What is my target and maximum heart rate, and why should I care?
When I go to the gym, the cardio machines always have this nifty little chart that shows what your “fat-burning” and “cardio” heart rate zones are. When I first started out on my weight loss journey, I ignored this chart. However, as I’ve delved into fitness a little more, I’ve learned that this chart is very important to know, so you can maximize the kind of workout you want: a fat-blasting workout or a cardiovascular workout.
Knowing your target heart rate (THR) zone is actually a great way to track the effectiveness of your workout. Your THR is the range where sustained physical activity is considered safe and effective. The more fit you are, the higher the percentage can go. For serious athletes, knowing your THR can help you pace yourself without tiring out too quickly.
Your heart rate can also tell how hard you are working out. If your heart rate is not elevated enough, then you should move a little faster and work a little harder! Tracking this information will help you improve your fitness level more quickly than merely guessing.
When you’re trying to lose weight, I’ve found that it can be complicated to figure out whether your heart rate should be in the “fitness/fat burning zone” or whether it should be in the “aerobic/cardio zone.” Which zone is best for you?
Typically, bodies burn a higher percentage of calories from fat in the “fat burning zone,” or at lower intensities (walking, using the elliptical at a leisurely rate). In this zone, your heart rate is lower, usually in the “blue” zone.
That being said, actually burn more calories overall at higher intensity (higher heart rate), which is what most people who are trying to lose weight should actually aim for.
The chart below details the fat calories expended by a 130-pound woman during cardio exercise:
Low Intensity – 60-65%
Of Maximum Heart Rate
High Intensity – 80-85%
Of Maximum Heart Rate
Total Calories expended per min.
Fat Calories expended per min.
Total Calories expended in 30 min.
Total Fat calories expended in 30 min.
Percentage of fat calories burned
From The 24/5 Complete Personal Training Manual, 24 Hour Fitness, 2000
Exercises that will blast those calories quickly and efficiently, by elevating your heart rate, include interval training and plyometric exercises. You can learn more about these two kinds of exercises here:
Healthy Heart Zone (warm-up) — 50-60% of your maximum heart rate. This zone is the easiest to achieve, and can usually be hit by walking briskly. If you stay solely in this zone, you can reap benefits of decreasing body fat, blood pressure, and cholesterol. 85% of the calories burned in this zone are fats!
Fitness Zone (Fat Burning) – 60-70% of your maximum heart rate. This zone is pretty much the same as the Healthy Heart Zone, but burns more calories. 85% of the calories burned in this zone are fats.
Aerobic Zone (Endurance Training) – 70-80% of your maximum heart rate. Your cardiovascular and respiratory system will improve when you exercise within this zone. It will increase the size and strength of your heart. 50% of the calories burned are from fat.
Anaerobic Zone (Performance Training) – 80-90% of your maximum heart rate. You will improve your VO2 maximum (the highest amount of oxygen one can consume during exercise) and, consequently, your cardiorespiratory system. You will also get a higher lactate tolerance ability, which means that your endurance will improve and you will be able to fight fatigue. Olympic athletes typically exercise within this zone. 15% of the calories burned are from fat.
Red Line (Maximum Effort) – 90-100% of your maximum heart rate. Although this zone burns the most calories, it is very intense, and probably too intense for most exercisers. Only stay in this zone for a very short period of time, if at all. If you want to visit this zone, you probably should get cleared by a doctor first.
How do you find your target heart rate and maximum heart rate?
The Mayo Clinic website will give you a chart, with your THR identified. This is the “fat-burning zone” we discussed above. To blast even more calories, exceed this threshold by elevating your heart rate even more. That will put you into the “Aerobic/Anerobic Zone.”
This char t can help you calculate your maximum heart rate.
I’m 32 years old, I had gastric banding surgery a little over a year ago, and I’ve lost just about 85 pounds so far. I’ve been learning about fitness, exercise, and weight loss (and love Miz Fit!), so I share my new insights on my blog from time to time. Stop by and check it out!