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Target Heart Rate

Tamsen Butler
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Your target heart rate (or training heart rate) depends on your age and the percent of your maximum heart rate (the upper limit of beats per minute your heart can reach before it becomes dangerous); the percent of MHR you decide to work at depends on your fitness goals.

About Your Target Heart Rate

While it's true you want to bring your heart rate up to enjoy the benefits of cardiovascular exercise, there is a safe range from which you can exercise without putting too much strain on your heart.

Calculating Maximum Heart Rate

Calculating maximum heart rate is an easy equation: 220-age. For example, a person who is 25 has a maximum heart rate of 195 and a person who is 50 has a maximum heart rate of 170. The rate goes down with age since the heart can typically withstand more exertion earlier in life than later.

Calculating Target Heart Rate

The equation for finding your target heart rate is this: 220-age X % of maximum heart rate. The best heart rate range for exercisers without medical restrictions prohibiting them from elevating their heart rate is around 50%-85% of their maximum heart rate for moderate to intense exercise. For example, a 40 year old individual wanting to work at 70% of their max heart rate would have a target heart rate of 126 (220-40 X 70% = 126).

Sample Target Heart Rates by Age
Age Maximum Heart Rate 50% MHR Target Rate 80% MHR Target Rate
20 200 100 160
30 190 95 152
40 180 90 144
50 170 85 136
60 160 80 128
70 150 75 56

Gender Differences

According to the American Heart Association, target heart rate is based solely on age and desired exertion, not on gender. A study back in 2010 by Northwestern University made the claim that target heart rates for women should be lower than that of men. The formula they suggested for finding women's target heart rates was this: 206 - 88% of a woman's age. And while studies do suggest that average women may not be able to reach for the same target heart rates as average men, most target heart rate recommendations disregard gender.

Fat Burning Zone

Though hotly debated among fitness professional, the target heart rate for fat burning is generally thought to be around 60-70% of your maximum heart rate. Using this formula, you can figure out what heart rate you should exercise at in order to burn fat. On the other hand, it's important to note that strength training is generally thought to be the best method for burning fat and building muscle, resulting in profound changes to body composition.

Check Your Heart Rate Regularly

An activity tracker can help you keep track of your heart rate while exercising. You can also check your heart rate by using two fingers to measure your pulse at your wrist or at the point of your neck where it curves to your jaw. Count the number of beats in a six second interval and then multiply by ten. If you measure 12 beats in six seconds, then you are averaging 120 bpm and that's well within the target zone for a 35-year-old.

Build Endurance

If you exercise the recommended three to five times per week, then you want to hit within your target heart rate range for the majority of your workout time, excluding the time spent warming up and cooling down. For example, a jogger who runs three miles three times a week will want to be in their target heart zone for at least two and a half of the miles with a quarter mile on either side for warming up and cooling down.

Reaching Your Rate

Your heart, like any other muscle, builds endurance over time. You may find that as you work out regularly that you build up endurance for certain intensities and it is harder to hit your target heart rate at that intensity. This means you will have to change up the routine or increase the intensity to continue meeting your goals. On average, you should review your workout plan every 12 weeks and adjust according to your body's needs. If you need help downloading the printable exercise chart, check out these helpful tips.

Target Heart Rate