There's nothing quite like a sweat-dripping cardio session, especially if you hit your max heart rate at least a few times during your workout. While working at a higher intensity is a great way to torch calories and improve your fitness level, you should only stay at this level for brief periods.
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You can exercise at 95 percent of your maximum heart rate, but you won't stay at that high intensity for much longer than a few minutes.
Target Heart Rate and Exercise
Determining your target heart rate is an essential first step in designing any cardiovascular program. Measuring your heart rate during physical activity can help you assess how hard you are working. It can also be an indicator that you're not working hard enough.
There are several methods you can use to determine your target zone and max heart rate. Additionally, the internet is full of calculators, like this one from the American Council on Exercise, that comes with a target heart rate chart if you want to plug in your info and get moving.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), your heart rate during moderately intense activities should be about 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate. Increase the intensity by performing hard physical activity, and you'll likely work at 70 to 85 percent of your max heart rate.
In general, your max heart rate is about 220 minus your age. For instance, a 45-year old would have a max heart rate of 175 beats per minute (bpm). That same person can exercise at a target heart rate zone of 50 to 85 percent and aim for 88 to 149 beats per minute. The AHA has an online target heart rate chart you can use to guide your workouts. They detail the target heart rate zone and average max heart rate for ages 20 to 70.
Read more: Cardio Heart Rate Zones
Exercising at Max Heart Rate
If you're exercising at your max heart rate, you will find it difficult to maintain the intensity for very long. That's why keeping a steady pace at 95 percent max heart rate is unrealistic. However, if you want to maximize the calorie burn and increase your aerobic capacity, you might want to consider alternating between short segments of cardio close to your max heart rate and active rest periods that allow you to recover.
This type of interval training allows you to safely integrate higher levels of exertion into your workout. For example, on the treadmill, you can run for 30 seconds, followed by a slower walk for 30 seconds. Repeat this pattern for 20 minutes.
Read more: How Does Exercise Affect Your Heart Rate?
Exercise for Weight Loss
When it comes to losing weight, a combination of diet and exercise is the way to go. To get the most out of your workouts, you need to know how to calculate your target heart rate for weight loss.
To get a better idea of what the different intensities feel like, the Mayo Clinic says a moderate intensity means you're working hard enough that your breathing quickens, but you're not out of breath. You also develop a light sweat after 10 minutes of activity.
But when your breathing is deep and rapid, you've entered the vigorous-intensity or close to max heart rate zone. The optimal target heart rate for weight loss is going to fall somewhere in the 50 to 85 percent zone. For quicker weight loss, consider adding a day or two of intervals that take you above 85 percent for a few minutes.
- The American Heart Association: "Know Your Target Heart Rate for Exercise, Losing Weight and Health"
- The Mayo Clinic: "Exercise Intensity: How to Measure It"
- The American Heart Association: "Target Heart Rates"
- American Council on Exercise: "Heart Rate Zone Calculator"
- Men's Fitness: Interval Training Workouts
- Fitness Magazine: 15 Best Workout Tips of All Time