Target heart rate
is a key data point in fitness. Knowing what it is and how you can optimize your workouts based on this number can make your exercise routine
But what does all this mean and how can you find the right balance between working your heart and overexerting it? That’s where your target heart rate comes in. Here’s what you need to know about this important fitness metric.
Why does your target hart rate matter?
It’s helpful to monitor where your beats per minute land in the target heart rate zone because this will indicate if you’re training both safely and effectively. When those beats per minute are lower than your target heart rate, consider intensifying the workout to optimize your fitness results and strengthen your heart muscle.
However, when the beats per minute are higher than your maximum heart rate, this can lead to overexertion. If it becomes the norm, you could be at risk for exercise-related biomarker release, which can cause heart arrhythmia, calcified arteries, and in extreme cases, cardiac arrest, according to the Current Treatment Options in Cardiovascular Medicine Journal
If you experience acute exhaustion, difficulty breathing, dehydration, or a pulse that feels too rapid or irregular, that’s an indication to slow your pace.
Knowing your target heart rate does more than keep you safe. It can help with reaching your fitness goals too. Here’s a breakdown from Cleveland Clinic
, which explains the various heart rate zones and how each one can help you reach a different goal:
- Lower-intensity zone: In this heart rate zone, you’ll exert about 50 to 60 percent of your maximum heart rate. You’ll also burn the fewest number of calories in this zone, but 85 percent of the calories you do burn are from fat. This zone can usually be sustained for a longer period of time, which makes it ideal for working on endurance.
- Temperate zone: In this heart rate zone, you’ll exert about 60 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate. You’ll also burn more calories in this zone than in the lower-intensity zone, and 65 percent of those calories burned are from fat.
- Aerobic zone: In this heart rate zone, you’ll exert about 70 to 80 percent of your maximum heart You’ll also burn the highest number of overall calories in this zone, but only 45 percent of those calories burned are from fat—most of the energy fuel will come from carbohydrates. Because the aerobic zone is the most intense level that you can safely exercise, it's not sustainable for as long as the other target heart rate zones. When used safely, like for interval training, it’s ideal for optimizing cardio and metabolic fitness, both of which are crucial for maintaining a healthy weight.
What is target heart rate, and how can you find it?
In basic terms, your target heart rate is the optimal range of beats per minute that you heart should maintain during exercise. You want this target heart rate to exceed your normal resting heart rate, but you also don’t want it to outpace your maximum heart rate (the highest number of beats per minute the heart can safely manage under stress).
To calculate your target heart rate, you need to know what your resting heart rate is. “When it comes to resting heart rate, lower is better. It usually means your heart muscle is in better condition and doesn’t have to work as hard to maintain a steady beat,” the American Heart Association
Most active, healthy adults have a resting heart rate of 60 to 100 beats per minute, the AHA continues. But this range can fluctuate due to stress, anxiety, hormones, or fitness level. To determine resting heart rate, place an index finger on either the inside of your wrist or beneath your jawline until you feel a pulse—don’t use your thumb, as it also has a pulse. Set an alarm for one minute and count the number of beats in that time frame.
Once you know the resting heart rate, move on to your maximum heart rate. The AHA has a simple equation for finding this number: subtract your age from 220. If you’re 30 years old, for instance, your maximum heart rate will be 190 beats per minute. Now it’s time for the final step: using all that information to find your target heart rate.
According to AHA, your target heart rate is 50 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. Using the same example as above, a 30-year-old would multiply 190x0.50 and 190x0.85 to arrive at the target heart rate range of 95 to 162 beats per minute.
How to monitor your target heart rate during exercise
It’s important to keep tabs on your target heart rate. Of course, that’s simple when you are exercising on a machine such as a treadmill, elliptical, or stationary bike with a built-in heart rate tracker. But when you’re running outside or doing a HIIT workout, it helps to use a wearable device, of which there are two options: a fitness tracker
and a chest strap.
Here’s a breakdown of each option, so you can determine which option is the most effective and convenient choice for you.
- Fitness trackers: This device is an electronic band with a screen that measures and displays various exercise data points such as your current heart rate, as well as the number of steps taken, miles completed, or calories burned. The most common fitness trackers are worn around the wrist (think: Garmin, Fitbit, and Apple Watch). But some models can also be worn on a finger or upper arm. Some fitness trackers come with GPS technology and compatible syncing with other mobile devices, so you can store exercise results on your smart phone for later reference.
- Chest straps: This device is usually more expensive, but since it’s worn on the chest, it delivers accurate, continuous measurements of your heart rate in real-time. This strap sensor detects the beats per minute, then transmits that information to a watch receiver. The more high-tech your chest strap is, the more features it provides such as the ability to monitor exercise cadence, distance, or speed. As with fitness trackers, some models also have GPS and mobile syncing.
Understand your own target heart rate for optimal fitness
Your heart rate can be a powerful tool for making the most of each workout. Use the different heart rate zones to make sure your workouts are getting you close to your fitness goals effectively and safely.