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Heart rate training


Written by:
Birgitte Nymann ( www.nymanns.dk )
Author, speaker and educator within Exercise, health, nutrition and motivation. Concept – and seminar developer at Pro Academy, Denmark. Educated and trained in sport from University of Copenhagen.

To exercise after your heart rate, corresponds to driving a car after a speedometer. If you exercise with a heart rate monitor, you can constantly be informed whether you exercise optimally, at which intensity and if you are actually exercising as hard as you believe that you do. In the beginning, you should use the monitor a lot, but gradually you recognize your body’s signals and can exercise optimally without constantly watching your heart rate. The heart rate tells you how hard you work in relation to your maximum performance.

Your optimum heart rate during exercise

Following descriptions of how you estimate heart rate during exercise must be seen as guidelines that can vary dependening on your genes. If you want a completely accurate measuring, you must find your maximum heart rate by taking a so-called “Max.test”, i.e. a test that determines your maximum heart rate. You can get your maximum heart rate measured in most fitness centres, or you can do a max.test yourself (read under max. heart rate).

Your optimum exercise heart rate depends on several factors; you must know your max. heart rate, your resting heart rate and know at which intensity you want to exercise.

Your maximum heart rate

The maximum number of heart beats is genetical and determined by age. The rule of thumb says that your maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age in years, i.e. if you are 35 years old, your max. heart rate is 220-35=185. This is a general calculation that applies to many people but not to all. There can appear variations from person to person of up to 20 beats. However, you can use the formula as guiding. Your maximum heart rate is determined by age in a such way that it drops approx. one beat for every year you become older. Every year, you should make an adjustment of your exercise heart rate in relation to your maximum heart rate.

Find your intensity

Laboratory studies have shown that heart rate, oxygen uptake and energy consumption rise linearly with each other during exercise. The harder you work, the more energy you consume. To improve your condition, it is necessary to strain your body with a minimum intensity.

Low-intensity exercise

Average heart rate: 65 % MHR
Purpose: Basic condition, restitution exercise
Distance/duration: Long, >30 min

Moderate-intensity exercise

Average heart rate: 80 % MHR
Purpose: Aerobic capacity (endurance), metabolism, circulation exercise
Distance/duration: intermediate distance, <45 min

High-intensity exercise

Average heart rate: 90 % MHR
Purpose: Aerobic effect (VO2max), ability to exercise at a high intensity level for a long time, improvement of condition.
Distance/duration: short distance, <30 min

In order to focus the exercise, the term intensity is an important factor since different intensities in your exercise produce different results.

Choose your intensity - and use it in calculating your heart rate during exercise:

Low-intensity exercise

Purpose: Basic condition, restitution exercise

  • 50-65% MHR
  • At an easy pace - pleasant
  • Low lactic acid accumulation
  • Can keep going for a long time before exhaustion
  • Exercise at this intensity if you haven’t exercised regularly for a long time, if you are overweight, suffer from hypertension or heart and blood vessel diseases.

Moderat-intensity exercise

Purpose: Basic condition, metabolism

  • 65-75 % MHR
  • Moderat speed – you work well
  • Can keep going for a relatively long time before exhaustion
  • Exercise at this intensity if you haven’t exercised regularly for a long time and is under 25 years, if you are used to moving in your everyday life but haven’t exercised goal-oriented for a long time, when you have exercised at the above-mentioned intensity for a couple of months.

High-intensity exercise

Purpose: Aerobic capacity (endurance), metabolism

  • 75-85% MHR
  • High speed – short of breath, but not strained
  • Accumulation of lactic acids, but not that much so you need to stop, stings a little in your muscles.
  • Can keep going for 1-1.5 hours before exhaustion at constant work, depending on your condition.
  • Exercise at this intensity if you are used to exercise regularly, when you have exercised at the above-mentioned intensity for at least 5-6 weeks, when you do interval training as part of your fitness training, or those days where you don’t have so much time for fitness training.

High maximum-intensity exercise

Purpose: Aerobic effect (maximum oxygen uptake), ability of working at high intensity for a long time, improvement of condition.

  • 85-100 % MHR
  • Maximum speed - gasp for breath – cannot talk at the same time
  • Great accumulation of lactic acids – hinder work, pain in muscles
  • Short intense intervals (15 sek. – 2 min)
  • Can keep going for short time before exhaustion at constant work.

How to calculate you exercise heart rate.

  1. Calculate your maximum heart rate
  2. Choose your intensity
  3. Calculate how high your heart rate is : max.heart rate/100 x intensity


Max.heart rate : 220-35=185
Wanted intensity: 80 %
185 /100 = 1,85
1,85 x 80 = 148
Your heart rate should be approx. 148 when you exercise, plus/minus 5 beats. Then you achieve the desired effect from your exercise.

As mentioned earlier, this is only a theoretical heart rate. When you begin exercising after the calculated heart rate, you might add 5 beats or deduct 5 beats in order to make it feel right for you. Your exercise heart rate + - beats is called your ZONE. This also means that your heart rate can vary within this inteval and you will still be able to achieve the purpose of your exercise..

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