Heart Rate Max

Your heart is central to the cardiovascular system, and plays an important role during exercise. It is responsible for pumping blood full of oxygen, nutrients and fuel to the organs and muscles, and pulls away blood filled with waste including carbon dioxide and heat. This is key to keeping the muscles working and energized. Heart rate is measured in beats per minute, or BPM. Each beat is one full pump, channeling blood in both directions. Because of this integral role, a great way to track and monitor your workout intensity level is through your heart rate. By finding your maximum heart rate, you can train smarter by calculating your target heart rate zones and exertion levels.

Resting Heart Rate

Finding your resting heart rate a good first step, both for exercise, and for general health purposes. A great time to measure your resting heart rate is first thing the morning, when you are relaxed, while lying or sitting down. You can either use a Heart Rate Monitor, or manually measure your pulse using your index and middle fingers, counting how many beats or pumps you feel during 60 seconds. Two great places to check are at your carotid artery at the side of your neck by your throat, or at the radial artery on the inside of your wrist, below the thumb side of your palm.

The resting heart rate of the average person is usually between 60-100 BPM, and 40-60 BPM for athletes and others who exercise regularly. This number can be lower for this population because their training strengthens and conditions the heart, making it easier to maintain steady blood flow to support bodily functions. The hearts of non-athletes may have to work harder to maintain adequate blood supply to the body, requiring it to beat harder and faster.

You can use the same technique outlined above to check your heart rate during exercise. It can be difficult and dangerous to attempt to concentrate on your workout and pulse at the same time, which is not recommended. When you’re in your target activity level, stop for a minute, measure your pulse, and then resume activity. You can repeat this process to monitor your pulse every 5-10 minutes, as desired.

Maximum Heart Rate

Finding your maximum heart rate is key to determining your target intensity levels during activity. Accurately finding your maximum heart rate, and subsequently the fastest speed your heart can pump, is not easily done. One way is to take a stress test, which usually involves running as fast as possible, pushing your body and heart to the limits. As expected, this is very intense, and can take a toll on the body, which is why estimation and calculation is usually recommended. There are several formulas available that calculate this number based on your age, however they are all estimations due to the many factors involved with how fast your heart can pump. You can use your results as a guide, however your true max heart rate may be 15-20 BPM higher or lower. Here is one formula used to calculate your maximum heart rate.

 

Maximum Heart Rate (MHR) in BPM = 220 - Age

-OR-

Maximum Heart Rate (MHR) in BPM = 207 - (0.7 x Age)

For example, if you are 20 years old, your estimated maximum heart rate (MHR) would be around 193 BPM:

MHR = 207 - (.07 x Age)

MHR = 207 - (.07 x 20)

MHR = 207 - 14

MHR = 193 BPM

 

Target Heart Rate

Once you’ve estimated your maximum heart rate, you can use that number to find your target heart rate to reach different exertion levels. As you get closer you get to your max heart rate, your heart pumps faster, and you’re able to maintain that exertion level for less time. It is important to remember to start at a low intensity and work your way up gradually, to make sure that your body and heart are able to handle a higher exertion level. Different intensity levels can be measured in correlation of a percentage of your maximum heart rate, increasing based on thresholds:

Low Intensity: <50% of MHR
Moderate Intensity: 50-70% of MHR

Vigorous Intensity:70-85% of MRH

 

Using those threshold percentages, you can use the following formula to calculate your target heart rate (THR) for whichever intensity level you would like:

Target Heart Rate (THR) in BPM = MHR x (Intensity %)

As an example, if your maximum heart rate is 193 looking for moderate intensity exercise, you would want to exercise at an intensity that maintains your heart rate around 115.8 BPM:

THR = MHR x (Intensity %)

THR = 193 x 60%

THR = 193 x 0.60

THR = 115.8 BPM

Incorporating your heart rate into your exercise program, whether it’s cardio or strength training can help you in your quest to reach your goals. Being able to easily tell your intensity level is a great tool to have, so you know how far to push yourself, and when to slow down, depending on your training plan.