Studies show that optimum exercise intensity for fitness improvement is in the range of about 60% to 90% of maximum heart rate. Of course, the fitter you are, the higher the appropriate exercise intensity. Untrained individuals begin to improve at about 50% of max heart rate.
OKAY, HERE IS AN ISSUE THAT CALLS FOR SOME SIFTING OF FACTS FROM FICTION, OR AT THE VERY LEAST, POINTING OUT UNRELIABLE DATA.
This theory surmises that your maximum heart rate is about 220 minus your age. The figures above are averages, so you should use them as "general" guidelines at best.
The actual equation, then, is 220 - age x target heart rate. For example: A 28-year-old wanting to do 85% intensity would go for a heart rate of about 163 BPM (beats per minute) and about 27 BPM for a 10-second count.
Note: Some high blood pressure medications lower the maximum heart rate and thus the target zone rate. If you're taking such meds, call your doctor to see if you need to use a lower target heart rate.
BIG HONKIN' NEWS FLASH: There is a great deal of controversy over the 220-minus-age theory. Here it is in a nutshell: It overestimates the maximum rate in young adults, does a pretty good job for people who are around 40 years old, and then increasingly underestimates the maximum rate as people get older.
The lazy (and my favorite) way to get your THR is to simply go to
and click on Find your ideal heart rate zone...under Fitness Tools & Resources in the lower right hand corner on the page. You should check out that whole section on CARDIORESPIRATORY FITNESS while you are there. Or if you just want your target heart rate, scroll down to the Calculate your Heart Rate section and enter your info in the calculator and voila...there's your THR.
So, how do we know what our heart rate max is, and once we know what we are aiming for, what is the best way to measure it, you ask?
My advice as a fitness professional is use the 220-minus-age numbers with caution and experiment with other strategies for finding your max heart rate and desired target heart rate, because everybody's is different. Use a combination of THR (target heart rate), the RPE (ratings of perceived exertion), and common sense when exercising and you should be able to find "your" best training zone.
NOTE: If you are in the habit of trusting the built-in heart rate monitor on your favorite piece of cardio equipment, you may want to give it an accuracy test by checking your heart rate manually and comparing the numbers. Many times these are inaccurate and should not be solely relied upon for monitoring your intensity.
In summary, you will want to check your pulse every so often while exercising and try to assess on a scale of 1-10 how hard you are working and compare it to what the chart says your heart rate should be and alter your intensity accordingly, trying to stay in what you think is "your" zone.
CHECKING YOUR HEART RATE
To check your heart rate you can find your pulse in 2 different locations.
1)The carotid artery on the side of your neck as my friend, Rachel, is so graciously showing here:
THE TALK TEST
Or…if you aren’t motivated by numbers, you can always check your intensity level by using the talk test. This method entails maintaining an intensity of exercise at which conversation is comfortable. If breathing is labored and difficult, the intensity is too great.
RATINGS OF PERCEIVED EXERTION OR RPE
Yet another way is to use ratings of perceived exertion or RPE. The easiest way to do this is use the 0-10 scale, as shown in the chart below. Using this scale, you should exercise between an RPE of 4 (moderately easy) and an RPE of 5 or 6 (getting challenging and becoming difficult).
HEART RATE MONITORS
Let's not forget to mention the heart rate monitor. This is the easiest method since you don't have to find your pulse or do any math or counting. But, let's face it. Not many of us want to strap on a monitor around our chest, arm, or wrist every time we go for a cardio workout. However, it is a very reliable option, so I thought I'd better mention it.
And one more thing! Be careful not to get into the habit of strolling comfortably along on the treadmill for hours, never challenging your heart barely past the napping stage. I see it all the time in the gym. Come on peeps! We gotta move it to lose it! They don't call it "progressive" training for nothing.
Most importantly, get up and go do your cardio on a regular basis and make sure you are getting into your what?...that's right...all together now...YOUR TARGET HEART RATE ZONE!! Yay...and the crowd goes wild!
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