Target Heart Rates for Exercise

If you’re striving to get fitter over time, it’s important never to stand still.  You need to build on the incremental gains of every single workout that you do so that the next time you train, you train harder and more effectively.  At the most basic, you might measure this by lifting a little more, or running a little faster, but the most accurate way of improving the intensity of your workouts is to think about setting some target heart rates for exercise.

What Should Your Target Heart Rate Be

There’s lots of different ways to calculate your target heart rate for exercise.  The simplest is to subtract your age from 220, and then work out at between 50% and 85% of that level.

If you like maths, this would be the equation:

Target Heart Rate Equation

Target Heart Rate Equation

For a 40 year old person, the target heart rate for exercise would be between 90 and 153 beats per minute.

This doesn’t mean that if you don’t work out at precisely these levels you won’t get benefit, but actually you get different benefits at different levels of intensity.

Pushing your heart rate to the upper level of this range will give you a more intense cardiovascular workout – the longer you can sustain these kind of levels of exertion, the fitter you’ll become, and the longer you will be able to maintain them in the future.

At the lower end of the range, you’ll find that the exertion levels are quite low, but you will also be able to sustain the level of intensity for much longer.  On a lot of gym equipment there’s a setting for fat burning.  That generally involves you working out at a level slightly above the 50% of max for a longer period of time.

Heart Rate Interval Training

If you’re pushing to improve your overall cardio fitness, you will quickly find that you can’t maintain the upper levels of target heart rates for exercise indefinitely.  That’s where interval training comes in.  You push at a high level for a period of time – a minute or two – and then drop the intensity to a more comfortable point.  This gives you time to recover, and over the course of a workout will enable you to work out at a higher level for longer than if you tried to do it all in one go.

Measuring Your Heart Rate During Exercise

The most accurate way of measuring your heart rate during exercise is with a heart rate monitor.  Polar are one of the best known names in the space, and they have an extensive range, that go from the basic through to complex monitors that include GPS and allow you to download data to your phone or computer.  You’ll also find that heart rate monitors are being included in a lot of new technology like smart watches and mobile phones.  Most of the cardio equipment in your local gym will probably have a heart rate monitor built in.

For most people, a fairly basic heart rate monitor will be sufficient, and you can pick these up for under £20.  If you can’t spring to that, it’s easy enough to measure your own pulse at your wrist or the side of your neck (use your fingers not thumb).

Training for Heart Rate

Training with a heart rate monitor can take a bit of getting used to – instead of using the natural feedback from your body or the pace you’re running or cycling at, you’ll find that your pace varies depending on the number on the watch, but as you become more aware of how your body performs at different levels of workout intensity, you’ll find that you get a better understanding of performance.

By considering a target heart rate for exercise during your workout rather than setting times or limits, you’ll find that your pace will increase naturally because you’ll be able to do more at the same level.