Target Heart Rate Range for Cardiovascular Exercise: Do You Know Yours?

by Sarah on September 22nd, 2011

By Sarah Jordan, MS
This is an article written for the October edition of 50-75 Peel, Inc. community newsletters in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston.

Are you getting the most you can from your cardiovascular exercise program? Determining your target heart-rate range may help you see more results and become more aware of the intensity of exercise that you are completing.

I love to empower my clients by educating them on this personalized range. And even more so, I enjoy seeing their faces light up when they tell me about the results they are seeing because of their success in using it.

A few things to remember about calculating target heart-rate range (THRR):
  • Always check with your doctor before starting or changing your exercise program.
  • To best determine your fitness level and training zones, seek a fitness assessment from a certified professional personal trainer. Numbers provided here are just estimates.
  • These estimates are for healthy individuals. Remember that conditions like pregnancy, health issues, and some medications can affect your heart rate.
  • There are times when your mid-exercise heart rate will be below or above your target heart rate range, and that is okay. But use the THRR as a goal to work within most of the time.
  • A good estimate of your maximum heart rate is 220 – your age.

Calculating your target heart-rate range:
Knowing how to take your pulse and find your heart rate during exercise can help you evaluate the effectiveness of your exercise program. Using the Karvonen formula, we can calculate target heart-rate range (THRR). We do the following to calculate our low and high end of our THRR:

  • 220 – age – resting heart rate x low end of training zoneresting heart rate = ______ (low end of THRR)
  • 220 – age – resting heart rate x high end of training zone + resting heart rate = ______ (high end of THRR)

Step 1: Calculate your resting heart rate. The best time to do this is first thing in the morning
before you get out of bed. Take a 60-second count, and write your resting heart rate value down.

Step 2: Determine what training zone you will use based on your current level of fitness.
Estimates provided by Low level of fitness: 45-55%; Fair level of fitness: 55-65%; Good level of fitness: 65-75%; Excellent / elite level of fitness: 75-85%. (These are just examples and can be changed to best fit your current level of fitness. For the most accurate calculation, get a fitness assessment.)

Step 3: Calculate your target heart-rate range using the Karvonen formula.

Step 4: Learn how to use this heart-rate range regularly in your cardiovascular workouts.
For example: A healthy 30-year old female with a good level of fitness and a resting heart rate of 60 beats per minute and using a training zone of 60-80%:
220 – 30 – 60 x .60 + 60 = 138 beats per minute
220 – 30 – 60 x .80 + 60 = 164 beats per minute

Using this calculation, her target heart-rate range is 138 – 164 beats per minute.

So the question is, “Now that I know my target heart-rate range, how do I actually apply that to my workouts?” Follow these steps for success:

  • Calculate your target heart-rate range and write it down where you can easily find it.
  • Find a range that you can remember. For example: For the 30-year old female above, her range is 138-164 beats per minute. That is hard to remember mid-exercise, so she should do this:
  • Determine and remember the range you should find in a 6-second pulse count.
  • Ex: 13-17 beats in 6-second pulse count, as this would equal 130 – 170 beats in a minute, which aligns with her THRR.) She takes her pulse (mid-exercise) for 6 seconds, and should get 13-17 beats.
  • Practice and learn to take your pulse properly. Taken from
  • Place the tips of your index, second and third fingers on the palm side of your other wrist below the base of the thumb. Or, place the tips of your index and second fingers on your lower neck on either side of your windpipe.
  • Press lightly with your fingers until you feel the pulse beneath your fingers. You may need to move your fingers around slightly up or down until you feel the pulsing. If placing fingers on neck, be sure you don’t press too hard.
  • Use a watch with a second hand, or look at a clock with a second hand.
  • Count your pulse for 6 seconds. Multiply this number by 10 (add a “0”) to get your heart rate (pulse) / beats per minute.
  • Give yourself time to get comfortable using this method. It will pay off in the long run!

Everyone wants to find ways to make their fitness routines more efficient. It is my hope that using the target heart-rate range will be one way of doing just that.

About Sarah
Sarah Jordan, MS, is a mom, photographer, personal trainer, instructor, and authors health and fitness articles for many community newsletters in Texas. She is also the creator and director of Miles of Smiles Photography and Live Fit Austin. Sarah lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and son.

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