Aerobic Exercise

  • Medical Author:
    Richard Weil, MEd, CDE

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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How do I calculate my target heart rate during aerobic exercise?

Heart rate reserve

Your heart rate rises during aerobic exercise. It can rise from 70 beats per minutes (bpm) at rest to as high as 170 bpm or even higher during exercise, depending on the intensity of the exercise, your fitness level, your age, and other factors. Whether you're training is aerobic or anaerobic is determined by the intensity of your workout, and monitoring the intensity is the key to know which one you're doing.

For many individuals, simply monitoring how the body feels while exercising is enough to determine the proper aerobic intensity. I recommend "warm and slightly out of breath" as the cue for aerobic activity; that is if you feel warm and slightly out of breath while you're exercising, then that's good enough.

On the other hand, some people like to know with more precision how their body is doing during exercise. If that's the case for you, then taking your heart rate during exercise and using a target heart rate training zone might be just the ticket. Target heart rate zones range anywhere from 50% to 100% of your maximum heart rate (your maximum heart rate is based on your age). Aerobic exercise is anything less than 85%, and anaerobic exercise is anything above that. A nice starting point for a sedentary individual is somewhere in the range from 50% to 65% (you can always increase as you get more fit) and 65% to 85% for more conditioned individuals.

I recommend the heart-rate reserve method for calculating a target heart rate. Here's the formula and an example of the method for someone 27 years of age, assuming a resting heart rate of 70 bpm, and a training range of 70%. If you plug in other values, you can get other ranges.

  1. 220-age = Max HR.
  2. Subtract resting heart rate from Max HR = Heart Rate Reserve (HRR).
  3. Multiply HRR times percent you want to train at.
  4. Add back resting heart rate.
  5. Assuming a resting heart rate of 70 bpm, 27 years old, and 70% training range:
    220 - 27 = 193
    193 - 70 = 123
    123 x .70% = 86
    86 + 70 = 156

Please note: There's been some recent research to suggest a new way of estimating maximum heart rate. The formula is the following:

  1. Multiply 0.7 times your age
  2. .
  3. Subtract that number from 208.

An example if you're 26 years old is: 0.7 x 26 = 18, then 208 - 18 = 190. You'd then take 190 and plug it in as usual to the formula above. This new formula makes a slightly bigger difference as you get older.

You can read a complete review of heart rate training zones.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/26/2015
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