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A Primer on Heart Rate Zones

A Primer on Heart Rate Zones

You’ve finally committed to an exercise routine. And if you’ve got an activity tracker or smartwatch, you’re likely closing all the rings to prove it.

But that’s not all your fancy, wearable fitness device is good for. Did you know it can tell you a lot about your heart, too? And when used properly with a heart rate training plan, it may even help you reach your fitness goals much quicker than you thought.

Most heart rate monitors display your resting heart rate and allow you to train using heart rate zones. Heart-rate feedback is an excellent way to monitor workout intensity and can help you develop a training plan that will improve fitness and overall heart health.

Knowing Your Heart Rate 101

First things first – if you’re considering an exercise plan that involves heart rate training, you must first calculate your average resting heart rate. Your resting heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute (BPM) when you’re at rest. Most smartwatches and wearable fitness dives will keep track of your resting heart rate for you. However, if you don’t have a heart rate monitor and want to calculate your heart rate on your own, it’s easy to do.

Here’s how you can calculate your heart rate without a heart rate monitor:

  • Place your middle finger and index finger on the carotid (neck) or on the radial (inside wrist) pulse.
  • Once you find a pulse, count the heartbeats for 15 seconds.
  • Multiply number of heartbeats by four to find your current heartbeat.

What is a Healthy Heart Rate?

A normal, resting heart rate for the average adult ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute. Typically, a lower resting heart rate is the result of efficient heart function and cardiovascular fitness. When it comes to resting heart rate, lower is better. It usually means your heart muscle is in better condition and doesn’t have to work as hard to maintain a steady beat. This also means that as you become more physically fit and your heart gets stronger, you will have to increase your workload to achieve the same fitness benefits over time.

Heart Zone Training

Heart rate training is training or exercise that involves keeping your heart rate within a certain range for a designated period of time. Measuring your heart rate during exercise gives you an indicator of how hard you are working. As your workload increases, your heart rate will increase, as well. To maximize performance and get the most benefit from your workout, you need to find and stay within your target heart rate zone throughout your workout.

What is My Target Heart Rate?

The American Heart Association (AHA) advises that people aim to have a heart rate between 50% and 8% of their maximum heart rate during exercise. According to calculations, the maximum heart rate you should have is around 220 beats per minute (bpm) minus your age. For example, a 20-year-old’s maximum heart rate would be around 200 bpm (220 minus 20 + 200 bpm).

Target Heart Rate Chart

The table below from the American Heart Association shows target heart rate zones for different ages. Your maximum heart rate is about 220 minus your age. However, it’s important to remember these figures are averages, so you should use them as a general guide.

AGEBeats per minute (BPM)
20100-170 bom
3095-162 bpm
4090-153 bpm
5085-145 bpm
6080-136 bpm
7075-128 bpm

Heart Rate Zones

Being mindful of your heart zones is a good way to monitor how hard you are training. There are five heart rate zones and each one is based on the intensity of training with regard to your resting heart rate, a minimum heart rate, and maximum heart rate. Between these values are different zones that correspond to training intensity and training benefit.

Zone% of Max Heart RateIntensity
Zone 150 – 60%Very light
Zone 260 – 70%Light
Zone 370 – 80%Moderate
Zone 480 – 90%Hard
Zone 590 – 100%Maximum

Many heart rate monitors come pre-programmed with built-in zones. Additionally, they have the capability for you to adjust your heart rate zones to meet your specific needs. If you currently own a wearable device or are interested in buying one, check out the links below to learn how you can monitor your heart rate zones with some of the most popular fitness trackers on the market today.

What is the “Sweet Spot” for Heart Rate Training?

Knowing your target heart rate and paying attention to your heart rate zone will help you hit the “sweet spot” during your exercise routine. And typically, the sweet spot is where you get maximum benefit from exercise in the most efficient way. The sweet spot refers to an intensity between the upper end of zone three and the lower end of zone four. Maintaining efforts in the sweet spot should be difficult and require effort and focus. However, staying in your sweet spot should be manageable for longer periods of time.

How Does Exercise Impact Your Heart?

Engaging in aerobic and endurance exercises contributes to improved fitness, increased muscle, and general physical and mental well-being. People can improve their heart health and lower their resting heart rate by exercising regularly.

During exercise, you should aim for the lower end of the target heart rate range (50% of your maximum heart rate) and slowly work to build this up (toward the 85% mark). As you start to exercise regularly and gain fitness over time, you are training your heart (and other muscles) to respond to and expect repeated extortion. With consistency, you will eventually be able to exercise within a higher heart rate zone.

The following exercises have been linked to improving a person’s heart health:

  • Brisk walking
  • Running
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Playing tennis
  • Jumping rope

If you want to improve your fitness or become a better runner, mix up your workouts, vary the duration and use the heart zone calculator to create a routine where you train in all five HR zones.