Experienced or beginner, tracking your average heart rate while running is an effective way to gauge your intensity effort and adjust accordingly — either by speeding up or slowing down. Though the average heart rate while running will vary from person to person — usually fluctuating between 80 and 170 BPM (beats per minute) — you can find your average heart rate while running by calculating your target heart rate.
This is especially important for the running novice who tends to run too hard too soon, resulting in a much higher than average heart rate and poor results physically and motivation-wise. On the other hand, not pushing yourself hard enough (meaning an on-target heart rate) won't get you the results you're looking for.
Though the average heart rate when running will vary from person to person, it usually fluctuates between 80 and 170 BPM (beats per minute).
Source: American Heart Association
Know Your Max Heart Rate
Your max heart rate is an age-related estimation of the highest number of BPM a person's heart can pump in one minute during maximal activity. It's a useful number to know, because your target heart rate during activity will be a percentage of that number.
To calculate your max heart rate, subtract your age from 220. So for example, that would look like:
- 20 years old: 200 BPM
- 25 years old: 195 BPM
- 30 years old: 190 BPM
- 35 years old: 185 BPM
- 40 years old: 180 BPM
- 45 years old: 175 BPM
- 50 years old: 170 BPM
- 55 years old: 165 BPM
- 60 years old: 160 BPM
- 65 years old: 155 BPM
Calculate Your Target Heart Rate Zones
You can use target heart rate zones in different ways depending on your goals. If you want to exercise at a moderate intensity, you'll aim for keeping your heart rate between 50 and 70 percent of your MHR, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you're aiming for a more vigorous workout, your target heart rate zone will typically be between 70 and 85 percent of your MHR.
Take this example of a 32-year-old male who wants to work out at a vigorous intensity level:
- 220 - 32 = 188 (max heart rate)
- 188 x 0.70 = 132 (70% of MHR)
- 188 x 0.85 = 160 (85% of MHR)
His target heart rate is between 132 and 160 BPM.
Keep in mind that the "220 minus age" formula is just an estimate. To get an accurate measure of your max heart rate, and therefore your target heart rate zone, you can undergo an exercise stress test.
Use the Karvonen Formula
A second method, the Karvonen Formula, is similar to the traditional method but instead uses your desired intensity range to determine your target heart rate zone.
To use this formula, you subtract your resting heart rate (RHR) from your max heart rate, multiply by your desired percentage of max heart rate, and then add your resting heart rate.
For a 43-year-old with a resting heart rate of 70 who wants to know her target heart rate zone at a 60- to 70-percent intensity level, the calculation would look like this:
- 177 (MHR) - 70 (RHR) = 107
- 107 x 0.6 = 64
- 107 x 0.7 = 75
- 64+ 70 (RHR) = 134 (60% intensity)
- 75 + 70 (RHR) = 145 (70% intensity)
Her target heart rate zone at her desired intensity is between 134 and 145 BPM.
Consult a Heart Rate Chart
If you don't feel like doing the math, you can use a heart rate chart. Heart rate charts display the average for people in a particular age group, but they do not take into account specifics such as individual MHR or RHR.
The American Heart Association's chart covers a broad range of 50 to 85 percent of your max heart rate, which for a 35-year old is between 93 and 157 BPM.
This is a good chart to get a rough idea of where your heart rate should be when you go out for a run. You can work at the lower end of the range or the higher end, depending on your goals for the day.
Measure With a Heart Rate Monitor or Your Fingers
Most fitness trackers and smart watches have a heart rate monitor built in. Many of them will also tell you what zone you are in while working out. When you set up your device you were likely asked to enter your age, weight and gender. The technology uses the data to figure out your target heart rate zones.
Alternatively, you can use a your fingers and a stopwatch to calculate your heart rate. To do this, place your index and middle fingers on your neck below your chin and next to your trachea. You can also find your pulse on your wrist directly below the thumb. Using a stopwatch, count your heart beats for 15 seconds, and then multiply by four.
Gauge Intensity Without Heart Rate
Your heart rate is one of the best ways to measure the intensity of your workout, but it's not the only way. Perceived exertion can also tell you how hard you're working, and all you need to do is observe yourself.
If you're able to comfortably hold a conversation while running, you're working towards the lower end of the heart rate zone. According to the Mayo Clinic, if you can have a conversation but you can't sing a song, you're exercising at a moderate intensity. If you're breathing very hard and rapidly and you find it hard to say more than a few words at a time, you are running at a vigorous intensity.
Find What Works for You
Determining your "sweet spot" and then skillfully tweaking it to accomplish different running goals takes time and practice. Because everyone is different, only through running on a regular basis and monitoring your heart rate will you find the average that is right for you.
Each time you go out focus on challenging yourself a little more to reach your target. On the other hand, if you're having an off day or you just want to go easy, you may pull back and work below your average heart rate. The most important thing is to enjoy your runs, keep improving and avoid injury.
- Cleveland Clinic: Pulse & Heart Rate: Target Heart Rate
- Heart.org: Exercise Stress Test
- Topend Sports: Karvonen Formula
- CDC: Target Heart Rate and Estimated Maximum Heart Rate
- University of Virginia: VO2 Max Testing
- Heart.org: Know Your Target Heart Rates for Exercise, Losing Weight and Health
- Mayo Clinic: Exercise intensity: How to measure it
- Mayo Clinic: What is the normal resting heart rate?