What Is Recovery Heart Rate?

Tamsen Butler
Reviewed by Terri Forehand RN
woman checking her heart rate

Your recovery heart rate is the rate at which your heartbeats return to normal after exercise. In most instances, the quicker your recover, the better your fitness level.

Determining Your Recovery Heart Rate

The only way to determine your recovery heart rate is to have an activity from which to recover.

  1. Determine your resting heart rate. Check manually or with a heart rate monitor.
  2. Do something that will elevate your heart rate, like some cardio exercise with vigorous effort.
  3. Work out until you reach your target heart rate.
  4. Immediately after working out, check your heart rate.
  5. Wait around two minutes before checking your heart rate again.
  6. Subtract the results from your two minute check from the results immediately following exercise.

Do the Math

Once you have the number from the instructions above, you know how long it takes for your heart rate to slow down after exertion; the more quickly it returns to your pre-exercise rate, the more fit you are (and the better your cardiovascular health). Essentially, the bigger the number from your equation, the better because a bigger number means a bigger drop in heart rate.

YMCA Heart Rate Test

The chart below is based on the YMCA's 3-Minute Step Test, a standard in heart rate recovery measurement. Using a 12-inch step, march up and down the step at a steady pace for three minutes. After three minutes of activity, sit on the step and immediately take your pulse, counting your heartbeats for one full minute. The number you get is your recovery heart rate based on the YMCA's test. In this instance, the lower the number, the better.

Heart Rate Recovery Chart by Age
Age 18-25 26-35 36-45 46-55 56-65 65+
Very fit 50-56 51-76 49-76 56-82 60-77 59-81
Fit 79-84 79-85 80-88 87-93 86-94 87-92
Above average 88-93 88-94 92-88 95-101 97-100 94-102
Average 95-100 96-102 100-105 103-111 103-109 104-110
Below average 102-107 104-110 108-113 113-119 111-117 114-118
Unfit 111-119 114-121 116-124 121-126 119-128 121-126
Potentially unhealthy 124-157 126-161 130-163 131-159 131-154 130-151

Gender Differences

The heart rates from the chart above may be slightly higher for women. Women generally have higher heart rates because their smaller hearts require faster pumping to circulate blood.

Improve Your Recovery Heart Rate

Since recovery heart rate is an indicator of cardiovascular fitness, it stands to reason that improving your cardiovascular fitness will improve your recovery heart rate.

Consult Physician About Concerns

It's important, however, to consult with a physician if you have concerns about your recovery heart rate as it may indicate heart disease, which would make some forms of cardio dangerous until the condition is controlled or corrected. Additionally, you should report shortness of breath or chest pain while doing resting heart rate activity at home as well.

Not Just for Fitness

Recreational exercisers, athletes and at-risk patients can all utilize recovery heart rate to their benefit. At its most serious, it can alert a physician to potential heart problems, but for less serious concerns, it can simply let someone know if their fitness level is improving. If you have any questions or if heart disease runs in your family, you should consult with your doctor and not just rely on this test, but for anyone, it's another useful tool in helping to achieve an all-around healthy lifestyle.

What Is Recovery Heart Rate?