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Understanding Heart Rates &
Cardio Training Zones

Your heart rate is an indicator of your level of cardiorespiratory fitness. As you become more fit, your heart muscle becomes stronger and is able to pump more blood with each heart beat. Therefore, a person who is fit has a lower heart rate than an unfit person. Let's look at three different heart rate measurements: 1) Resting, 2) Ambient and 3) Delta.

When engaging in a cardio workout, you need to work out an intensity level that: A) is appropriate for you and B) will improve your cardio fitness. In a way, engaging in a cardio workout is similar to a weight workout. When working out on weights, you lift a percentage of your 1 RM (the most weight you can lift at one time). In a cardio workout, you workout at a percentage of your maximum heart rate. Let's check out 3 heart rates that are used during a cardio workout.

Calculating Your Predicted Maximum Heart Rate

Most people don't take an electrocardiogram test to determine their actual MaxHR. There are several methods that can be used to predict MaxHR. Remember, each of these could be off as much as +/- 10 to 15 beat per minute from your true MaxHR.

 
Edwards Age and Weight Predicted

This Maximum Heart Rate calculation takes into account your body weight. Sally Edwards, an exercise physiologist, founder of the sport of triathlon and Sacramento native, suggests using this method to calculate your maximum heart rate.

For Women
210 - 1/2 your age - 5% of your body weight

For Men
210 - 1/2 your age - 5% of your body weight + 4

Example... Maria is 50 and weighs 150 lbs
210- 25 (that's 1/2 her age) - 7.5 (that's 150*.05)
So her Max HR via this calculation is 177.5

Robergs & Landwehr Age
Predicted

According to a 2002 study by Robert Robergs and Roberto Langwehr, and published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, the most accurate prediction for Maximum Heart Rate is 205.8 – 0.685*age

Example - Maria is 50 years old
205.8 - 34.25(that's 0.685 * her age)
So her Max HR via this calculation is 171.55

Age Predicted

The maximum heart rate that is used to create most of the charts seen on the walls of gyms is determined by subtracting your age from 226 (for women) or 220 (for men).

Example:
Maria is 50 so her Max HR is 226-50 = 176

Cardio Workout Zones

Once you know your Maximum Heart Rate, you workout at an intensity level that is lower than maximum. This intensity level is known as a "workout zone." You can use Heart Rate Calculations, the Borg Scale or the Talk Test to determine if you are in your target workout zone. There is a problem with only using heart rate to determine your workout zone. Caffeine, beta-blockers, air temperature, altitude, allergy pills, and other things can effect your heart rate. There are two methods for determining your training zone if you are on beta-blockers: the Borg Scale and the Talk Test.

As we look at these 5 workout zones, we'll use Heart Rate calculations and the Talk Test to describe them. For the following sample calculations, we will use Maria's Predicted MaxHR as calculated by the "Edwards Age and Weight Predicted Method". Her MaxHR via this calculation is 177.5.

Zone 1
( "Healthy Heart Zone" )

You are in the Healthy Heart Zone when you are working out at 50 - 60% of your Maximum Heart Rate. You can also use the Talk Test to determine if you are in this zone. You should be able to sing a song when you are in the Healthy Heart Zone. You typically reach this zone by walking. This zone is the perfect zone for people who are just starting fitness training. It is also the zone for warm-ups and cool-downs. It is the lowest level of workout that will result in increased health levels. People who work out at this level can decrease body fat, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. This is the easiest level to work out, you burn fewer calories than other zones and you typically don't sweat. The body gets its energy by burning 10% glycogen stores, 5% protein and 85% body fat. You just aren't expending too many calories. You will get healthier, but you won't increase your cardiorespiratory endurance or lose much weight by working out exclusively in this zone.

For Maria to work out in this zone she would need to keep her heart rate between 89 and 107 bpm. (Rounded to nearest beat)
First calculate 50 % of MaxHR: 177.5 * .50 = 88.75
Then 60% of MaxHR: 177.5 * .60 = 106.5

Zone 2
(The "Temperate"
or "Fat Burning Zone" )

You are working out at 60 - 70% of Maximum Heart Rate when you are in the "Fat Burning Zone." You can also use the Talk Test to determine if you are in this zone. You should be able to talk comfortably while working out. Generally, you can get into this zone by jogging slowly. People with an average fitness level are generally comfortable working out at this level and can work out here for extended periods of time. Studies have shown that by working out in this zone you gain muscle mass, improve your heart health, and can train your body to more effectively burn fats. You burn about 6-10 calories a minute. As in Zone 1, the body gets its energy by burning 10% glycogen stores, 5% protein and 85% body fat.

For Maria to work out in this zone she would need to keep her heart rate between 107 and 124 bpm. (Rounded to nearest beat)
First calculate 60% of MaxHR: 177.5 * .60 = 106.5
Then 70% of MaxHR: 177.5 * .70 = 124.25

Zone 3
(Aerobic Zone)

The Aerobic Zone is the 70-80% of Maximum Heart Rate zone. You can use the Talk Test to determine if you are in this zone. You should be able to say a short sentence, catch your breath, then say a few more words. You generally get into this zone by running. This is the zone where you start to sweat. Working out in this zone will improve your heart's ability to pump blood and will your increase your lung capacity. Since your heart will get stronger, your resting heart rate will decrease. If you are training for an endurance event, you need to train in the aerobic zone. In this zone you are burning glycogen & fats at about 50% - 50%. By working out in the aerobic zone, you will improve your cardiovascular fitness.

For Maria to work out in this zone she would need to keep her heart rate between 124 and 142 bpm. (Rounded to nearest beat)
First calculate 70% --> 177.5 * .70 = 124.2
Then 80% --> 177.5 * .80 = 142

Zone 4
(Anaerobic Threshold)

This is a high intensity work out zone. It is sometimes called the Performance Zone. You are working at 80-90% of Maximum Heart Rate. You can use the Talk Test to determine if you are in this zone. When you are working out at an anaerobic level you are generally gasping for air. When you work out in this zone, your body cannot get rid of the lactic acid that is the byproduct of anaerobic metabolism. Since you are working out a higher level, more calories are burned. The body receives about 85% of its energy from glycogen and 15% from fat. You can stay in the anaerobic zone for a limited amount of time. Interval training will take you into the anaerobic zone and will increase your VO2 Max.

For Maria to work out in this zone she would need to keep her heart rate between 142 and 160 bpm. (Rounded to nearest beat)
First calculate 80% of MaxHR: 177.5 * .80 = 142
Then 90% of MaxHR: 177.5 * .90 = 159.75

Zone 5
(Red Line Zone)

Unless you have been cleared by a physician to work out at this level you want to stay out of this workout zone. To work out in this zone requires working out at 90-100% of Maximum Heart Rate. It is only possible to stay in this zone for a short time period. Highly trained athletes will spend some time in Zone 5. This is a painful zone in which to workout and injuries often occur in this zone.

Maria would not work out in this zone.

Calculating Training Heart Rates
Using the Karvonen Method

Another method for determining your target heart rate is the Karvonen method, developed by a Scandinavian physiologist. It takes into account the difference between your Maximum Heart Rate and your Resting Heart Rate. As you become more fit, your Resting Heart Rate will decrease. The Karvonen Method is another formula that you can use to calculate your appropriate training heart rate.

  1. To start out, you calculate an "Intermediate Number"
    [(220 - age in years) - Resting Heart Rate] = Intermediate Number
  2. Then you figure out the Training Intensity of your desired workout zone and add your RHR back in
    (Intermediate Nbr * Exercise Intensity) + Resting Heart Rate = Training Heart Rate

So, if Maria, age 50 with a Resting Heart Rate of 60, wanted to work out in the Aerobic Zone (70 - 80%) her Training Heart Rate would be calculated as follows:

  1. Maria's "Intermediate Number" is 110
    220 - 50 (her age) - 60 (her RHR) = 110
  2. The Aerobic Zone is from 70 - 80 %. So Maria's target Heart Rate for the lower end of the range is 137
    (110 * .70) + 60 (her RHR) = 137
  3. Maria's target Heart Rate for the upper end of the range is
    (110 *.80) + 60 (her RHR) = 148

So for Maria to follow the Karvonen Method of calculating her target Heart Rate to stay in the Aerobic Zone, she'd need to stay between 137 and 148 bpm.

As you can see, there are a variety of ways to estimate your Maximum Heart Rate. Remember, the only way to find out your true MaxHR is to take an electrocardiogram test, monitored by a qualified technician or a doctor. There are also several ways to calculate a target Heart Rate for your workout. Because caffeine, beta-blockers, air temperature, altitude, allergy pills, and other things can effect your heart rate, sometimes the Borg Scale or the Talk Test are the best ways to determine how hard you should be working out.

The Borg Scale - Rate Of Perceived Exertion

The Borg scale, also known as the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) , was developed by a Swedish physiologist named G.A.V. Borg. This scale rates exercise intensity from 6 to 20 depending upon how the person feels or perceives his or her effort. You don't concern yourself with any one factor such as leg pain or shortness of breath, just think about your total feeling of exertion.

Numerical Rating Rating in Words Description
6 - 9 very light Sitting in a chair (6), standing for a while (8), or slowly walking (9)
10 - 11 light Walking at a slow pace
12 - 13 moderate Walking at a brisk pace, you start to feel warm, perspire, breathe a little harder, but you can continue the activity for 15-20 minutes. When you are late for a bus, you generally walk at this rate. You are probably at 55 - 69% of Max Heart Rate
14 - 16 hard Walking at a fast pace. You are probably at 70 - 89% of Max Heart Rate
17 - 19 very hard Walking at a very fast pace. A healthy person can continue, but they really have to push themselves
20 Maximal effort Running up a hill

The Talk Test

Zone 1 If you can sing the entire way through your workout, you are working out at Zone 1.
Zone 2
In this zone you should be able to talk comfortably while working out. This is where a beginner should start working out. Zone 2 is generally 60 - 70% of Maximum Heart Rate.
Zone 3
If you are working out at zone 3, the aerobic zone, you should be able to say a few words, catch your breath, and then say a few more words.  When working out in the Aerobic Zone, you are probably working at 70 - 80% of Maximum Heart Rate.
Zone 4

Zone 4, t he Anaerobic Zone, is considered performance training. If you are gasping for air, you are working out anaerobically. For a person who is just starting to work out, this is too hard a workout.

 

Determining Your Level of Cardio Fitness

A timed 1-mile walk is a good method of determining your fitness level. James Rippe, MD, has developed age-specific data for a flat 1-mile test. Make sure and warm up for 5 minutes first and stretch, then walk the mile as quickly as you can without running out of steam .

Women (all times are in minutes and seconds)

Age

20-29

30-39

40-49

50-59

60-69

70+

Excellent

< 13:12

< 13:42

< 14:12

< 14:42

< 15:06

< 18:18

Good

13:12-14:06

13:42-14:36

14:12-15:06

14:42-15:36

15:06-16:18

18:18-20:00

Average

14:07-15:06

14:37-15:36

15:07-16:06

15:37-17:00

16:19-17:30

20:01-21:48

Fair

15:07-16:30

15:37-17:00

16:07-17:30

17:01-18:06

17:31-19:12

21:49-24:06

Poor

>16:30

>17:00

>17:30

>18:06

>19:12

>24:06

Men (All times are in minutes and seconds)

Age

20-29

30-39

40-49

50-59

60-69

70+

Excellent

< 11:54

< 12:24

< 12:54

< 13:24

< 14:06

< 15:06

Good

11:54-13:00

12:24-13:30

12:54-14:00

13:24-14:24

14:06-15:12

15:06-15:48

Average

13:01-13:42

13:31-14:12

14:01-14:42

14:25-15:12

15:13-16:18

15:49-18:48

Fair

13:43-14:30

14:13-15:00

14:43-15:30

15:13-16:30

16:19-17:18

18:49-20:18

Poor

>14:30

>15:00

>15:30

>16:30

>17:18

>20:18

 

Want to read more information? Check out these web sites.

 

"Movement is a medicine for creating change
in a person's physical, emotional, and mental states."
Carol Welch