Complete Guide to Apple Watch Heart Rate Zones

How to check Heart Rate Zones on Apple Watch

Apple has incorporated a multitude of new features in its upcoming watchOS. One of these features is the heart rate zones. While heart rate zones as a feature are available on Fitbit and Garmin platforms, Apple Watch did not offer the feature until watchOS 9.

In this guide, we explore the concept of Heart Rate zones in detail and provide a deeper understanding of this useful metric and how you can leverage it for your wellness and training programs.

Related reading:

What is Heart Rate Zone?

Heart rate zones are a percentage of your maximum heart rate (heartbeats per minute). Exercise too close to your maximum HR (Mhr), and your heart and body struggle to keep up with the demands. 

“The goal of heart rate zones is to make you the most efficient, but to allow you to challenge yourself to improve cardiovascular fitness,” says Chris Travers from Cleveland Clinic.

The biggest question that the concept of heart zones answers is: How can you know whether you’re exercising at the correct intensities? 

Max Heart Rate and Heart Rate Zones

This depends a lot on your max heart rate. 

Max Heart rate is typically calculated using an industry-wide accepted formula. Your max heart rate is typically 220 – your age. For example, if your age is 45, your max Heart rate will be 220 – 45, or 175.

The max heart rate is neither associated with your performance nor shows how athletic you are. The max heart rate is more a function of genetic factors and the size of your heart.

Some hearts are larger and need to beat fewer times, while smaller hearts beat more often to push blood around your body.

That said, your heart rate zones are tied directly to your max heart rate. For example, exercise physiologists usually consider a Fat burn Zone when your heart rate is between 50 and 69% of your max heart rate.

What are the different heart rate zones on Apple Watch?

The Apple Watch with watchOS 9 displays five different heart rate zones. These vary from light intensity (Zone 1) to maximum intensity (Zone 5).Apple Watch Heart Rate Zone

The interval ranges are a function of your age and vary from person to person based on age and sex.

  • Zone 1 ( < 127 BPM) beats per minute
  • Zone 2 (128 – 138 BPM)
  • Zone 3 (139 – 149 BPM)
  • Zone 4 (150 – 161 BPM)
  • Zone 5 (162+ BPM)

The Zone intervals in BPM are derived from your max heart rate. It is therefore important that you set up your correct age in your Apple Watch profile.

If you have tried other wearables such as Polar, Fitbit, or Garmin in the past and are new to the Apple Watch, this may appear a little confusing.

Fitbit classifies heart rate zones into three easy buckets.Fitbit Heart Rate Zones

The Fat burning zone represents moderate intensity (50 – 69% of your max heart rate), Cardio Zone (70 – 84% of maxHR), and Peak Zone (80 – 100% of your maxHR).

How to check Heart Rate Zones on Apple Watch?

Checking your heart rate zone on the Apple Watch is easy and straightforward when working out with the watch’s Workout app.

The heart rate zones are available to you during your workout so that you can do targeted heart rate training if you desire.

However, not all workouts have access to the Heart rate zones on your Apple Watch.

We checked a few, including water fitness, running, and high-intensity interval training, on the Workout app and found that you can access your heart rate zones during these workouts.

See your current heart rate zone while working out with your Apple Watch

  1. While working out, you can view your current heart rate zone at any time.
  2. Open the Workout app on your watch and start a workout.
  3. In the workout view, scroll down with your finger or the watch’s Digital Crown to see your current heart rate zone. current heart rate zone on Apple Watch Workout app

If you don’t see any heart zone information, you probably need to turn this feature on in the workout’s settings and add it to the Workout View via the steps below.

How to add heart rate zones to your Apple Watch’s Workout app on-screen metrics

  1. Open the Workout app on your Apple Watch.
  2. Choose a workout type and select the More button (three dots icon.) Apple Watch workout app workout out type
  3. Under your preferred workout goal (calorie, time, distance, or open,) tap the pencil icon to enter editing mode. Apple Watch Workout app workout goal
  4. Scroll and tap Workout Views. Workout Views Apple Watch workout app
  5. Select Edit Views. Apple Watch Workout app Edit Workout Views
  6. Scroll down to the Heart Rate Zones section, and toggle Include on. Show heart rate zone for Workout View in Apple Watch Workouts app
  7. To change the order it appears on your watch, scroll down and tap Reorder. Apple Watch Workout app reorder on screen metrics
  8. Drag and drop the metrics tiles in the order you want them to appear for this type of workout, then press Done. In this example, the heart rate zone metrics is now the first to appear for the Water Fitness workout.Apple Watch Workout app Workout View reorder onscreen metrics
  9. Repeat for each workout type (i.e., Indoor Run, Outdoor Walk, Strength training, etc.) that you want heart rate zone information to show up on your watch when using the Workout app.

That’s it! Now when you are working out with the Workout app, your watch displays the metrics in the order you have chosen.

Use your finger or the Digital crown to quickly scroll between the metrics during your workout.

 

Once your complete your workout, you find advanced metrics in the ‘Fitness’ app on your iPhone.

Another feature Apple offers is an alert when you enter a particular heart rate zone

Unfortunately, at this time, you cannot set up an alert for every heart rate zone. You can only set up an alert in the Workout app when you reach, exceed, or go below a single heart rate zone.

When you set up this heart rate zone alert, you get a haptic notification or a beep if you go under, hit it, or go over your defined heart rate zone range.

And, if you use the Workout app’s Voice Feedback feature Siri tells you if you are in, above, or below your set heart rate zone and reads out your current heart rate.

Additionally, you need to set up an alert for each workout type you want a heart rate zone alert for.

How to set up a heart rate zone alert on your Apple Watch

  1. Open the Workout app on your Apple Watch, choose a workout type, and tap the More button (three dots icon.) How to check heart rate zones during workout on Apple Watch
  2. Under your preferred workout goal (open, time, distance, or calories, etc.) tap the pencil icon to enter editing mode. Haptic alert for heart rate zone on Apple Watch Workout app
  3. Select Alerts. For Running, we already see the distance alert and can add additional alerts for select metrics, including heart rate zone.Alert for workout type in Apple Watch Workouts app
  4. Scroll down and tap Heart Rate. Heart Rate Zone alert on Apple watch Workout app
  5. Select and checkmark the heart rate zone you want an alert for, or scroll down and choose a custom range. Apple Watch Workout app alerts for heart rate zone
  6. You should now see your heart rate zone listed as an alert. In this example, that’s a zone 2 heart rate alert.heart rate zone alert on Apple Watch using the workout app
  7. Repeat for any other workout types that you want a heart zone alert for.

Make sure your Apple Watch is set up for haptic alerts

  • Open the Settings app on your Apple Watch.
  • Scroll down and choose Sounds & Haptics and toggle on Haptic Alerts. sound and haptics settings for Apple Watch in Settings app
  • Select Default or Prominent.

Remember, the Workout app on your Apple Watch does not currently send you alerts when you reach each heart rate zone.

Instead, check your watch’s Workout app screen to see what heart rate zone you are currently hitting. You may need to scroll down to see that information.

The alerts section is really detailed, and you can add them to various types of workouts.

If you are going on an open/unplanned run but want to be alerted when your pace goes under a certain level/range, you can set up an alert. You can even add alerts for each portion of an interval too. The alerts available for an interval are:

Pace (Either target or range)
Heart Rate (Defined HR zones or did custom range)
cadence (target or range)
running power (target or range)

On the non-interval runs, you get the following alerts:

Time – receive an alert every time you go a set time interval
Splits – receive an alert every time you go a set distance

Review the heart rate zones for an Apple Watch workout on your iPhone

While you see your active heart rate zone in the Workout app’s Workout View, to understand how your heart rate moved between zones during your activity and a breakdown of how long you were in each zone, you need to use your iPhone and the Fitness app.

  1. Open the Fitness on your iPhone. Or long press on the Fitness app and select Workouts.Use Fitness App on Apple Watch to study heart rate zones
  2. Tap on All Workouts at the top right corner of the screen.How to check Heart Rate Zone on Apple Watch on watchOS 9
  3. Select the workout you want to see the heart rate zone information. In this example, I filter out my ‘Running‘ activities.
  4. Next, tap on a specific workout.
  5. Scroll down on this workout report screen and locate the section’ Heart Rate.Heart Rate zones for specific workout
  6. Tap on ‘Show More’ next to Heart Rate.
  7. Review your Heart Rate Zone for the specific Run.How to check Heart Rate Zones on Apple Watch

This heart zone feature on the Apple Watch now allows you to track your heart rate during workouts so that you can train in a specific heart rate zone depending upon your fitness goal.

It is essential to understand that you start building up lactic acid in your muscle as you go up the zones.

Working out in heart rate zone 3 is especially effective for improving the efficiency of blood circulation in the heart and skeletal muscles. This is the zone in which that pesky lactic acid starts building up in your bloodstream.

Similarly, If you train at this Zone 4, you’ll improve your speed and endurance. Your body gets better at using carbohydrates for energy, and you’ll be able to withstand higher levels of lactic acid in your blood for longer.

Heart Rate Zone information Missing on Apple Watch?

If you do not see Heart Rate Zones for your workout on your Apple Watch, first check that you included it as a metric in the Workout View settings.

include Heart Rate Zones as part of Apple Watch Display

If you did include it, the chances are that you have enabled the Power Saving Mode on your Apple Watch.Heart Rate Zones missing on Apple Watch

Please check the watch app on your iPhone, and in the Workout setting, make sure to switch off Power Saving Mode.

How to set up your Heart Rate Zone on the Apple Watch

We explained earlier that your Heart Rate Zone depends on your max, calculated using the formula 220 – your age.

Apple Watch allows users to edit and adjust the heart rate zone to their preference.

Please note that If you decide to set your zones manually, they won’t automatically adjust as you age. You’ll have to reset them every few years as your max heart rate declines.  

Here is how you can check the settings for Heart Rate Zone :

  1. Launch the Watch app on your iPhone.How to set up Heart rate zone on Apple Watch
  2. Scroll down and tap on Workout.How to setup heart rate zones on Apple Watch
  3. Tap on Heart Rate Zones.Heart Rate Zones Apple Watch
  4. You can select Automatic (automatically calculates your heart rate zone using your age) or Manual if you want to set up your custom heart rate zones.Automatic Heart Rate Zones on Apple Watch

Setting up custom heart rate zones on the Apple Watch

If you decide to set up custom heart rate zones, tap on ‘Manual.’

Now you can set up each heart rate zone (Zone 1 to Zone 5) according to your preference and training goals.Set up Manual Heart Rate zone on Apple Watch

  1. Tap to select a specific heart rate one.
  2. Next, tap on the number for the Start of the zone.
  3. Assign your top end of the range.
  4. Do the same for End of Zone.
  5. Repeat the process for each of the heart rate zones.

You can use the Karvonen method to help you compute a target heart rate zone.

Heart rate reserve, also known as the Karvonen method, is a way to calculate your target heart rate zone using your resting heart rate. 

The benefit of using this method is that it further personalizes your training zones, given that the resting heart rate varies from person to person. 

To calculate your resting heart rate, count the number of times your heart beats in 1 minute after you wake up. 

For ease of accessing this information, you can simply look up the Resting heart rate on your Apple Watch and then use the formula below to compute your target heart rate.

Resting Heart Rate and Maximum Heart rate on Apple Watch

  • [(HRmax – HRrest) x desired intensity] + HRrest = Target heart rate
  • Example: HRmax = 184; HRrest = 65; desired intensity = 70%
  • [(184 – 65) x 70%] + 65 = Target heart rate
  • [119 x 70%] + 65 = Target heart rate
  • 83.3 + 65 = 148 (rounded down to the nearest bpm

However, for most people, the ‘Automatic‘ setting provided by the Apple Watch is good enough.

Heart Rate Zones by age and gender

Your heart rate zones are calculated based on gender and age. And both of these decides your maximum heart rate.

The American Heart Association provides this information.

Age Target HR Zone 50-85% Average Maximum Heart Rate, 100%
20 years 100-170 beats per minute (bpm) 200 bpm
30 years 95-162 bpm 190 bpm
35 years 93-157 bpm 185 bpm
40 years 90-153 bpm 180 bpm
45 years 88-149 bpm 175 bpm
50 years 85-145 bpm 170 bpm
55 years 83-140 bpm 165 bpm
60 years 80-136 bpm 160 bpm
65 years 78-132 bpm 155 bpm
70 years 75-128 bpm 150 bpm

In the age category closest to yours, read across to find your target heart rates. 

Target heart rate during moderate-intensity activities is about 50-70% of maximum heart rate, while during vigorous physical exercise, it’s about 70-85% maximum.

In addition, stimulants (coffee!), dehydration, and insufficient recovery can all cause an increase in heart rate during a workout. 

If your heart rate is elevated due to one of these factors, you might falsely believe that you’re training within your target zone even though your body isn’t working as hard as it would typically have to get into that zone on a typical day. 

What is the ideal heart rate zone for weight loss?

Many Apple Watch and other wearable users are constantly struggling to keep off weight by participating in different workouts.

Your heart rate zone can be a valuable tool for managing weight loss.

Fat burning heart rate zone is defined as the range defined by 70 – 80% of your maximum heart rate for your age and gender.

So in this example, if your age is 45, your maxHR is around 175 (220 – 45).

If you are trying to lose weight and burn fat, you should strive to be in the range of 122 – 140.

Now you can see the importance of this new metric.

In your fat-burning heart rate zone, your body uses stored fat for energy instead of carbs, resulting in more fat loss.

Trainers usually suggest that you stay in the fat-burning heart zone for a minimum of 30 minutes for the exercise to be fully effective.

There is, however, some debate about the effectiveness of the fat-burning zone. Be sure to check out this article by Scott Douglas about the myth surrounding fat burning heart rate zone.

The importance of Zone 2 Training

There have been numerous studies that have looked at the advantages of Zone 2-focused training.

According to Howard Lukes, MD:

“Not only will Zone 2 heart rate training boost your performance, it just might save your life. After all, your heart is just a muscle. Humans die of very predictable causes. Most chronic diseases leading to our demise have a common root cause– poor metabolic health due to poor mitochondrial function. Exercising in Zones 1 and 2 will improve your mitochondrial number, function, efficiency, and fitness. Exercising in zone 3 and above will not improve your aerobic (mitochondrial) health.“ 

Zone 2 training is also referred to as base training. All elite athletes spend months base training. At least 75-80% of their active training is also in Zone 2. 

You can also include a lot of Zone 5 Training if you want to increase your VO2 Max. 

Peter Attia, MD, provides some fascinating insights around VO2 max and Zone 5 training.

Where can I find the Maximum Heart Rate?

You can check out your maximum heart rate on the Apple Watch app on your iPhone.

  • Start by opening up the watch app on your iPhone and tap on Workout.
  • Much like the earlier section, tap on Heart Rate Zones.
  • If your Heart Rate Zone is set to Automatic, the number next to Maximum shows your Maximum Heart rate (maxHR).Resting Heart Rate and Maximum Heart rate on Apple Watch

Please note that Max heart rate, the highest heart rate you can safely hit during exercise—decreases with age regardless of lifestyle or level of fitness.

What is the significance of post-workout Heart Rate

Your Apple Watch not only shows you the average heart rate, heart rate zone, and duration but also your post-workout heart rate at the bottom of the screen.

This is the heart rate associated with your recovery from the training.

Heart rate recovery is a powerful tool in predicting cardiovascular insufficiencies that can ultimately lead to heart disease and mortality.

So, what is it exactly? It measures how quickly your heart rate decreases after you stop exercising. It is typically measured one, two, and three minutes after exercise. 

As a rule of thumb, the faster your heart rate decreases post-exercise, the better your cardiovascular fitness. HRR can improve with exercise as our heart becomes stronger and more efficient. 

Please note that this is only available if you have chosen to use ‘Manual’ ranges for your heart rate zones. If you choose automatic, you don’t see this metric on the screen.

In Summary

We are excited that Apple chose to incorporate Heart Rate Zone or targeted heart rate zone metrics into the Apple Watch.

Before watchOS 9+, users had to depend on other third-party apps to obtain this information. Now you can easily access this information and customize your training plans to meet your objectives,

Please let us know if you have any questions or would like to share a tip or two that works best for you when working out with the Apple Watch.

I am a technologist with years of experience with Apple and wearOS products and have a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. In my day job, I advise fortune 500 companies with their digital transformation strategies and also consult with numerous digital health startups in an advisory capacity. I'm VERY interested in exploring the digital health&fitness-tech evolution and keep a close eye on patents, FDA approvals, strategic partnerships and developments happening in the wearables and digital health sector. When I'm not writing or presenting, I run with my Apple Watch or Fossil Gen 5 LTE and keep a close eye on my HRV and other recovery metrics.

6 COMMENTS

  1. The challenge is, maybe, when you had heart surgery and your medical team wants no more than exertion rate (RPE) to exceed 6-7. Does it account for this in the settings?

  2. ❤️ your in-depth coverage of the features that helped me considerably. I’m 69 years old and underwent CABG 26 years ago and wanted to improve my cardiac fitness which is at threshold stage. Any special advice would be highly appreciated. Thanks.

    • Thank you Seshu. Given that you had the bypass 26 yrs ago, I’m assuming that you already are mindful of your health. What we have found is users who are consistent with their practice ( At least 20 minutes even in Zone 2) on a regular basis do see the health benefits. Personally, I have seen improvements in VO2 max, HRV and resting heart rate with daily 20 minutes workout. This is one of the reasons I try and complete the ‘Rings’ on the watch. Sharing your metrics with like-minded friends also helps as the social aspect of working out together can be a powerful motivator. I also recommend checking out services such as ReadmyECG.com, if you have had any bradycardia or tachycardia in the past. Thank you for your comments and let us know if you have any additional questions.

  3. Hi!
    How does the Apple Watch alert you if you if you reach under or over your target heart rate zone? Is there a haptic buzz on your wrist?

    • Hi Niklas,

      You can set up an alert in the Workout app for when you reach a single heart rate zone–at this time, you cannot set up an alert for every zone. To set up this alert:

        Open the Workout app on your Apple Watch.
        Choose the More button (three dots … icon.)
        Under your preferred workout goal (calorie, time, distance, or open,) tap the pencil icon to enter editing mode.
        Choose Alerts.
        Tap Heart Rate.
        Select the heart rate zone you want an alert for, or choose a custom range.

      Then, make sure your Apple Watch is set up for haptic alerts:

        Open the Settings app on your Apple Watch.
        Tap Sounds & Haptics and toggle on Haptic Alerts.
        Choose Default or Prominent

      The Workout app on your Apple Watch currently does not send alerts when you reach each heart rate zone. Instead, check your watch to see what heart rate zone you are currently in. The information isn’t shown on the first screen in the Workout View, so you need to scroll with your finger or the Digital Crown to see your heart zone stat.

      If you don’t see the heart zone stat, you need to add it to the Workout View via these steps:

        Open the Workout app on your Apple Watch.
        Choose the More button (three dots … icon.)
        Under your preferred workout goal (calorie, time, distance, or open,) tap the pencil icon to enter editing mode.
        Scroll and tap Workout Views.
        Choose Edit Views.
        Scroll down to the Heart Rae Zones section and toggle Include on.
        Repeat for each workout type (i.e. Indoor Run, Outdoor Walk, Strength training, etc) that you want heart rate zone information to show up on your watch when using the Workout app

      Hope that helps,

      Amanda

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