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Understanding Heart Rate Zones and Exercise

Do you spend your workouts worrying that you’re not exercising the right way? Have you ever wondered if you’re pushing too much, or not enough? How do you know if you’re doing this whole workout thing correctly? Oh, if only there were a simple way to figure everything out!

Well, there is, and it has to do with understanding heart rate ranges and how it affects the way you exercise. When you exercise in your target heart rate zone, you lessen the potential risks and maximize the overall benefits of working out. Simply put, Target Heart Rate (THR) is when your heart rate, or pulse, is 60-80% of your maximum heart rate during periods of exercise. THR is the exercises “sweet spot,” a critical element in physical exercise that will help you reach your fitness goals and lose weight.

First, We Need To Understand Resting Heart Rate

Before we look into THR calculations, it’s important to figure out what your heart rate is at rest. During periods of inexertion, your heart beats a certain amount of times, indicating the efficiency and strength of your cardiovascular system. Resting heart rate (RHR) is incredibly valuable to determine both the state of your cardiovascular system and your fitness level.

In order to discover your ideal heart rate zone, you’ll need to use your Maximum Heart Rate, which is the higher limit of what your cardiovascular system can endure while working out, along with your Resting Heart Rate.

To calculate RHR, perform this test right after waking in the morning:

  • Find your pulse at your wrist (radial artery) or your neck (carotid artery).
  • Then, count the number of beats in 10 seconds, with your index and middle finger.
  • Take the number of beats calculated within a 10 second period and multiply that number by 6. The resulting number will be your beats per minute and, at this point of rest, your RHR.

Now, Let’s Figure Out Target Heart Rate Zone

Now that you’ve calculated RHR, you can determine your THR for training. Typically, you can estimate maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. When it comes to exercise, your heart rate training zone plays a crucial role. With the help of this zone, you’ll be able to train at a variety of different heart rates thus improving your fitness level. When you take your pulse and calculate your workout heart rate, you’re utilizing these primary indicators to determine your exercise ideal intensity level.

Here are some examples:

Age: 20

Target Heart Rate (HR) Zone (60-85%): ** 120 – 170

Predicted Maximum HR: 200


Age: 35

Target Heart Rate (HR) Zone (60-85%): ** 111 – 157

Predicted Maximum HR: 185


Age: 50

Target Heart Rate (HR) Zone (60-85%): 102 – 145

Predicted Maximum HR: 170


Enough With The Numbers! What Does It All Mean?

During exercise, if your heart rate is too high, then you’re pushing your body too much. In this case, you’re straining, so slow it down. On the other hand, if your heart rate is too low, then you might want to push yourself a bit harder, especially if it feels like the workout seems way too easy.

Adding Exercise To Your Health Regimen

Beginners who wish to add a workout routine to their health regimen should aim for the lower range of a target zone (50%), at least during the first few weeks of training. Afterwards, you can build up gradually to a higher range (85%). Later on, after several months of exercise, you should be able to comfortably exercise at about 85% of your maximum heart rate.

So, now that you have that down, get out there and exercise!  If you want a 7-day plan to get you started, check out my 10-day Wellness Jump Start!!

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Dr. Candice Seti


California-licensed Clinical Psychologist, Certified Nutrition Coach, and Certified Personal Trainer

Dr. Candice Seti

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