If you are involved in any type of fitness routine, personal training, or even home-based DVDs, you will often hear an instructor say: Let’s get that heart rate up! Sounds good in theory. If my heart rate is going up, and usually my breathing too, I must be engaging in an aerobic activity and everything about that feels right. From running upstairs to avoid the crowded elevators at work, to raking leaves, playing touch football, or coming to a boot camp class – moving is key to a healthy heart, healthy life, and reaching our fitness goals.
However, while sustained physical activity is good for the cardiovascular system and improving fitness levels, our work should not stop there.
From beginner to advanced, there is a heart rate training zone for you to check in and see if you are really working at an appropriate level. Your heart rate zone or target heart is a percentage of your maximum heart rate. To calculate your maximum heart rate, or MHR, you simply subtract your age from 220 if you are a male, and 226 if you are a female.
After your warm-up, you should be working at about 50-60% of your MHR. From here, you can move into 70-80% with a high intensity of aerobic activity and maxing out at 85%.
If you are attending a cycle class or training for your Tri or marathon, you will want to increase your training zone MHR to 85%. Here you will burn more calories (50% coming from fat) and increase your stamina.
If you are swimming short sprints or attending a HIIT class, you will be working in the anaerobic zone, (without oxygen). When participating in activities such as these, you are looking to build muscle and strength. Here you will want to work at 80-90% of you MHR. You will be winded after these exercises, and recruit only 15% of your energy from fat. However you will keep these moves short; hopefully being able to repeat them a few times!
So now that you know your MHR (220- your age), and what percentage of it you should be working at during which activity, how can we tune in and work harder…or better said, smarter?
Do the work: calculate your target heart rate
First, start by calculating your MHR (220 or 226 – age)
Next, Subtract your heart rate reserve from the number above. Your heart rate reserve can be determined by counting your resting heart rate for three mornings in a row and then taking that average.
Next, multiply this number by the percentage you are looking to work at.
Finally, take that number and add back you heart rate reserve. Now you have your target heart rate for training in a particular zone.
Here is the math for me to train at 70%:
226 – 31 = 195
195 – 55 = 140
140 x 0.70 = 98
98+ 55 = 153
Too much? No worries, there are many target heart rate calculators to do this work on the spot. Here is one great example from the Mayo Clinic.
A quick heart rate check during one of your training sessions can be done by placing your fingers on the right side of your neck to feel a pulse. Count your heart rate for 6 seconds and add a zero to that number.
Looking for more precision to take your training to the next level? You may want to invest in a heart rate monitor. Good monitors do not have to be expensive.
Checking in and knowing our maximum heart rate, heart rate reserve, and training zones will enable us to execute our workouts more wisely, thus achieving our fitness and wellness goals!