Target Heart Rate Calculator

Exercise is obviously essential to maintaining a healthy lifestyle - but if you're not putting enough effort in, the time spent exercising could have been spent more wisely or if you're pushing yourself too hard, you could be at risk of muscle strains and other injuries.

So how can you tell whether you're exercising at the right intensity? According to experts, it's all in your heart rate - and having a target heart rate is essential when measuring how intense your exercise is.

Target Heart Rate Calculator


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Finding Your Resting Heart Rate

Your resting heart rate can help you to determine how fit you already are or aren't! The lower your heart rate is when you are doing nothing, the more physically fit you are. A high heart rate can put you at risk of various types of heart disease.

Checking for resting heart rate

To find your resting heart rate, find a watch or clock that has a second hand. Before you get out of bed in the morning, find your pulse either on your wrist or on the side of your neck using your index and middle finger. Don’t use your thumb. Count how many beats you feel in 10 seconds, then multiply this by 6. For example, if you count10 beats in 10 seconds, 10X6 = 48 beats per minute (bpm). This is your resting heart rate.

Target Zones

Whether your goal is to lose weight, maintain your current weight, or improve your aerobic fitness level, you will reach those goals more quickly when you keep your heart rate within certain target zones. Your target zone might also differ depending on how fit you are.

If you've not exercised for weeks or even months, you might not be wanting to hit 85% of your maximum heart rate straight away! Here are some examples of different target zones based on different fitness levels:

  • Healthy Heart - 50 to 60 % of Maximum Heart Rate
    Intensity Rating - Very Light, gentle
    Working in this range every day for 30 minutes will get you healthier, but not necessarily more fit. This range will reduce blood pressure, your risk of heart disease and diabetes, even your cholesterol. If you are ill, have a heart problem, or are simply trying to get back into shape, this is the perfect zone for you to start at.
  • Weight Loss or Maintenance Zone - 60 to 70% of Maximum Heart Rate
    Intensity Rating - Light, very comfortable
    Working in this range at 4 to 6 days each week for 45 to 60 minutes at a time is considered to be the optimum zone for overall cardiovascular health, as well as increasing overall muscle strength. When you work out in this zone, you will increase your cardio/respiratory capacity. This means you will be able to exercise for longer periods of time before you become tired.
  • Aerobic Fitness or Weight Loss - 70 to 80% of Maximum Heart Rate
    Intensity Rating - Moderate, comfortable
    Working in this range at 3 to 5 days each week for 20 to 60 minutes at a time is one of the best zones for weight loss. Anything over 75 percent of your maximum heart is considered to be perfect because once you can maintain this level for more than 20 minutes, the body burns fat as fuel.
  • Aerobic or Anaerobic - 80 to 90% of Maximum Heart Rate
    Intensity Rating - Hard, tolerable
    Working in this range 1 or 2 days each week for 10 to 30 minutes at a time is where you will really feel the burn! You will really be working hard in this zone. Your breathing is heavy and you are sweating heavily. As you reach the anaerobic area, your body can no longer remove the lactic acid as quickly as your muscles are making it, but this will improve performance while you gradually increase the lactate threshold within your body.
  • The Red Zone - 90 to 100% of Maximum Heart Rate
    Intensity Rating - Maximum, uncomfortable to extremely uncomfortable
    Most people should avoid this zone unless you are a professional athlete. Working out in this zone will increase your speed, but only consider this if you are very fit. Even then, you would be wise to check with your doctor first and only hit this zone for short periods of time occasionally.

If you are taking any type of blood pressure medication, or if you have any type of heart problem, please consult with your doctor before attempting any type of exercise routine.

What's the Target Heart Rate for Fat-Burning?

The target heart rate to burn the most fat, and even continue to burn fat after you’ve finished exercising is 70-85%. This is known as the 'afterburn effect', and it happens because your high-intensity workout has caused a metabolic disturbance which means calories are still being burnt even when you're finished your workout.

The fat-burning myth

There's a rumour perpetuated by many fitness and health magazines, which states that the optimum fat-burning 'zone' is between 55-65% of your maximum heart rate. Experts have dispelled this myth and put it to bed many times, but it's worth reaffirming.

The concept of the ideal fat-burning zone came about because at lower exercise intensities (if you're doing cardio, for example), more fat is burned relative to glycogen, the substance that stores carbohydrates in your body. That might sound great - but when you look at the calorie burn, the figures are very different.

High intensity exercise will burn more calories than low intensity workouts, and this is key when trying to create that coveted 'afterburn effect'.

A bit of science…

A study was carried out at the University of Southern Maine, which involved two groups of people doing different types of exercise. One group was cycling at a steady rate for 3.5 minutes (low intensity). The other group performed three 15-second sprints, running for as fast as they could in a short space of time (high intensity).

The group on the bikes burned 29 calories during the exercise, compared to just 4 calories burned by the sprinters. But the 'afterburn effect' soon kicked in - the sprinters burned 65 calories after they'd finished exercising, compared to just 39 calories burned by the cyclists.

This study shows that high-intensity exercise with your heart rate in the 70-85% region can have a much greater effect on weight loss and fat-burning than standard cardio.

Ways to Measure Your Heart Rate

If you're now thinking about measuring your heart rate to see how effectively you're burning fat, there are a number of ways in which you can do so, with many of them thanks to modern technology:

  1. Use a heart-rate monitor. These gadgets are available in most sports shops, and they are usually attached to the body using a strap. They measure your heart rate while you’re exercising, and many of them nowadays can be linked with a computer to view your results more comprehensively.
  2. Use a smartwatch or FitBit-type device. The next generation of smartwatches are geared towards those who like to keep on top of their fitness – many of them send notifications if you’ve not reached your step target for the day, or if they detect you’ve been sitting down for too long! FitBit-type trackers can also measure your heart rate and help you decipher whether you’ve hit the target rate yet.
  3. Go old-school: check your wrist and neck periodically. Taking your pulse manually can help you pinpoint your heart rate - you only need to hold it for ten seconds to get an accurate idea of how fast your heart is beating, then multiply that value by six, eg If your heart rate is 15 beats per 10 seconds then your heart rate per minute is 90 beats per minutes (bpm)

So there you have it - everything you need to know about your target heart rate, how to measure it and how to reach that coveted 'afterburn zone' that burns calories after you’ve finished exercising. Have you tried any of these methods? Have you noticed a difference between your high-intensity workouts and your low-intensity exercise?