The exercise heart rate charts you see on gym walls or exercise equipment displays provide recommended heart rates for exercise based on age and desired intensity level. By comparing your pulse rate to the recommended training heart rate range, also called THRR, you'll know whether you're exercising at the right level of intensity. Working out at the right intensity helps you meet your fitness goals without pushing your body too hard.
Maximum Heart Rate
At the peak of your workout, when your heart rate is at its highest, that will be when you have achieved your maximum heart rate. To calculate your predicted maximum heart rate, use this formula: 220 minus your age. Use the equation with caution because it does not apply to all individuals. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends a training range of 55 to 95 percent of your age-predicted maximal heart rate.
Measuring Heart Rate
Measure your pulse during exercise and see if it falls within the THRR on the chart. Some exercise equipment measures pulse for you by providing a monitor on the handlebars. You can measure it yourself by turning your palm up and, using two fingers, finding the pulse at the thumb side of your wrist. Count for 10 seconds, and multiply by 6. If this number falls below your THRR, you may not be working hard enough; if over, your THRR, you may be working too hard. Make sure you monitor your pulse correctly. If you wait until you finish exercising to measure it, it will be lower than it was during exercise. Your heart rate begins to drop as soon as you finish exercising. If you find it difficult to measure your pulse during exercise, you may want to purchase a heart rate monitor that will do it for you.
It makes sense for a beginner to ease in by exercising at the lower end of the THRR, such as 55 to 65 percent. As you become more fit, you can push yourself to the higher end of the range. You'll notice that as your fitness improves, it takes harder exercise to increase your pulse into your training range. Comparing your pulse to a heart rate exercise table during exercise helps guide the progression of your program.
Don't Be Mislead
While exercise heart rate tables can help you choose an effective exercise level, some contain misleading information. For example, many charts designate a "fat-burning zone" at the lower heart rate ranges.This is based on the concept that lighter exercise relies more on a fat as an energy fuel, whereas harder exercise relies more on carbohydrate. However, you still burn more total fat and calories when you exercise intensely. Ignore any references to a fat-burning zone when using a heart rate chart.
Individuals taking beta blockers or other cardiac drugs that lower the heart rate should not use age-predicted exercise heart rate tables because of the danger of overexertion.
These charts may not apply to serious athletes, who need to train intensely and specifically for performance.
THRR applies only to aerobic exercise. Do not use it to judge the difficulty of weight-lifting, toning or stretching exercises.
The exercise heart rate chart helps you guide the intensity of your workout but not the duration. If you exercise at the lower heart rate range, you need to go longer to burn off the same number of calories as you would if you exercised harder for a shorter amount of time. Exercising at the higher end of your THRR provides more rapid improvement in fitness with less time commitment.
- Cleveland Clinic: Pulse and Target Heart Rate
- ACSM's Resource Manual for Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription; American College of Sports Medicine
- ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription; American College of Sports Medicine
- Exercise Physiology; W.D. McArdle, F.I. Katch, and V.L. Katch