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How To Understand Heart Rate Training & Improve Your Workout Performance

A man's wrist with a smart watch monitoring his heart rate.
Read Time: 5 minutes

Table of Contents

Heart rate is not the sexiest topic in the gym. You may never see someone bragging about their 85% of max heart rate for 12 minutes of their workout like you do a bro hitting a 315-pound bench press. 

We all know that keeping our heart rate elevated during workouts can be one way to judge your workout but does it matter during exercise?

To determine your resting heart rate by hand, you can count your heartbeat for 60 seconds or 15 (15 seconds) and multiply it by 4. Alternatively, most smartwatches have heart rate monitors for easy use. You can monitor your heart rate at rest and during exercise to see if there are any sudden spikes or if your heart rate doesn’t rise in response to exertion.

One helpful way of knowing heart rate during your workouts is a high or lack of increase in heart rate on a regular progression can be warning signs and an indication that training may need to be altered.

Finding Your Max Heart Rate

Most people’s max heart rate is around 176-185 beats per minute. Knowing your max heart rate will help determine which zone you should work in.

In the past, you could calculate your max heart rate by taking 220 and subtracting your age.

Research has shown that it can help determine your max heart rate levels. You take 207 and subtract 0.7 times your age to get the theoretical maximum heart rate. If you are 28 years old, your theoretical maximum heart rate is 187 beats per minute. This is the theoretical maximum heart rate that you can achieve.

A VO2 Max test is the most accurate way to determine your aerobic capacity for those who want to know their max heart rate. The new theoretical equation is a good starting point, but if you want to get technical about the topic, find a local lab with a VO2 tester.

Know that you understand the theoretical maximum heart rate; you can find your heart rate ranges for each zone.

Heart Rate Zones

Let’s use a 187 heart rate as the maximum heart rate for our examples

Zone 1

Percentage of Max Heart Rate – 50-60%

In zone one, this is considered a slow pace. It’s excellent for overall health and recovery. You can sustain this pace for a long time.

Think of this as if walking from your couch to the fridge. An easy short walk you could do at any time. This would be considered highly light exercise.

In the example above, the heart rate is 93 to 112.

Zone 2

Percentage of Max Heart Rate – 60-70%

This zone is known for building endurance and (in theory )burning fat. You will be exercising but not going all out.

This should feel like you’re jogging to your friend to hug them. After the job, you can carry on a normal conversation, and it feels more like a warm-up or cool-down.

In the example above, the heart rate is 112 to 131.

Zone 3

Percentage of Max Heart Rate – 70-80%

Zone 3 is when you start to work up a sweat and build more endurance for a suitable moderate activity for 30 minutes. This is when you are working in your aerobic capacity, and your body is using oxygen for cell energy.

During this exercise, you would just be about to carry on a short conversation, and if you are someone who sweats, you’ll probably get sweat in your eyes.

In the example above, the heart rate is 131 to 150.

Zone 4

Percentage of Max Heart Rate – 80-90%

In zone four, you start hitting around 84% of your max heart rate. This is when the body will start going into anaerobic metabolism. The body’s natural response when it is short on oxygen is to look for other sources of energy to burn.

You noticed that once you get around 10 minutes in this zone, that is the max as you’ll start to get the excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. By backing off a but or letting yourself recover your heart rate, you will keep your metabolism high and help burn more calories.

You will be dripping sweat, but going all out can feel good.

In the example above, the heart rate is 150 to 168.

Zone 5

Percentage of Max Heart Rate – 90-100%

Zone five is where you need to be innovative. Spending more than 2 minutes in this zone is not safe. Most people reach their limit around 30 to 60 seconds because this is your all-out.

It takes a particular person to enjoy this level of training. You might even feel like dying while you go as hard as you can. However, for the special few, this is a thrill.

In the example above, the heart rate is 168 to 187.

Last Words

Knowing how to find and use your max heart rate while understanding these five zones is a great way to help you make your training more beneficial.

You don’t need to go much above zone two or three if you’re just starting out. I would advise against attempting zone four or five unless you have some experience exercising.

Being safe when working with tools and equipment is essential and striving to improve your skills. You should also always be aware of your limits so that you do not overextend yourself.

Editor’s note: The content on Base Strength is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t take the place of advice and/or supervision from a medical professional. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. Speak with your physician if you have any concerns. Please also see our disclaimers.

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