How hard should you be working out? Whether you’re a regular at the gym or you’re just getting started, knowing your personal fitness limits can feel like a guessing game. But there’s a simple way to gauge the exercise intensity that’s appropriate for your physical fitness: find your target heart rate.
Finding your target heart rate helps you hit the right workout intensity for your fitness goals. It’s the healthy zone at which your heart receives the benefits of exercise without becoming overworked.
So how do you achieve your target heart rate? Start by defining your resting heart rate, or the number of times your heart beats per minute when it’s at rest, and your maximum heart rate, which is the maximum number of times your heart should beat per minute while you exercise.
Try assessing your resting heart rate immediately after you wake up in the morning, before you get out of bed. According to the National Institute of Health, the average resting heart rate for people 10 years old and above is 60–100 beats per minute, and for well-trained athletes, it’s 40–60 beats per minute.
Next, find your maximum heart rate. The general rule is that you can estimate your maximum heart rates by subtracting your age from 220. Your target heart rate falls between 50 and 85 percent of that number.
Now you’re ready to track your target heart rate. To do so, begin your workout and periodically pause to check your pulse on the inside of your wrist. Count your pulse for 10 seconds, and multiply that number by six to get your beats per minute.
If you’re a beginner, aim to keep your heart rate in the lower range of your target heart rate zone and gradually increase it as your endurance builds. Regular exercisers should generally aim to maintain a heart rate of about 80–85% percent of their maximum heart rate while working out. Unless you're already a daily exerciser, it's best to discuss your plans with a primary care provider before starting any exercise program. Start slow to build endurance, distance and speed.
If you're looking for an easy way to assess whether you’re working out too hard, try this rule of thumb: if you can’t carry on a conversation while exercising, you should reduce your intensity.
If you have a heart condition, talk to your healthcare provider before starting any exercise program. Note that this is only a rough guide to finding your target heart rate, and your actual numbers could skew by 15-20 beats per minute. Consult with a healthcare provider or personal trainer to get a definitive personal range.
Contact a primary care physician to learn more ways to care for your heart.