Maximum & Target Heart Rates >> The Right Way to Calculate Them

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Maximum heart rate, target heart rate zone, resting heart rate: You’ve probably heard all of these terms at one point or another, but is it really clear what they mean and why they’re important?

When it comes to training and physical fitness, your heart rate, or pulse, is really important but, surprisingly, it doesn’t take rocket science to figure out. I’m going to teach you today!

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What is your resting heart rate & why should you care?

Your resting heart rate is exactly as the name says – your heart rate when you are at rest. The best time to test your resting heart rate is right when you wake up in the morning. You can test it yourself by putting your left pointer and middle finger on your right wrist (palm facing up). Place the two fingers on your radial artery, which is in line with your thumb. You can also detect your pulse on your carotid artery on your neck, with the same two fingers, next to your larynx. In either case, count the number of times you feel your pulse in 15 seconds and then multiply that number by 4 to find your beats per minute (bpm).

Did you know that…?

The resting heart rate is a really good indicator of fitness level. The lower your resting heart rate, the more fit you are.

Note: This doesn’t mean that someone who has a lower resting heart rate than you is fitter than you. But it does mean that monitoring a decrease in your resting heart rate, is a good indication that you are improving your personal fitness level. YAY!

Why you should know your resting heart rate

The faster you can return to your resting heart rate when engaging in cardiovascular activity (the less rest time you need in order to catch your breath and continue working out) is also a good indication of improved cardiovascular fitness.

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Maximum heart rate: How to identify your target heart rate zone *

To identify your personal target heart rate zone, you must first calculate your maximum heart rate. The easiest way to calculate your maximum heart rate is by doing this simple subtraction equation: 220 – your age = your maximum heart rate. Then, you will need to take 85% of your maximum heart rate in order to find out your target heart rate zone.

*This formula is one of several possibilities for calculating your heart rate. Feel free to use it as a rule of thumb. In the Runtastic apps, however, we rely on a slightly different model for an even more exact calculation of your heart rate.

It’s even easier with this heart rate calculator:

Let’s use a 35-year old person as an example:

  • max heart rate = 220 – 35
  • max heart rate = 185
  • target heart rate = max heart rate x .85
  • target heart rate = 185 x .85
  • target heart rate = approx. 157

Now in order to get fit, you have to work out and get that heart rate elevated – get sweaty and burn calories. The easiest way to track your heart rate while doing cardio training, in order to identify if you are in your target heart rate zone, is by using a heart rate monitor.

Training in your target heart rate zone? Some useful tips for beginners

Initially, it might be difficult for beginners to train at that target heart rate zone – that’s quite normal. With that being said, it could also be possible that at some point during your cardio workout you get above 85%, and even up to 100%, of your max heart rate – and you’ll probably feel it. This is extremely difficult to sustain for an entire workout so, not to worry, you’ll probably feel the need to rest at that point and will naturally take it down a notch to lower that heart rate.

Note: The above-mentioned tips and calculations apply to healthy individuals. If you have any heart problems, are on any medication, or have been advised by your doctor to stay within a certain bpm range, make sure you follow their instructions. And, as always, check with your doctor before starting any new fitness regimen.



Lunden Souza Lunden Souza is an Online Fitness & Lifestyle Transformation Coach. She helps people all over the world create a sustainable healthy lifestyle, so they'll never have to "start over" again! Connect with @lifelikelunden for real-life strategies to get on track for long-term health in both body and mind. View all posts by Lunden Souza »