While strength training allows you to judge intensity based on the amount of weight you’re lifting and how many reps you’re able to execute, cardiovascular exercise lacks those clear measurements. However, learning how to monitor your heart rate and select the appropriate zone will give you a target and help you to reach your fitness goals.
Used properly, target heart rate training can help you safely maximize your cardiovascular workouts.
Monitoring Your Heart Rate
Most cardiovascular equipment is able to accurately monitor your heart rate for you during exercise, without a pause in your workout. This is usually done through the use of sensors embedded in the handles of the machine. The best treadmills and ellipticals include a telemetric heart rate receiver and chest strap to assist you in monitoring your heart rate wirelessly. If you’re exercising outside, portable heart rate sensors you wear on your wrist or around your chest can provide constant heart rate readings.
Without these tools, you will have to pause briefly to get an idea of your heart rate. You will also require a watch. To manually take your pulse, place the tips of your index and middle fingers on the outside of your other wrist in line with your thumb. Press lightly until you feel the steady rhythm of your radial artery. You can either count for a full minute, or count the beats for 30 seconds and multiply by two.
Calculating Maximum Heart Rate
In order to figure out your target heart rate, the first number you need to know is your maximum heart rate. This number will represent the amount of beats per minute your heart is capable of performing. The most commonly used and easiest way to estimate this number is by subtracting your age from 220. It’s important to understand, though, that this number is only an estimate and may vary if you are on certain medications or have a heart condition.
According to the Center for Disease Control, the moderate intensity heart rate zone exists between 50 and 70 percent of your maximum heart rate (MHR). So, to calculate the floor and ceiling of your moderate intensity heart rate zone, use the following formulas:
MHR x 0.50
MHR x 0.70
The resulting numbers represent the range in which you should keep your heart rate during moderate intensity exercise, such as a brisk walk, water aerobics, doubles tennis, ballroom dancing or gardening.
More advanced exercisers and athletes may want to use higher-intensity workouts to improve their endurance. This is commonly called the vigorous intensity heart rate zone and is 70 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. The basic formulas are the same as with the moderate intensity zone.
MHR x 0.70
MHR x 0.85
As you add more intense periods of exercise to your routine, keeping your heart rate within this zone will help you get better results from your workouts. Exceeding 85 percent of your maximum heart rate does not provide any additional benefits, and places an unhealthy amount of strain on your body.
Knowing your target heart rate can help you ensure that your workout is challenging enough to achieve your workout goals, without risking over-exertion. This will help you exercise efficiently and wisely.
You can calculate your target heart rate easily by using our target heart rate calculator.