Finding your target heart rate

This week we’re talking about heart rate training zones, starting off with Monday’s post, which breaks down the basics.  Each of the target heart rate zones described is based on either your maximum heart rate or your target heart rate.  So today, we’re going to talk a little bit about what that means and how you can calculate it.

But first, two things to keep in mind:

  1. Unless you work out in a laboratory with access to a pretty savvy running coach, you probably aren’t going to get an exact read on your true maximum heart rate.
  2. That’s okay.

The bottom line is that to really nail down your maximum heart rate, you need to measure in very specific ways in very specific (and debatable) circumstances.  It isn’t as simple as just cranking the treadmill up to 10 and checking your pulse.

However, you’ll notice reading Monday’s post that target heart rate zones for most workouts are based on fairly broad ranges, meaning you’ve got about a ten percent window to train in whatever zone you’re aiming for.  That means that even if your “maximum” heart rate is off by a few beats, it isn’t going to break your workout.  Same is true with any of the targets.

For the purposes of getting started, we’re going to cover two very basic ways to begin getting a handle on your heart rate.  If you get some target heart rate workouts under your belt and decide you want to come up with some more scientific numbers, a little research or some time with a trainer or running coach can get you a more accurate calculation.

Basic Calculation

An old exercise standby for maximum heart rate is simply 220 minus your age.  This is by no means a dead-on number and doesn’t take into account a number of variables such as fitness level, gender, resting heart rate, etc.  For serious competitive runners, this is  too broad of a calculation, but if you’re just trying to get a ballpark on where you stand, this is a good go-to approach for calculating your theoretical max.

Karvonen Method

For a more sophisticated reading, the Karvonen method will actually help you determine not your maximum heart rate, but your ideal range for cardio training (call it a target heart rate).  It takes into account more information, such as resting heart rate, which is a decent indicator of overall fitness.  Your resting heart rate should be calculated first thing in the morning, before you even get out of bed.

Here’s the formula:

THR = ((HRmax − HRrest) × % intensity) + HRrest

You’re welcome.  Good luck!

Okay, actually you can skip over this particular algebra problem and use one of the many online calculators that are out there to help you crunch the numbers.  (Here’s one.)  If you really want to dig into the formula, there’s a good overview  over at

If you’re just starting out, it doesn’t really matter which approach you use or how much you worry about pinning down an accurate number.  The idea is just to start thinking about your heart rate as a measurement and training tool and to start working another piece of data into your workouts.  Stay tuned for more specifics on heart rate training, including some great sample workouts!

3 responses to “Finding your target heart rate

  1. Pingback: Burn Fat by Dancing | Weight Loss For Us

  2. Pingback: Heart Health roundup, new blog category | Bluefin Software Blog

  3. Pingback: Four ways to train with heart rate | Bluefin Software Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s