In one book I read, the target heart rate for a cardiovascular workout for a person my age (36) was somewhat lower (10-15bpm) than the rate listed on some of the machines I'm familiar with at the gym. I've also seen the range differ slightly from one brand of machine to another. So, I'm slightly confused about this. I don't want to overdo it, but I also don't want to underdo it.

Is there definitive information available (e.g. a study or paper) that details the correct approach to estimating one's target heart rate range?

2 Answers 2


Yes. Your target heart rate is based on a percentage of your maximum heart rate. The formula is:

(((220 - Age) - RHR) * 0.7) + RHR

This formula will figure for 70% of your maximum based on the Karvonen Method. Your Resting Heart Rate (RHR) should be averaged over a few days (3-5). You should take it upon waking, before getting out of bed, and count total beats for one minute.

  • This is the way I've always heard it should be done. However, I think I have a bit of a wrinkle. When I'm sitting watching TV at night, my heart rat is probably 66-68. However, when I wake up in the morning my heart rat is almost always 48. That is quite a difference. Sometimes I wonder if it is so low because I was a distance runner as a young man and my RHR in those days was 38. Now that I am a fat 53 year old, I wonder if I'm not just getting more of a chance to fully recover over night. Somehow I doubt it, but it would sure be interesting to know why there is such a difference.
    – Dave
    Mar 29, 2012 at 15:08
  • Also worth noting, there are at least two dozen different formula to estimate your Maximum Heart rate, so take any heart rate zone figures with a large pinch of salt (unless your Doctor has advised otherwise).
    – arober11
    Jul 3, 2015 at 18:54

Don't rely so much on the 'target' heart rate zones.

Lets say the 'fat burning zone' is at 70% of your max, that does'nt mean you'll burn more calories at that rate than if you were at 80%, it means you'll get slightly more benefit per effort you put in. Your NET calories burnt will still be higher at the end of a workout of the same length if your heart rate was 80% than if it was at 70%. Its all relative.

Anyway my point is dont use it as an excuse to not train hard. Push yourself.

  • 1
    The thing I find the heart rate more useful for is actually slowing myself down, but in all cases you need to learn to listen to your body rather than focus on some arbitrary number
    – Ivo Flipse
    Mar 10, 2011 at 14:41
  • But if you are alternating easy days and hard days then staying in the fat burning zone on recovery days should allow recovery of glycogen stores for the harder days I would assume. Mar 6, 2012 at 17:53

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