Heartrate zones measure your effort during exercise based on your heartbeats per minute. They're useful for anyone looking to improve endurance, burn fat, or increase fitness. If you've ever been on a new elliptical or treadmill, or if you use a smartwatch when exercising, you've likely seen your heartrate zone displayed. The zones start at Zone 1, very light training. You reach Zone 1 when going for a light walk. The highest heartrate zone is Zone 5, which is the most effort you can give. If you've ever run on stairs or bleachers, you know the feeling of Zone 5.
Different heartrate zones have different purposes in fitness, weight loss, and endurance training. Zone 2 (light intensity) is a key piece is any exercise program, and is especially useful for building endurance and burning fat. Rucking in Zone 2 builds muscle and increases capillary density. In other words, Zone 2 makes your body stronger and more efficient.
And at GORUCK HQ, Zone 2 rucking is our favorite strength and endurance exercise.
What is Zone 2 Rucking?
Zone 2 rucking is an endurance exercise that puts your heartrate at 60-70% of your max heartrate, walking at a consistent, conversational pace. Rucking in Zone 2 reaps the amazing benefits of rucking at a speed that your body can sustain for long periods of time. One amazing benefit of Zone 2 training is that your body is not pushed into injury or burnout because the intensity is low.
While rucking in Zone 2, you develop and build your aerobic base. This means that your body gets better at moving oxygen to working muscles. Those muscles, in turn, get better at using that oxygen to create fuel. Furthermore, exercising in Zone 2 encourages your body to use fat for fuel.
Who Should Ruck in Zone 2?
- New ruckers. If you're new to rucking, you probably haven't yet included tough rucking workouts in your routine. That's okay. You need to get used to carrying weight on your back, first. Spend most of your time in Zone 2 (a light, conversational pace) to give your muscles time to adjust to rucking.
- Ruckers training for endurance. If you're preparing for long endurance events, Zone 2 is where you should spend most of your time. It allows you to work longer to build your aerobic base, which needs to be strong during long endurance events. This is where endurance athletes earn their achievements: consistent, steady growth fueled by Zone 2 training.
- Anyone who wants to get in shape. Zone 2 is where your body uses reserved fat for energy. There's a lot of science behind this, but the bottom line is rucking is Zone 2 is a calorie torching, fat burning workout.
- Ruckers who are recovering from hard workouts. Not every workout should leave you completely wiped out. Zone 2 is ideal for recovering from workouts that take your body into higher heartrate zones because it increases circulation (without too much strain) and builds your aerobic base.
Rucking in Zones 3, 4, and 5
Working harder than Zone 2 has benefits too. Zone 2 is where your body works hard enough to get stronger, but not so hard that it's too beat up for the next session. In Zone 3 (moderate intensity), you might only be able to give 1 or 2 word responses, rather than Zone 2's conversational pace. More oxygen is consumed here and your body begins a lactate response, which is what we later call soreness. If you're rucking on hilly terrain, you're likely to hit Zone 3 on the uphill climbs.
Rucking in Zone 3 is a bit of a dead zone, depending on which expert you ask. While you're still reaping the general benefits of exercise, it's not the most efficient zone for training. You lose the endurance and aerobic base benefits of Zone 2, but you're not pushing hard enough to enter Zones 4 and 5, where you expand your ability to work hard. Our recommendation? Keep endurance and general fitness training in Zone 2. For your harder workouts, take it into Zones 4 and 5. Just don't overdo these higher intensity sessions.
Zones 4 and 5 are where we challenge our fitness levels and burn the most calories, though they're not sustainable for long periods of time. Using these higher zones in ruck training will make you a stronger athlete, but they must be a small portion of your training. Remember: fitness progress takes time, and Zone 2 is where the magic happens.
You might reach Zones 4 and 5 while sprinting, doing burpees, or carrying a heavy load. These heart-pounding exercises have a place in every workout plan, but make sure you're comfortable wearing a rucksack before you add them to yours.
What are the Benefits of Heartrate Training?
The benefits of heartrate training are numerous. You don't need to be an elite athlete to include heartrate metrics in your workouts. Here are our five favorite benefits of heartrate training:
- Personalized workouts: by training within certain heartrate zones, you ensure your rucking workouts are neither too intense nor too easy for your fitness level. If you stack up too many back-to-back hard workouts (in Zones 3 and up), your body won't recover well, leading to burnout and injuries. Spend too many workouts in Zone 1, however, and you'll never reap all the amazing benefits of rucking.
- Improved endurance: in the lower heartrate zones, you're able to exercise longer and still recover. So your body won't be too beat up for your next session. That translates to more training with less stress, and your fitness compounds. Keep compounding Zone 2 workouts and your endurance will see massive gains.
- Body composition: you'll see Zone 2 called the "fat burning zone." This isn't clever marketing jargon. While rucking in Zone 2, with a consistent steady heartrate over distance, your body is encouraged to use fat reserves for energy.
- Resist overtraining: endurance workouts give us every opportunity to push too hard, but paying attention to your heartrate (and keeping yours in Zone 2) keeps you honest about how hard you're working. Do you need to step it up? Slow it down? Zone 2 is optimal for recovery and longevity, and gives ruckers a simple metric to follow.
- Track your performance: if you're a numbers guy or gal, watching your heartrate and speed over time can be exciting. You'll find overtime your heartrate (because you're working in Zone 2) stays the same, while your achievements stack up. For example, your first 3 mile ruck in Zone 2 might take 60 minutes. In just a few weeks, you'll see this time decrease. This is a simple way to track performance and see progress.
How to Ruck in Zone 2: Find Your Zone 2 Numbers
If you're new to rucking, you might start with our beginner's guide to help you get started. For ruckers who are experienced but want to reap the benefits of Zone 2 training, start with determining your heartrate zones...
- Determine your Zone 2 heartrate: the simplest method is to first subtract your age from 220, then take 60-70% of your heartrate. So if you're 40 years old, your maximum heartrate is 180 bpm (beats per minute). Therefore, Zone 2 is 108-126 bpm. This calculation is an estimate that serves its purpose: low impact, endurance-minded, healthy training. Some smart devices and watches can provide their own estimates, too.
- Start rucking: rucking is more intense than walking (and burns 2-3X the calories), but less intense than running. During each of these exercises, you can estimate your Zone 2 range by maintaining a conversational pace. We don't all wear smart devices with built-in heartrate monitoring, after all. Keep your pace light enough that you can carry a conversation, but make sure you're breaking a sweat. That's our old school method for staying in Zone 2. Similarly, you can check your pulse for 60 seconds to find your average heartrate.
- Listen to your body, track your results: it requires a bit of patience to stay in Zone 2 during most of your training, but the results can be extraordinary. Listen to your body: toss in some tough exercises or pick up the pace when you want more calorie burn, or slow down if you feel your breathing and heartrate getting too taxed. You only need a simple notepad to track your progress. The weight of your rucksack and your time, distance, and perceived heartrate zone (conversational = Zone 2) provide great insights on how your fitness is improving.
- Find some friends to ruck with: the easiest way to maintain a conversational pace is to ruck with friends. You can join an official GORUCK Club and train for the GORUCK Challenge, giving the endurance you'll build in Zone 2 something to look forward to.
Zone 2 Rucking FAQs
Is rucking good for Zone 2?
Rucking is a great Zone 2 exercise because you reap all the strength and cardio benefits of walking with a weighted pack without taxing your body too much. In other words, rucking in Zone 2 is one of the greatest calorie burning endurance exercises you can do.
Can you do Zone 2 training by walking?
You'll find it easier to elevate your heartrate to Zone 2 by wearing a weighted pack, AKA a "rucksack," while walking. Start with 10-20% of your bodyweight and a moderate pace, using a wearable device or a conversational pace to make sure you're staying in Zone 2.
How long should you exercise in Zone 2?
Most of your exercise should be in Zone 2. In fact, for endurance athletes, at least 80% of training should be in Zone 2. That applies to anyone taking on The GORUCK Challenge, running a marathon, or cycling long distances. For anyone training more moderately (or just getting started), start with 30-60 minutes of Zone 2 exercise two to three times per week. Increase your efforts by no more than 10% each week.
Can you train too much in Zone 2?
Yes, you can train too much in Zone 2. But since recovery from this moderate pace takes far less time than intense, hardcore workouts like Murph, you can train in Zone 2 daily. That doesn't mean you should pound pavement with a rucksack everyday, though. Always build up to repetitive daily workouts, increasing your total volume by no more than 10% each week.
How should I feel in Zone 2?
While your heartrate is in Zone 2, your breathing should be under control and you should be able to maintain a conversation. That being said, it shouldn't be easy. You should break a sweat and be a bit strained.
What's Next? Rucking Is Versatile
Rucking is a versatile strength and cardio exercise. You might include sandbag workouts, grab a pair of Rough Runners™ and pick up the pace, or haul around your Sand Medicine Ball for a few miles. We've got all the tools, and we don't care how you get it done.
Just get it done.
That's what life is all about.
We'll spend most of our time in life's Zone 2, making steady consistent progress that keeps us healthy and always ready for what's coming next. But we're never afraid to take it up a notch, and we're always looking for the next challenge. Join us. Just pick up a rucksack and get moving.