You’ll often read that your target heart rate (HR) should be 60 to 80 percent of your maximum HR when you exercise. And, to reap the health benefits of cardio, your training plan should include a goal of three to five 20- to 60-minute workouts per week (not including warm-ups).
Although athletes often exceed the 60-80 percent goal for increasing endurance, the average person gains little additional value when they exceed this range. Exceeding the target range puts undue stress on your body and increases your potential for injury. Your heart is simply working too fast and your body has a hard time replenishing oxygen. On the other hand, exercising below the 60 percent goal has fewer benefits for those who exercise regularly.
So yes, heart rate monitors are useful tools for those interested in maximizing their results in the shortest amount of time. They are especially useful for endurance athletes and those interested in losing weight. Keeping your HR within your target range allows you to exercise for longer periods without depleting your body’s resources and achieve maximum benefits during your workout.
Typical Heart Rate Zones
- Heating (50 – 60% of max heart rate): The right zone for people just starting an exercise program and a good warm-up zone for those who exercise regularly. This area has many benefits and a low risk of injury. It also helps you lower body fat, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels; it is estimated that 85% of the calories burned in this zone come from body fat.
- gentle exercise zone (60 – 70% of maximum heart rate): This zone offers basically the same benefits as the warm-up zone, except that you burn more calories due to the higher level of exercise.
- aerobic zone (70 – 80% of maximum heart rate): The aerobic zone will improve your cardiovascular and respiratory system and strengthen your heart. This zone is preferred by endurance athletes and those interested in significantly improving their fitness level.
- anaerobic zone (80-90% of maximum heart rate): Endurance athletes benefit from training in this zone. This zone helps improve your VO2 max – the highest amount of oxygen that can be consumed during exercise. Your doctor or a top gym can test your VO2 max. It takes more than just measuring your heart rate while running on a treadmill; the specialized equipment you breathe into while exercising is the best way to measure it. Exercising in the anaerobic zone also improves your endurance levels by increasing your tolerance to lactate (it fights fatigue better). This is a high intensity zone. Only include it in your training if you know what you’re doing and have your doctor’s approval.
- HR max. (90 – 100% of maximum): Consult a doctor before creating a training plan that includes exercises to reach maximum heart rate. Although this zone can be achieved and you will burn a lot of calories, most people, even those in excellent shape, will only exercise in this intense zone for very short periods of time.
Here’s a nice little tool to estimate your target heart rate: Calculate Target Heart Rate