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What is a Target Heart Rate?

Heart rate, or pulse rate, rises during exercise or other physical activity.
Mixing push ups into a jog can help someone reach their target heart rate.
Age is one factor used in determining a person's target heart rate.
Long-distance runners pay attention to their heart rate while they exercise.
Article Details
  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 22 October 2014
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A target heart rate is a way of assessing if you are working at peak aerobic efficiency when you do strenuous aerobic exercise. This can include things like biking, swimming, fast walking, jogging or participating in aerobic dance classes. With exercise, heart rate tends to rise, and the higher your heart rate, within safe limits, the more efficiently you will burn calories.

One way of measuring if you are working out hard enough or perhaps too hard is to understand what your target heart rate is. This is usually a number corresponding to pulse or heartbeats that is 50-85% of maximum heart rate. Maximum rate could be defined as the maximum amount of times your heart should beat during a time period of one minute. You do not want to work out at maximum heart rate, but instead want to aim for that margin of 50-85% of maximum. Maximum may also be defined as 220 beats per minute (bpm).

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The formula for measuring target heart rate accounts for your age. You should subtract your age from 220 bpm before multiplying this by 50-85%. If you are 40, you’ll subtract 40 from 220, which gives you 180. 50% of that would be 90 and 85% would be 153 bpm. If you’re new to strenuous aerobic exercise, it’s recommended that you use the lower amount as a measure of target heart rate. As you begin to increase aerobic capacity you can increase target heart rate to a higher percentage of maximum heart rate.

When you first start exercising, the goal is to spend at least 10 minutes working out at your heart rate level, and to gradually increase this to 15-20 minutes. If you work out for 30 minutes, this means you’d spend the first 10 minutes increasing your heart rate before checking it. Checking the rate is simply done by taking your pulse for six seconds and multiplying this number by 10. If you’re not close to your target, you need to intensify activity, and if you’re really well above target, you might want to slow down or modify activity levels.

There are some important things to know about working out at a specific rate. This is a general number that shouldn’t be used by everyone. Those who haven’t worked out in a long time or that suffer from known heart disease or other health conditions should get a check up with their doctor prior to starting any type of workout regimen. Your body may also respond by accelerating respiration rate, and if you’re so out of breath you have to stop, you’re working too hard regardless of heart rate. In general it’s really important to check with a doctor prior to using the target heart rate formula because it may not be the healthiest for you.

Another way you can measure if you’re working hard enough is to assess whether you can sing or talk while you’re working out. A person who is still able to easily chat or sing while exercising may not be working hard enough. This again must be based on your doctor’s suggestions for acceptable activity. It’s important to not exceed doctor’s recommendations.

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