Determining target heart rate

After you have exercised long enough you will be able to tell if you are exercising at the level you should be.  I for one try to exert about what feels like 80% or better of what I could possibly give if I were to give everything I have.  However, the rate at which your heart is beating is the best indicator of your workout level.  First of all you need to determine your maximum heart rate.  Simply subtract your age from 220.  So if I am 26 years old, my max heart rate is 220-26=194.  When you do a cardio workout you should reach about 65% or more of your maximum heart rate for a period of at least 12 minutes, but more like 20-30 is best.  So, using my previous value of 194 for my heart rate, 194*0.65=126 or higher is what my heart rate should be at for at least 12 minutes.  Of course, the longer you exercise, the lower this number might be.

Granted, this is not a mathematically rigorous formula meant to be perfectly accurate.  It is simply a guide to give you an idea of where you are at.  As I mentioned previously, I prefer to try to get my heart rate to about 80% of max.  This is great too. 65% is sort of a minimum; any less than that is really not so beneficial.  Clearly the higher your heart rate, the greater the benefit.  However, if you are only exercising for 12-15 minutes, then staying around 75% is much better, but you can’t do this if you are running 5 miles.  In other words, the higher the heart rate the better, but if you are exercising for a longer period of time (say 25 or more minutes), keeping a higher level the whole time may not be reasonable or even possible.

When you are doing cardio at about 65%, a short 12-15 minutes may not be enough time to give your heart substantial benefit.  If you wish to do cardio at that level, 25-30 minutes would be more appropriate.  As I mentioned, I usually try to stay around 80%, so I can run for 15 minutes and get a similar (or perhaps better) result than if I were to run at 65% for twice as long.  It’s all up to you.  I admit, it does take a lot of effort to keep yourself at such a high level for that long, but I prefer to do so because it is more efficient time-wise.  If you prefer to do a less rigorous exercise like taking a brisk walk, that’s great too, but plan on at least 30 minutes.  It is longer, but it is also easier and arguably more enjoyable.

If you are more of a visual person, then a chart like this may be a little more helpful in understanding the idea of target heart rate.  There is one thing I would like to point out though, that may give you the wrong impression.  The “Fat Burn Zone” is a little deceiving because keeping your target heart rate low on purpose to supposedly burn more fat isn’t really how it works and besides, it of course would require much more workout time than keeping your heart rate a little higher.  What you really care about anyway is the “Cardio Benefit Zone.”  If you aren’t quite so intense, then you will be closer to the bottom of the orange band, but for longer (30-45 min).  If you are like me and want to ‘get ‘er done,’ then you will find your heart rate closer to, or even in the red, but for shorter amounts of time (15-20 min).

I know this may sound a an awful lot of information just about how fast your heart beats during exercise, but if you monitor it for a while after you start working out, you will learn what it feels like.  I don’t actually even check my heart rate much anymore because I know what intense feels like for my body.  I also know what not-so-intense feels like, and when I can feel that I am holding back, I ratchet up my intensity a little bit until I know I am well into the orange band.  You will find that it doesn’t take long before you can do the same.