Target Heart Rate Zones

So what is an ideal target heart rate to train in?

Your target heart rate zone is a wide range of acceptable numbers and where you train in the different zones depends on your fitness goals.

Polar FT60 Heart Rate Monitor

Are you training for a marathon, or just trying to stay in shape?

Are you training for a particular sport or just wanting to lose some weight?

Your heart rate can tell you a lot about your body. It can tell you what shape you are in, how much you have improved, and whether or not you have recovered from your last workout.

The word “aerobic” means “with oxygen.” At low intensities, aerobic metabolism dominates. As intensity increases, anaerobic (without oxygen) metabolism starts to contribute to the energy needs of the body.

The highest level of sustained intensity of exercise for which measurement of oxygen uptake can account for the entire energy requirement is known as anaerobic threshold.

Anaerobic threshold is the point when lactic acid begins to build up in the blood. Accumulation of lactic acid is a major contributor to fatigue.

When you're in poor physical shape, your body isn't very efficient at taking in oxygen, and you hit your anaerobic threshold while exercising at relatively low levels of exercise. As you become more fit you are able to go farther and faster, yet still supply oxygen to your muscles.

The body has two primary sources of fuel to use during exercise, fat and carbohydrate. With the improvements in muscles’ aerobic energy system with aerobic training, comes greater efficiency at using fat as an energy source during exercise.

Typically the target heart rate zones are a range of numbers that are between 50% and 100% of your heart rate maximum.

Your maximum heart rate is the maximum number of times your heart should beat in a minute without dangerously over exerting yourself.

There are several ways to determine your maximum heart rate. The ideal way for someone that isn't in shape is to perform a sub max test.

Sub max tests are 1-10 minutes tests that get your heart rate to rise. At the end of the test you take your highest heart rate and add to that anywhere from 20bpm to 80bpm to determine your estimated heart rate maximum.

Sub max tests are called "sub-max", because they are far below your heart rate maximum.

Sub max tests are only an estimate, but they are better than using a formula to calculate your heart rate maximum. Using mathematical formulas have been shown to be inaccurate for many people.

If you use the typical formula of 220-age, be advised that this formula is not accurate for all people.

This formula assumes that your maximum heart rate declines with age, however that isn't true for all people, especially for those who are fit and stay fit.

Some heart rate monitors will use the 220-age to calculate your training zones. Most monitors will allow you to override that calculation and manually enter your own heart rate maximum.

Determining your individual heart rate maximum by performing a sub max test and then using that number to calculate your training zones is the most accurate.

Once you know your heart rate maximum, you can then calculate your training zones that will fall between 50% - 100% of your maximum heart rate.

By using a heart rate monitor while training allows you to exercise in the appropriate heart rate zone for the goal of that day.

Training or Target Heart Rate Zones

50%-59% of heart rate max is considered very light and the benefit is to help with recovery. It's considered the health zone and for getting conditioned.

60%-69% of heart rate max is considered light and the benefit is fat burning. It's considered the health zone and is for staying conditioned.

70%-79% of heart rate max is considered moderate and the benefit is to improve aerobic fitness. This is the zone that takes you to the next level of conditioning.

80%-89% of heart rate max is considered hard and increases maximum performance capacity for shorter sessions.

90%-100% of heart rate max is considered maximum and the benefit helps fit athletes develop speed.

As mentioned, there are different methods used for determining your maximum heart rate. The calculation used most frequently for men is to subtract your age from 220 and women from 226.

Women have smaller hearts, so they tend to beat faster as do children's heart beats.

For demonstration purposes only, I want to help you to understand this formula.

Remember, this method is only an estimate and your maximum heart rate may be several beats higher or lower. Also, this formula is used for activities such as walking or running.

To estimate your maximum heart rate for bicycling, subtract about five beats from the final result. To estimate your maximum heart rate for swimming, subtract about 10 beats.

So, for example, using this formula to determine a target heart rate zone for a 40-year-old man, here is the math.

220 - 40 = 180. This is his estimated maximum heart rate. (Could be way off for you and a very fit individual)

180 x 50% = 90. This is the low end of his heart rate zone.

So, his target heart rate zones range from 90-180.

At the low end of the zone a person will burn more fat for energy, but less calories (because your moving slower) and at the upper end they will burn more carbohydrates for energy.

As mentioned, this formula is flawed and has no scientific proof to back it up. Because of age, gender, weight, genetics, and level of fitness, there is no way one formula can work for everyone.

Because, this formula (and others) have been used in the fitness industry for several years now, I wanted to discuss this topic and inform you that it is a flawed formula.

Since determing your maximum heart rate is critical to developing a training zone program, it's recommended that you perform an endurance test, a sub max test, or have it tested by a sports doctor.

Performing any self administered test is not recommended for anyone that has not had a physical exam and has been released by a doctor to do so.

Once you know your maximum heart rate you can then begin training in the appropriate target heart rate zone for your individual goals.

Using a heart rate monitor will help keep you in those zones and will help you to reach your fitness goals much faster.

Much more than target heart rate zones found on our home page