How to Calculate Your Training Heart Rate Zones

Woman checking heart rate

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Heart-rate training benefits everyone, from the beginning exerciser trying to lose weight, to individuals trying to improve their cardiovascular fitness, to the highly conditioned athlete preparing for the next competition. Regardless of your personal goal, tracking your fitness is very important. Additionally, a big key to making progress is to elevate your heart rate into the correct training zone, so your effort matches your goals.

Here are seven easy-to-follow steps for how to calculate heart rate zones.

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1. Calculate Your Maximum Heart Rate

Your maximum heart rate is the highest your pulse can get, on average. The easiest way to do this is a simple paper-and-pencil calculation. Subtract your age from 220. The result is an age-predicted maximum beats per minute.

It's important to note that this method does not take into account your fitness level or inherited genes, which can make your true maximum heart rate 10 to 20 beats per minute higher or lower than the age-predicted number.

A second method to calculate your maximum heart rate is to have an exercise tolerance or stress test. This usually is supervised by a physician and performed in a hospital or clinical setting in three-minute stages, during which the speed and incline continue to increase in an effort to elevate your heart rate until it climbs to its highest level.

2. Determine Your Resting Heart Rate

To determine the number of times your heart beats per minute at rest, take your pulse before you get out of bed in the morning. Do this for several days in a row to get consistent readings. A heart rate monitor can make taking your pulse easy. Most sports watches offer this capability.

3. Calculate Your Heart-Rate Reserve

Subtract your heart's resting rate from your maximum rate.

For example, if you are 40 years old, subtract that number from 220; your maximum rate is 180. Next, subtract your resting rate or 80 in this example. Your heart-rate reserve is 100 beats per minute.

This heart-rate reserve represents the cushion heartbeats available for exercise.

4. How to Calculate Your Aerobic Training Zone for Fat Burning

This fat-burning range will lie between 50 and 75 percent of your heart-rate reserve.

Using the example above, 50 percent of 100 beats per minute is 50. And 75 percent of 100 is 75. Next, add your resting heart rate to both numbers: 50 + 80 = 130 and 75 + 80 = 155. Therefore, during aerobic training, the heart rate that will most efficiently burn fat is 130 to 155 beats per minute.

5. How to Calculate Your Aerobic Training Zone for Fitness

The range required to improve aerobic endurance is higher than that needed for fat burning. It ranges between 75 and 85 percent of your heart-rate reserve.

Using the previous example, 75 percent of the heart-rate reserve of 100 is 75, and 85 percent is 85. Again, add the resting heart rate to both numbers.

Re-add your resting heart rate to both numbers: To improve your aerobic endurance, you need to aim for between 155 and 165 heartbeats per minute.

6. How to Calculate Your Aerobic-Anaerobic Threshold Zone

This range represents the upper limits of aerobic exercise—the point just before you push yourself into exhaustive anaerobic work. Exercising at this intensity is usually done to improve athletic performance. It is not recommended for weight loss.

The range to accomplish this task lies between 85 and 90 percent of your heart-rate reserve. Again, using the example of a person with a heart-rate reserve of 100 and following the same process as in previous steps: the desired range would be 165 to 170 beats per minute.

Be advised, however, operating at this intensity level will not burn body fat. It becomes a carbohydrate (muscle-glycogen) burning exercise.

7. How to Calculate Your VO2 Max Zone

This is an all-out effort and represents 90 to 100 percent of the cushion of your heart-rate reserve. The goal here is to go as fast as you can for as long as you can.

Using the same example, anything from 170 beats per minute to your maximum of 180 beats per minute becomes pure anaerobic, carbohydrate-burning, exhaustive, lactic acid-producing exercise.

This is no-pain, no-gain type training.

Read This Next: 15 Milestones Every Fit Person Should Reach

Heart Rate Zone FAQs

What is a dangerously high heart rate during exercise?

A heart rate over 200 beats per minute during exercise is dangerous. However, this number can fluctuate from person to person. Regardless of your heart rate, if you develop palpitations, irregular heart rate, shortness of breath or chest pain during your workout, seek medical attention immediately.

What heart rate zone should I train in?

The heart rate zone you work out in depends on your goal for the workout. If you simply want to burn fat, a heart rate between 130 and 155 beats per minute should do the trick. As you approach your aerobic-anaerobic threshold, you’ll be able to improve athleticism. This is where engine building, explosiveness, and even mental strength can improve. Pushing the limits of this zone are not necessary for fat-burning, but can improve athletic performance across different sports.

Which heart rate zone burns the most fat?

The fat burning heart rate zone is where you’re working at about 70-80% of your maximum heart rate. This is ideal for burning fat and losing weight.

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