Monitoring your heart rate is a useful tool you can learn to use to guide your training and make sure you’re getting the most out of your workouts. It can help make sure you’re pushing hard on interval days (vigorous exercise) and taking it easy on recovery days (light exercise). But what do words such as “light,” “moderate,” and “vigorous” mean when it comes to exercise?
You can determine your exercise intensity using your maximum and resting heart rates. Then you can use the Heart Rate Reserve (HRR) method to calculate your Target Heart Rate (THR) to determine what range your heart rate should be in for your desired exercise intensity. We provide a step-by-step process you can follow.
Step #1: Measure your Resting Heart Rate (RHR)
- First sit quietly for 5 minutes or do this before you get out of bed in the morning. Place two fingers gently on either your carotid artery (just under the curve of your jaw line) or on your radial pulse (on the inside of your wrist, where the base of the thumb/hand meets your wrist). Count how many pulses you feel for 15 seconds, and then multiply that number by 4.
- For example, if you count 15 pulses, that’s a RHR of 60 beats per minute (bpm).
- If you have an electronic heart monitor, you can use that instead.
Step #2: Calculate your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR)
- MHR = 208 – (0.7 x your age)
- For example, a 25-year-old’s MHR would be:
MHR = 208 – (0.7 x 25)
= 208 – 17.5
= 190.5 (let’s just say 190 bpm)
Step #3: Calculate your Target Heart Rate (THR) Range
- Using the Heart Rate Reserve Method:
THR = [MHR (from step 2) – RHR (from step 1)) x % intensity + RHR
The intensity levels are:
- Light intensity 30-39% HRR
- Moderate intensity 40-49% HRR
- Vigorous intensity 50-59% HRR
For example, for a vigorous-intensity workout, start with the lowest HRR percentage (60%) to calculate the lower limit of that intensity range:
THR = [(190 – 60) x 60%] + 60
= (130 x 0.6*) + 60
= 78 + 36
= 138 bpm
(*Remember that % is written as a decimal for doing math: for example, 60% = 0.6)
- Next calculate the upper limit of that intensity range using the same formula, except use the higher percentage this time (89%).
- The lower and upper limits form your THR Range.
- So using the example of a 25-year-old with a resting heart rate of 60 bpm who wants to do a vigorous workout, he or she should aim to achieve a heart rate range of 138–176 bpm.
Step #4: Train with your THR!
After a warm up and a few minutes of your workout to get there, this is the range where you want to maintain your heart rate during the rest of your exercise session.