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Target Heart Rates in High Intensity Interval Training

author image Michael Baker
Michael Baker has worked as a full-time journalist since 2002 and currently serves as editor for several travel-industry trade publications in New York. He previously was a business reporter for "The Press of Atlantic City" in New Jersey and "The [Brazoria County] Facts" in Freeport, Texas. Baker holds a Master of Science in journalism from Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn.
Target Heart Rates in High Intensity Interval Training
Interval training will put your heart rate near its maximum. Photo Credit Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images

Fitness gurus often tout interval training as a way to pack more punch into your workouts. Among its benefits is strengthening your heart, which means you'll need to get it pumping for interval training to be successful. Monitoring your heart rate is one way to ensure you are hitting the correct intensity in interval training. As with any form of exercise, always check with your doctor before starting interval training.


Interval training refers to any manner of exercise during which you add short bursts of intense activity during longer periods of more moderate exercise. This can be as simple as jogging for a few minutes at a time during a long walk. As a result, you'll burn more calories than you would doing just the moderate exercise over that period of time, but you'll be able to exercise longer than if you continuously worked at full intensity. You'll also be able to build muscles with less soreness than you would get from prolonged, high-intensity exercise, the American Council on Exercise says.

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Maximum Heart Rate

Your heart rate should increase during exercise, but it also has a ceiling on how high it can go, known as your maximum heart rate. In general, this maximum rate drops as you get older. You can estimate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. A 35-year-old, for example, has an estimated maximum heart rate of 185 beats per minute. A number of factors can affect your maximum safe heart rate, including your overall health and any medications you are taking, so you'll need to see a doctor if you want to determine your exact maximum heart rate.

Training Zone

During high-intensity bursts in interval training, you should push your heart rate as high as you can safely take it. Generally, that's about 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. A 35-year-old, for example, should aim to get his heart rate up to about 157 beats a minute. Pushing your heart rate higher than that puts you at greater risk for injury without providing much in the way of benefits. While many pieces of gym equipment will measure your heart rate while you exercise, you may need to buy a heart rate monitor if you want to make sure you are reaching your target levels. You also should judge how the exercise makes you feel. Exercise of that intensity should make you feel tired and out of breath when you are finished.


Working out near your maximum heart rate can be dangerous if you have certain health conditions. If you have heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis or are over 60, you should avoid interval training without a go-ahead from a doctor. If you're just starting an exercise program, high-intensity interval training also might be too strenuous for you. You should be able to sustain activity at about 65 percent to 75 percent of your maximum heart rate for at least 30 minutes before you try higher-intensity exercise. When you start interval training, you may want to try just one or two short bursts at the higher heart rate, and build gradually to more complete interval training.

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