Starting a new exercise regimen can sometimes be nerve-racking if you’ve been diagnosed with heart (cardiovascular) disease. You know you have to do it, but one can’t help but wonder how it will affect your heart and if it will trigger a cardiovascular event. To be sure, any new exercise program should be discussed with your cardiologist to ensure maximum safety. But there are a few tried and true exercise programs that virtually everyone can pursue. One such program is known as zone 2 training or base training. When you think about training programs, you are often pushed toward HIIT, which involves bursts of high-intensity exercise. To be sure, there is a place for this kind of training, and with proper oversight from your medical team and exercise physiologist, it can be very successful. However, HIIT, typically higher zone training, does not create that base level of endurance and cardiovascular function that zone 2 can.
So, What Exactly Is Zone 2?
Your percentage of maximum heart rate is often divided into five zones. Zone two is a lower level of intensity representing 60 to 70% of your maximum heart rate. How do you figure out your maximum heart rate? Subtract your age from 220.
Zone 2 training involves reaching 60 to 70% of the maximum heart rate and maintaining it through low-level, consistent exercise for more than 45 minutes. This can be achieved by walking or swimming, but the key challenge here is to remain within that narrow heart rate range.
Of all the zones, elite athletes spend most of their training time in zone two because it improves your cardiovascular health in the lower zones and creates a foundation for better endurance, even at higher heart rates. In other words, zone 2 training can also make you a better sprinter, competitive swimmer, or triathlete if these were achievements you were pursuing.
What Does This Feel Like?
In zone 2, you will feel an elevated heart rate, but you can hold a normal conversation relatively easily. Again, this is just a guideline, as everyone’s zone 2 reaction will not be the same. And one thing we can say with certainty is that if you start to feel lightheaded or any strain or pain in your chest, you should immediately pull back and call your doctor. If you believe you are having an emergency, always dial 9-1-1, or get to your nearest emergency room for care.
This Sounds Too Easy to Be Helpful
The details of zone 2 training are deceptively simple, and patients believe it is easy to perform. The difficulty does not lie in physical exertion. Instead, the challenge is in maintaining consistency. First, the best way to keep within Zone 2 levels is to be in a controlled environment. This may mean using a treadmill or stationary bike inside to control the resistance and constantly visualize your heart rate.
If you are outside, you may need to find flat areas where you can walk or cycle for a good period uninterrupted.
You also need a good heart rate monitor. An accurate reading is crucial to ensure that your workout is as effective as possible.
Lastly, don’t be a hero. Maintaining this lower heart rate for an extended period can be challenging. You will likely want to step it up a bit. This is only natural. However, you must be disciplined and maintain a proper heart rate band.
The Bottom Line: Speak to your cardiologist about using zone training to condition your heart and body for the long haul. This form of training can be a great way to increase your base physical conditioning and may even be appropriate after a significant cardiovascular event like a heart attack. Most importantly, you should seek professional advice before embarking on any new exercise regimen to ensure it is appropriate for your condition.