How to Determine Your Target Heart Rate

By Jennifer Ventrelle

We all know “that guy” or “that girl” at the gym — the one you see running as fast as he can on the treadmill, gripping the machine for dear life, probably thinking, “The faster I run, the more calories I will burn, the more weight I will lose! Yes, we’ve all seen that guy. Perhaps we’ve passed him by, thinking that he’s crazy. Perhaps we’ve been on the treadmill next to him secretly trying keep up, or perhaps we have even been that guy.

Then there are the things “they” say. Well, you know, they say it’s all about “calories in, calories out.” They say the harder you work, the more calories you burn. They say you should slow down to hit your target heart rate for best results. Who are “they” anyway?

Let’s clear up some confusion about where your heart rate should be while exercising. The term target heart rate (THR) refers to the ideal intensity level at which your heart is being exercised, but not overworked. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends performing physical activity at a range between 65-85 percent of maximum heart rate (MHR) three to five times per week for 20 to 60 minutes at a time. Your MHR is the fastest rate at which your heart is able to beat in one minute. The simplest formula for estimating your MHR is to subtract your age from 220 (e.g., 220-40 years = 180 beats per minute). You should not go over this number for more than one minute, and theoretically, you should not be able to sustain this without passing out even if you tried (I do not recommend trying). Individuals who engage in intensive endurance training or high-performance athletes may benefit from working above the THR range. These individuals should consult an exercise specialist for guidance. Continue reading