Calculating Heart Rate Training Zones

There are a number of ways to estimate maximum heart rate.  Realize that we are estimating maximum heart rate not measuring it so it is not an exact science. 

Two methods of Estimating Maximum Heart Rate

1. 220 - Age = Maximum Heart Rate
Example:   40 year old          220 - 40 = 180 beats per minute (bpm) Max Heart Rate

2. 217 - (.85 x Age) = Maximum Heart Rate
Example:    40 year old         217 - (.85 x 40) = 217 - 34 = 183 bpm Max Heart Rate

While the first method is the easiest to use the second method by Miller,et al is more accurate.  The 220 - Age appears to overestimate Max Heart Rate for those under 45 and underestimates it for people over 45 years of age.

Calculator for the Miller et al Method

Based on the above approach the following calculator will calculate your Maximum Heart Rate.

Enter your type of training, age, experience and then select the "Calculate" button.

Training Age Experience
MHR = bpm  

What Should My Heart Rate be When I Workout?

If you are a beginner, after warming up you should keep your heart rate at 70% to 75% of it Maximum for at least 20 minutes.  For example, a 42 year old woman has a maximum heart rate of around 180 bpm (217 - (.85 x 43) = 180 bpm) to figure out her 70% target heart rate you take 180 x .7 = 126 bpm.  When she is training on the circuit or using the treadmills in the Chabot Fitness Center she should try to keep her heart rate between 126 bpm (70%) and 135 bpm (75%).  This is what is know as a heart rate training zone.

Figure out what your Heart Rate is for the following percentages.  70%, 75%,80% and 85%.

Beginners should try to keep their pulse between 70 to 75%.  So multiply your maximum heart rate by .7  and then by .75 and you have your target training zone.

Veterans (people who have been exercising for 3 months or more) should alternate their training days. 

Easy days are exercising at 70-75% of max heart rate  and moderate to hard days are where the pulse is kept between 80 to 85% of max heart rate.  Never put two moderate or hard days back to back.  In fact you might make better progress by sandwiching in  two easy days before each moderate workout.

Your Target Heart Rate is Related to Your Ability to Process Oxygen

The American College of Sports Medicine states the the optimal intensity for improving aerobic fitness occurs between 60 to 80% of maximum oxygen uptake (VO2 max). The percentage of VO2 max and the percentage of Maximum Heart Rate do not line up straight across.  According to the American College of Sports Medicine exercise at 60% of VO2 max corresponds with a heart rate that is 75% of maximum and exercise at 80% of VO2 max corresponds with 88% of maximum heart rate.

The key is to figure out what your training heart rate is for 60% to 80% of VO2 max.  Easy days you exercise at 60 to 65% of VO2 max (75% of Max Heart Rate).  Moderate Days you exercise at 75 to 80% V02 Max (85 to 88% of Max Heart Rate).

On the days when you exercise at the higher intensity GO SHORTER in time.  On the easy days go LONGER!


Calculator to Figure Out Heart Rate Training Zone in Relation to Your VO2 Max


The following calculator will do the conversion for you. Enter a value, select the parameter (MHR or VO2 max) and then select the "Calculate" button.

Value = %
= %

Links to articles on Heart Rate Training

Heart Monitor Training by Brian MacKenzie


Miller et al (1993) "Predicting max HR". Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise, 25 (9), 1077-1081.
ACSM Position Stand (1990) "The recommended quantity and quality of exercise for developing cardiorespiratory and muscular strength in healthy adults" Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise, 22:265-274