Heart rate zones. LTHR vs HRmax-HRrest?


Wanted to know which HR zones to use, the pro and cons of LTHR vs HRmax - HRrest?

I have always used HRmax&HRrest to define the zones. What would be the benefit of switching over to LTHR?


I have found it beneficial to know my LTHR, but not really necessary to base zones off of it. %max for zones works fine (provided you have a good max that is sport specific…ie running and cycling will be different).

Also, knowing LTHR helps when when you read something and they reference %LTHR. You can do a quick conversion. Admittedly there is some slop in there but it’s negligible.

As for which ones to use, that’s a bit tougher to answer as it really depends on what coaching philosophy you follow (whether you know you’re following one or not).

I like Ric Sterns or the Norwegian 5-zone system. For power, Coggan zones are ubiquitous but I don’t know anyone who trains by HR who uses his HR zones alone. Ppl using those HR zones typically are also using the corresponding power zones.

LTHR provides a metabolic anchor point, and is therefore the better choice.

HRMax provides a metabolic anchor point, and is therefore the better choice.


Using either maximal HR or HR reserve (max - resting) bases things on CV fitness, not metabolism.

It’s hair splitting. The fact that one is generally cardio (central) and the other generally metabolic (peripheral) is academic.

An accurate assessment of either (not formulas and different ones for different sports) gets you what you want in the field.

It’s not hair-splitting. There can be huge differences in work capability between individuals when exercise is set relative to cardiovascular fitness/VO2max.

“Contemporary gold-standard methods for exercise prescription based on fixed-percentages of maximum values conform poorly to exercise intensity domains and thus do not adequately control the metabolic stimulus.”

“prescribing exercise intensity based on a fixed percentage of these maximal anchors [i.e., VO2max, max HR, etc. - OBND] has little merit for eliciting distinct or domain-specific homeostatic perturbations.”


what if going based on max hr is close enough, though?

Also, i’ve kind of had a hard time figuring out what is my lthr even after all these years. I’m still not quite sure if i’m a person with a low ftp but decent ability to sustain power above it or a high ftp without much ability to sustain it (“high” and "low’ being relative here of course and not absolute).

given difficulties in estimating for us average folks plus some fudge factor, even if one’s theoretically better, might they both end up being practically just as good, as long as your consistent?

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That doesn’t change the fact that one approach is based on metabolic responses and the other on CV fitness, and that the former and not the latter is what really determines your work tolerance.

So, yeah, “close enough”… just expect to either fail or have to modify more workouts, or have them be insufficiently challenging such that you don’t improve as much as you could, if you go by max HR (or even HR reserve).

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I don’t want to belabor the point too much (because generally I agree with you), but in a perfect world (short of lab testing) you would know both. HIIT would be based off of peakHR, and threshold work and below based on LTHR.

The more important of those two to get correct is max because you’re not basing work above threshold off of LTHR (for example, time in zone at 90-95% max for HIIT intervals is based on max).

There is considerably more slop when setting endurance and tempo zones based on HR. You simply can’t and don’t need to be as precise, since all adaptations in endurance and tempo are the same. The distinctions are practical based on fatigue (to track load) and substrate utilization (higher you get in tempo, less fat utilization)

So if I only had to know ONE, I would choose max because I need more precision for 3-5 min intervals (as an example). Next would be to know and use both. If that’s still not good enough for you then it’s time to dive into power, lactate, metabolic tests, etc

@old_but_not_dead_yet is correct about the science. You have to decide whether it’s really applicable to your training.

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There’s really not much logic to basing ‘HIIT’ off of maximal HR, either. Sure, it might be a decent carrot when doing VO2max intervals, but there is a huge range of intensities above that, during which HR is useless (because it is pegged).

Max HR also isn’t a good guide to above-FTP, below-VO2max training (e.g., over/unders), because it is where you are relative to FTP that matters.

Right, and I’m leaving out intensities where HR is useless because at those intensities both LTHR and max are equally useless, by definition.

By what/whose “definition”? Yours?

Training relative to LTHR is perfectly valid and sufficiently precise, not “useless” as you claim. That’s why people like Joe Friel used the approach for decades, until power meters took off, and why many coaches and athletes still use the approach today.

You can tell it’s the weekend. :grin:


I’m sorry @old_but_not_dead_yet but your response really just demonstrates that you’re not even reading what I wrote. Happy to disagree, learn, and even come around to another way of thinking. But before that can happen you have to actually read and think about what I wrote.

Yes, when training near or at threshold you would ideally use LTHR. You mentioned that there are zones above max and threshold where HR is useless. That’s very true. But it’s NO MORE true with one type of HR measure versus another. So I’m saying let’s just leave them out of the discussion. Anaerobic capacity work is not what I’m talking. I’ll be clear: I’m TRYING to agree with you on that point.

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