Calculating Your Target Heart Rate

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Exercise, Fitness and Health, Issues

Getting The Most Out Of Your Exercise

Author: Dr. Pierre DuBois

treadmill-heart-rate-200-300Finding the body’s target heart rate (THR) is essential for those interested in maximizing the effectiveness of their workouts and training programs and reducing the risk of overexertion.

The Simple Method For Calculating Your Target Heart Rate

There is an easy method for determining your THR: Start by subtracting your age from 220 (226 for women); this will provide your estimated maximum heart rate (MHR). Multiply your MHR by the percentages listed for the appropriate exercise zone from the list below.

  • Healthy Heart – For low-intensity exercises and warm ups. The THR for this zone is 50%-60% of the MHR.
  • Fitness – For more intense but generally low to moderate effort exercises. The THR for this zone is 60%-70% of the MHR.
  • Aerobic – This zone helps build endurance and increases the strength and size of your heart. It also improves your cardiovascular and respiratory system. The THR for this zone is 70%-80% of the MHR.
  • Anaerobic – For performance training. This zone increases the amount of oxygen you can consume during physical exertion. The THR for this zone is 80%-90% of the MHR.
  • Red Line – For maximum intensity exercises that burn the most calories. The THR for this zone is 90%-100% of the MHR. This level should only be attempted by those in excellent shape who have been cleared by a physician or qualified medical examiner.

So, for example, a 40-year-old woman who wishes to find her THR for a fitness zone program would use the following equation: (226 – 40) X 60% = 111 (low end) and (226 – 40) X 70% = 130 (high end). Therefore, as long as she maintains her heart rate between 111 beats per minute (bpm) and 130 bpm, the woman is at the proper target heart rate for maximum exercise efficiency and safety.

A More Accurate Method

A more accurate method for determining your THR is the Karvonen formula, but this requires that you determine your resting heart rate (RHR) and your heart rate reserve (HRR). Measure your resting pulse (your heart rate just as you wake up) three mornings in a row. Your RHR is the average of these three readings (add the readings and divide by three). Your HRR is your MHR minus your RHR. Once you have calculated your HRR, multiply it by the percentages for the zone you want to target for and add the RHR. The equations are as follows:

MHR = 220 (or 226 for women) – age (in years)
RHR = average resting heart rate (average of 3 readings)
HRR = MHR – RHR
THR = (HRR * target zone percentage) + RHR

So for our hypothetical 40-year-old woman targeting a fitness zone…

MHR = 226 – 40 = 186.
RHR = (64 + 62 + 63)/3 = 63
HRR = 186 – 63 = 123
THR = (123 * 60%) + 63 = 137 (for the low end) and (123 * 70%) + 63 = 149 (for the high end)

If you have any doubts or questions about the proper method for determining your THR, ask your chiropractor, physical therapist or doctor for help.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Comments (3)

  • Cindy H

    |

    Thank you for posting this. Very valuable information as I am approaching training for a challenging fitness goal. Thank you!

    Reply

  • Teresa R.

    |

    Dr. Dubois, is one of these zones best for burning fat? Seems like a few years ago we were being encouraged to exercise in one of the less intense zones in order to burn more fat. Should we do that or simply try to burn the most calories we can during our workout? Thanks.

    -Teresa

    Reply

    • sysadmin_htftp

      |

      Dear Teresa,
      To keep things simple, it is important to understand that during exercise your body gets energy from primarily two places: fat stores, or glycogen stores. Glycogen is stored carbohydrates in your muscles and liver, and fat in the fatty cells. At lower exercise intensity (50% max HR), more fat is burned relative to glycogen(50%Max HR=605fat/40% Glycogen, 75%max HR, 35%fat/65%glycogen and so on).

      Studies showed that for a 30 minutes low vs high intensity work out, the total calories burnt are 200 for a low intensity group, vs 400 for a high intensity group. But out of the 200 cal of the low intensity, 120 were from fat and 80 from glycogen, and out of 400 cal of the high intensity group, 140 were from fat, and 260 from glycogen.

      You can immediately see that increasing from 50 to 75% of the max HR only increase the fat mobilization by 20 cal, which is not very efficient. Furthermore, when somebody starts exercising and is not used to it, pushing them rapidly into the 75-80% MHR will have them crash early. They will stop the exercise before the 30 mins. and therefore end up burning even less fat.

      But as their fitness level increases, it is in my opinion a good idea to go into higher % of the MHR because of the following reason: If you exercise at a 50% MHR, when you stop it is the end of it. If you exercise at a higher level, there is a metabolic disturbance that burns calories after the workout is completed: it is the after burn effect (exercise speeds up the metabolism and keeps that accelerated rate going even after you’ve completed your routine. This “after-burn” effect can last from 15 minutes to 48 hours, depending on how hard you exercise).

      To conclude, there is no “one size fits all” way to look at it. But based on the science we have on hand, we want to try to exercise as hard as we can for as long as possible without hurting ourselves. But the work out must be increased gradually in time and intensity, and associated with a well organized recovery time to insure the capacity to burn fat for a long time.

      Probably a lot more than what you hoped for…but as you know very little is black or white.

      Have a great day,

      Pierre

      Reply

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About The Author

julie donnellyJulie Donnelly is a Deep Muscle Massage Therapist with 20 years of experience specializing in the treatment of chronic joint pain and sports injuries. She has worked extensively with elite athletes and patients who have been unsuccessful at finding relief through the more conventional therapies.

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These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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