Target Heart Rate: 101

Have you ever wondered if you are doing too much or too little in your exercise regimen to reach your goal?

Whether you are wanting to lose weight or must get the most out of your workouts, we will be breaking down heart rate, how to determine your target Heart rate, what it means for your goals, and how to track it.

Understanding Heart Rate

Our heart rate is simply how many times per minute our heart beats. Our resting heart rate (RHR) is how many beats per minute (bpm) happen while you are at rest. There are a lot of different things that can play into your RHR including, stress, hormones and how physically active you are. Those who are highly physically active tend to have a very low resting heart rate, sometimes as low as 40 bpm. When it comes to RHR, the lower the better. A low RHR indicates that the heart muscles are in good condition and they are not having to contract and work as hard to keep a steady rate. A high RHR has been shown to be linked to high blood pressure and low activity level.

Maximum Heart Rate

It is important to know your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR) because you will determine your target heart rate for exercise based off of your MHR. Much like your RHR, the formulas include a lot of different factors that can go into an individual’s MHR. There are some age-predicted formulas that can help you get an estimate of what your MHR is.

Fox Formula (most generalized) : Max Hr = 220 – Age

Gellish (has standard deviation): Max Hr = 208 – (.7 x age)

Please take note that there are many drugs and medications that affect your MHR. If you are taking medication, have a heart condition or pregnant it is best to talk with your physicians to see what your maximum heart rate is.

Target Heart Rate

Target Heart Rate is the percentage of your maximum heart rate you are working in during exercise. It varies widely what individuals can do physically within certain target ranges. For example, for someone who is not physically active, a brisk walk may put them 60% of their MHR but if an elite athlete took the same brisk walk, they may only reach about 40% of their MHR.  This indicates that intensity of exercise is truly dependent on the individual.

The target heart rate zone for moderate exercise is 50-70% of your MHR. The target heart rate zone for vigorous exercise is 70-85% of your MHR.

To determine your target heart rate, you first must determine what percentage you would like to be working at. For this example, we will have a 20-year-old doing vigorous physical activity.

Remember, the MHR for a 20-year-old is 200 bpm so that is the number we will be going off of.

Target HR = 200 (.75) = 150 bpm

If this 20-year-old wants to be at 75% of their MHR then they will want to stay around 150 bpm throughout their workout.

You can use this chart to determine your target heart rate zone based off of your age.

How long to stay at target heart rate

Your goal should be to stay in your target heart rate zone for at least 15-20 minutes of your workout time but to get the most out of your physically activity, it is ideal to stay in the zone for 35-45 minutes. If your overall goal is to lose fat, staying within the 70-85% target heart rate range for 20+ minutes of your workout will benefit you in achieving those fat-loss goals.

How to track your heart rate

There are a couple of ways that you can track your heart rate.

The simplest way to track is with wearable technology. There are a lot of different watches and devices out on the market that make is simple and convenient to track your HR.

Check out this link to the 5 best wearable HR monitors.

If you want to track your HR on your own without technology, you can do so by taking your pulse.

  • Take your pulse on the inside of your wrist, on the thumb side.
  • Use the tips of your first two fingers (not your thumb) and press lightly over the artery.
  • Count your pulse for 30 seconds and multiply by 2 to find your beats per minute

Bottom Line

Knowing your heart rate while partaking in physical activity will help you determine if you are getting the most out of your workout. If you find that your HR is above that 85% for an extended amount of time during your workout, pump the breaks a bit. It is not beneficial for your heart to be working past that 85% for an extended period of time.  This can cause adverse effects and can be more harmful than helpful later down the line. If you are wanting to improve your heart health and  lose weight, it is beneficial to make sure you are within that 50-85% target range. If you are starting out new to physical activity, ease into it. Start out on the lower end of your target heart rate range and slowly increase your target heart rate as you progress.

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