • Use a chest strap heart rate monitor to get the most accurate readings.
  • Run on flat ground and when it’s the coolest out.

Staying motivated to keep running in Zone 2

Another challenge of Zone 2 running is staying motivated to keep going since running (or even walking) so slowly can be discouraging. Here are some ways to keep yourself going:
Advertisement
  • Set goals for your Zone 2 runs, like increasing the distance or amount of time you spend in this heart rate zone.
  • You can keep things interesting by switching up your routes and workouts.
  • Consider running with a partner or joining a running group for extra accountability and motivation. Be careful because it’s easy to get out of your Zone 2 heart rate when you’re running and talking with a partner.
  • Change your Zone 2 run into a Zone 2 hike (all athletes who use our MOTTIV training plans are encouraged to do this).

How long it takes to get better at running in Zone 2

It’s natural to want to see progress and improvement in your Zone 2 running, but it’s essential to be patient and give yourself time to adapt to this type of training.
Depending on how fit you are now and how you’ve trained in the past, it could take weeks or even months for your Zone 2 running to improve.
It’s important to train regularly and be patient as your body gets used to this kind of exercise. Remember that progress and improvement don’t always happen in a straight line, and it’s okay to have ups and downs.
The important thing is to keep working toward your goals and not stop.

Conclusion

Running approximately 80% of your runs in Zone 2 is the best way for runners of all levels to train.
By adding Zone 2 runs to your training plan and focusing on keeping your heart rate in the target range, you can improve your cardiovascular endurance, burn fat more efficiently, help your body recover, and lower your risk of getting hurt.
It’s normal to want to see results quickly, but it’s essential to be patient and give yourself time to get used to this kind of training. It’s also important to stay motivated and change up your routes and workouts to keep things interesting.
With consistency and hard work, you’ll get better at running in Zone 2 and reach your training goals.
Top image credit: Getty Images