Your Heart Rate (Part 3a): Cardio Target Heart Rate Zone (THR)

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Photo by Bruno Nascimento

How Hard Should You Work Out?

How do you know if you’re working out hard enough?  Too hard?  I’ll show you a basic formula for finding your individualized THR zone for cardiovascular exercise.  It is simple to do.  Basic math.  If you’re serious about improving your health, you will take the time to figure yours out.  Why waste your time with ineffective training when you can make the most of your workouts?

Since this is a broad topic, I decided to break this section into two parts.  In the next part, Part 3b, we’ll cover exercise heart rate and interval and weight training.  But first up, cardiovascular workouts.  This type of workout includes running, walking, biking, rowing, and similar activities.

Cardiovascular Workouts

For steady state cardio (staying at roughly the same intensity throughout all or most of the exercise session), I recommend a range of 60 % – 85 % of your (theoretical) maximum heart rate.  This is what the ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) calls “vigorous-intensity exercise” and recommends “20-25 minutes on 3 or more days per week for a total of 75 minutes.”  I recommend a more than that.

Why?  Because everybody is capable of doing more than three days of cardio workouts per week.  You may have to build up to it.  However, once you do, you will be able to do this and so much more in your life.

If you really want to see results, I recommend you do this “vigorous-intensity” cardio nearly every day for at least 30 minutes.  The most recent studies are recommending we do some form of cardio every day.  Further, they recommend that we do “some form of exercise” every single day.

Not every session has to be at the top end of your training zone.  You can work out at the lower end (60 %) for a couple of your workouts during the week.  Also, if you are doing weight training, which you should be doing at least two days per week, your cardio workout for that day does not have to be as intense or long.

There are too many benefits of doing some form of exercise every day to list in this post.  Once you start doing any form of exercise every day, you will feel the difference and miss it when you skip a couple of days.  Be careful not to string too many rest days in a row.  It will be more difficult to get back on track.  I have one rest day per week.  And, even then, I often do something light, like take an easy walk.

There are many generic charts for THR zones you can find online and on the walls of most workout centers.  They are just that, generic.  You are not generic.

Remember your resting heart rate from the last article?  Good.  You’ll need this for the formula I recommend.  It takes into consideration your RHR.  Since RHRs typically range from 60 to 100, everyone’s starting point is different.  So, you can see how those “one size fits all” charts can be way off.  Let me explain this.

Let’s say we have two 30-year-olds who want to start a cardio program.  (The charts have age categories for zones.)  The generic chart lists the low range for their THR (60 %) as 114 beats per minute or BPM.  The high end of this range is 162, or 85 %.  So, we have a 114 – 162 BPM zone.  Sounds simple, right?

No so fast.  What if one of these 30-year-olds has an RHR (resting heart rate) of 60 BPM and the other’s RHR is 100?  Those are two very different starting points.  One has to work much harder than the other to reach the desired zone.  That’s not very individualized.

Here’s how we can account for the varied RHRs, at least  until scientists come up with a better formula.
220 – age – resting heart rate x .60 to .85 + resting heart rate

Example:

220 – 30 (age) = 190 – 60 (resting heart rate) = 130

130 x .60 = 78 + 60 (resting heart rate) = 138

130 x .85 = 110.5 + 60 (resting heart rate = 170.5

The THR zone for this person is 138 – 171 BPM.  Do the same for the 30-year-old with the RHR of 100.

Did you get 154 – 176.5?  Good.  Now, plug your age and RHR (resting heart rate) in and see what your range is.

Remember, I recommend you do cardiovascular exercise every day.  I know life can get in the way every once in a while and you’ll have to miss a day.  But, try hard not to miss a day.  You’ll thank me for this advice.

Not every workout should be at the top of this range.  A couple of days should have a lower intensity workout.  You can do these on the days you weight train.  (Yes.  You need to do weight training, too.)  For now, do the following.

  1. Practice taking your heart rate.
  2. Figure out your resting heart rate.
  3. Plug your numbers into the formula in this post.
  4. Start making your workouts count!

That’s all for this post.  As I mentioned earlier, I decided to break this part of the series into two parts.  The next part, Part 3b, will be about your heart rate when interval training and weight training.

Thanks for reading.  As with all the exercise information on this site, please get a check-up with your doctor before you begin an exercise program.  And, please sign up to follow SimplyFitness.blog.  This will help me to continue to provide fitness information to everyone.  Thanks!  Karen


4 thoughts on “Your Heart Rate (Part 3a): Cardio Target Heart Rate Zone (THR)

    1. Sorry. Your comment ended up in my ‘spam’ folder. (Need to check this often, now that I found it!)
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    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad you like the information I wrote about. I plan on writing much more. And, sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner. I found your comment in ‘spam’ folder. :/ Thanks for the feedback! 🙂

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