Target Heart Rate - What About It?

Target Heart Rate - What About It?

We often see “target heart rate” on cardio machines, fitness articles and fitness apps.  What does it all mean and why do we see this often?  Today, we will explore the basics of target heart rate zones, show you how to calculate yours and how to train it.

What is a Target Heart Rate Zone

A target heart rate zone is a range that you are looking to keep your heart rate in while exercising.  This is based on your max heart rate.  For example, you might be looking to work within a target heart rate zone of 70-85% of your max heart rate.  Heart rate is one of the most frequently used methods for prescribing aerobic exercise intensity.  This tells you how fast your heart is beating each minute and in effect, how hard it is working (intensity).  An exercise intensity that is too low does not overload the body’s systems to create adaptations (changes or results), and with an intensity too high, you may fatigue before the workout is completed and or increase risk of injury. Both of these situations are less than ideal if you’re looking for results.  The target range gives you a goal to stay within in order to get the results that you’re looking for.

How to Calculate Your Target Heart Rate Zone

Get ready!  Here are some calculations.  You first need to find what your max heart rate is.  

Without precise laboratory equipment and testing, you can use this basic formula:

Max Heart Rate (MHR) = 220 - Your age (let’s say it’s 40)

MHR = 220-40 = 180 beats per minute (BPM)

***This way (using your age to predict your max heart rate) is an estimate.  Other than age, there are other factors that would impact your max heart rate like your level of conditioning/fitness, stimulants like caffeine and stress.  So use these ranges as a guide.***

Take this max heart rate of 180 BPM and first multiply it by the low end of your target zone (70%) and then the high end of your target heart rate zone (85%) to then know what heart rate zone you are looking to work within.

Lower end of range
180 x 70% = 126 BPM

High end of range
180 x 85% = 153 BPM

This means you are looking to keep your heart rate between 126 and 153 beats per minute as a guide as mentioned above.

Without a wearable device, you can easily manually measure your own heart rate.  See instructions here.

Where do I Want My Heart Rate?

Low intensity 50-65%

  • Least demanding range: can speak easily while exercising with little to no discomfort.  
  • Does not cause major change in breathing
  • Improves overall health, lowers blood pressure  
  • Does not do much to improve aerobic capacity
  • Can perform activity for an hour or longer
  • Example: brisk walk

Medium intensity 65-80%

  • Can speak while exercising but with some effort
  • Can be sustained for 30-60 minutes
  • Improves aerobic capacity, delivery of oxygen to muscles, increase in strength of heart
  • Improvements in muscle tone and how much work (volume) they can handle
  • Example: weight training session, jog

High intensity 80-95%

  • Hard effort!  Challenging to have a conversation
  • Improvements in athletic performance (power, strength, speed) and anaerobic capacity
  • You may be very close to your max effort, have active rest where your heart rate is lower but stays in this range and be able to get back into max effort again
  • Maximum heart rate may be sustained for 1-2 minutes before you need a break
  • Example: sprinting, high intensity interval training workouts

How to Impact Your Heart Rate While Exercising

Based on how your heart rate is responding to your workout, there are a few variables you can make to get yourself working within a target range:

  • Weight (or resistance) used changes your level of effort. If you are on a treadmill, an increased incline will increase your HR
  • Rest times between your working sets.  Shorter rest time keeps your HR up!
  • Pace of your movement.  Moving faster will require more heart effort (walking vs sprinting)
  • Using complexes in your training.  These are typically full body movements sequenced together with the use of kettlebells, barbells or dumbbells
  • Change your exercise order with Peripheral Heart Action Training.  This is where you would perform an upper body exercise and alternate with a lower body exercise.  This way, your heart is forced to quickly send blood to the working muscles which requires more effort from your heart when you train this way. 

For example:

  1. Bend over rows (upper)
  2. Squats (lower)
  3. Push ups (upper)
  4. Deadlifts (lower)

Rest then repeat the sequence. Use the weights, rest time and speed you need to keep within your target range if heart rate training is your goal.

If you’re just starting out, be sure to start by working in the lower intensity range and accumulate time and experience here before you go into higher intensities.  This will allow your body to adjust and after you feel comfortable, start gradually introducing some of the changes above that will help you to move into higher intensities for your heart rate.

For more information on interval training, check out last week’s blog

Not sure where or how to start?  Book a free consultation today with one of our qualified coaches!

Tell us what your favourite way is to train your heart!  Leave a comment below.

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