Marsh column: Finding your target heart rate

  • Posted: Monday, April 22, 2013 12:30 a.m.

Here lately, I have had numerous members ask me about heart rate. Where should it be and how high can it go. There is a formula to find that considering your age, but as someone who works out hard, this particular formula does not work as well for me. So, in this column I have included another way to figure out your target heart rate for the athletes among us. The Target Heart Rate (THR) is the heart rate your workout should reach. There is a minimum and a maximum — the numbers in between is your THR.

To challenge your heart and lungs, and get the ultimate results, you actually have to work your heart and lungs. By keeping your heart rate below your target heart rate, you really won’t see the cardiovascular workout benefits and/or weight loss as when you would be working within your target heart rate. I will be giving the first formula, so get out your calculators or piece of paper.


Take 220 and deduct your age, which gives you your maximum heart rate (MHR). You don’t want to exercise on your MHR. You might get there when a bear chases you.

For example, 220- 58 (age) = 162 MHR. Target heart rate falls between 55/60 percent and 90 percent of your MHR. Fifty-five percent if you have never exercised before and have some health challenges (obesity, heart problems, sometimes even pregnancy). So, let’s find out the THR for this 58 year old with no health problems.

Take 162 and multiply this number with .60, which is 97.2 (round it down to 97).

Now, take 162 and multiply this with .90 which is 145.8 (round up to 146). Typically, the max for most people is about 80/85 percent. The THR for this 58 year old is between 97 (=60 percent) and 146 (=90 percent) heart beats per minute (BPM). If this 58 year old is below 97 BPM he/she is not working hard enough. Above 146 BPM he/she is working too hard. People ask me what a good percentage is for them. That really is up to the individual. I was happy to read that studies now show that people who are in great cardiovascular shape have a different formula. When I use the “normal” formula, my target heart rate is way too low for how I perceive my workout (will get into that in a bit). For people who are in excellent condition, you can use the following formula (as mentioned in Runners World) — 200 minus half of your age is your maximum heart rate. Take the needed percentages you want to train in. It works a whole lot better for me and my training schedule.

Even with the correct heart rate, I like to combine the THR with perceived exertion (What and how do you feel when you exercise?). You don’t have to take your heart rate to know if you are working hard. Barely keeping up with your breathing is working too hard. Being able to hold a full conversation is working too little. Especially those on medication that controls their heart rate — you have to follow your perceived exertion (as lots of medications lower the heart rate). Of course, you want to check with your doctor to make sure a new exercise program is good for you and if your doctor recommends a certain percentage for your THR. I have never met a doctor who says it isn’t, but you might have some important limitations.

So, find your target heart for your age, be in tune with your body by feeling how hard you are working and enjoy yourselves.

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