How to Exercise at the Correct Heart Rate


Your heart rate during exercise reveals important information. It can tell you if you are exercising too vigorously or without enough intensity. It may also alert you to slow down or pace yourself. Certain medications can influence heart rate and make it less indicative of your exercise intensity, but barring medications, heart rate is an important workout gauge. To exercise at the correct heart rate, stay within a specific range while you are working out.

  • Calculate your maximum heart rate. The easiest way to do this is to use the formula of 220 minus your age. A 30 year old has a maximum heart rate of 190 beats per minute for example. This means that during exercise, this 30 year old would not want to reach or exceed 190 beats per minute when he takes his pulse. If reached, he needs to slow down. Know your maximum heart rate so you can calculate what your target heart rate should be during exercise.

  • Determine your target heart rate range. Your heart rate range will depend upon your level of fitness, physical condition and your goals for exercising. Someone who has been working out on a regular basis for at least six months can push up to 85% of her maximal heart rate during a workout. A novice would want to keep his heart rate at 50 to 65% of his maximal heart rate. By doing so, he will have enough energy to get through the whole class or routine and not overstress his cardiovascular system.

    Someone with medical issues like cardiovascular disease or diabetes may need to keep his heart rate at a lower level based on doctor's orders. Additionally, if you want to lose weight, a higher target heart rate may be needed. When attempting to maintain your current weight and fitness level, stay in the 60 to 70% range.

  • Measure your heart rate during exercise. To keep track of your heart rate during exercise take your pulse two to three times. Gently place your index and middle finger over the carotid artery (on the neck) or the radial artery (at the wrist) and count your total heart beats for six seconds. Multiply the number you get by 10 to determine your heart rate per minute. A 30 year old with a pulse of 95 to 162 beats per minute is between 50 to 85% of her maximal heart rate. Use a heart rate monitor if you do not want to take pulses periodically. Some cardiovascular machines like treadmills or stationary bicycles come with built-in heart rate monitors so you can check your rate more frequently. Keep in mind that these built-in devices might not be as accurate.

  • Adjust exercise intensity to be in your target heart rate range. Move your arms above your head, increase speed or add intensity to your workout when your heart rate is below your ideal target heart rate range. Slow down, lower your arms or decrease intensity if your heart rate is above your ideal target heart rate range. With practice, you will figure out more quickly when you need to work harder and when you need to back off to keep your heart rate at the right level. The rate of perceived exertion (RPE) is another tool you can use along with heart rate to determine your correct exertion level. The RPE measures how you feel physically as a way to gauge your intensity and heart rate.

Tips & Warnings

  • You can take a pulse for longer than six seconds during exercise (10 to 15 seconds), but the longer you go, the more likely it is to begin lowering and provide an inaccurate measurement.

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  • Photo Credit stethoscope image by JASON WINTER from
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