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Target Heart Rate and Exercise

ATI Sports Medicine discusses measuring your heart rate and its importance

We’ve all felt it . . . that “thump-thump” in our chest during exercise.  Sometimes, it’s a little flutter.  Other times, it can feel like our heart is going to jump out of our chest. 

While most know it’s important to monitor heart rate during exercise, many don’t know why.

“Monitoring your heart allows you to measure whether you’re working out too much, or not enough,” says Katie Varnado, Athletic Training Supervisor with ATI Sports Medicine in Bolingbrook, Il. “One needs to hit an intensity level that will provide optimal health benefits, while remaining at a safe level.”

The heart beats faster during exercise to supply the needed oxygen and blood to the body. The higher the intensity of the exercise, the faster the heart beats. By monitoring heart rate during exercise, the intensity and safe exercise levels can be monitored.

• Light Exercise Intensity Zone – 40% to 50% of maximum heart rate.
• Moderate Exercise Intensity Zone – 50% to 70% of maximum heart rate.
• Heavy Exercise Intensity Zone – 70% to 85% of maximum heart rate.

Most healthy people should have a Target Heart Rate zone from 50 – 75% of your maximum heart rate, or within the Moderate Exercise Intensity zone.  If you’re below this level, you may not be working out enough.  On the flip side, if you’re above this level, you may be straining yourself.

So, what does this all mean and how can you hit this target?

“Before you can identify and monitor your ideal heart rate during exercise, you first must calculate your appropriate maximum heart rate,” says Varnado.  Katie offers these steps:

Step 1: Subtract your age from 220 to get your average maximum heart rate in beats per minute.
Example: 220 – 42 years old = 178 beats per minute/Maximum Heart Rate.
Step 2: Multiply your Maximum Heart Rate by .5 to determine the bottom 50% of your Target Heart Rate zone. Example: 178 x .5 = 89 beats per minute.
Step 3: Multiply your Maximum Heart Rate by .75 to determine the top 75% of your Target Heart Rate zone. Example: 178 x .75 = 134 beats per minute.
Step 4: Once you have calculated your Maximum Heart Rate, use it to monitor the intensity level while exercising.  To measure your heart rate, place your index and middle fingers over your carotid artery on either side of your neck, or radial pulse on your wrist at the base of your palm, and feel your pulse. Count your heart beats for 10 seconds, then multiply that number by six.  This determines your beats per minute while exercising.

For those just beginning an exercise program, Varnado recommends aiming first for the lower 50% of your Target Heart Rate zone for the first few weeks.  Then, slowly progress to the middle and upper levels over the next six months.  It is recommended that individuals should participate in at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, five days per week.

Varnado reminds everyone that your Target Heart Rate should be used a guideline for finding exercise intensity. Anyone beginning an exercise program should ALWAYS consult with their physician first, especially if these factors are present: over 40 years of age, sedentary lifestyle, smoker, asthma, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, existing heart condition or pacemaker, recovering from a surgery or illness, or on medication.

If you’re still unsure about your Target Heart Rate, or have more questions, let ATI Sports Medicine help! Visit Ask the Athletic Trainer and submit your question.

ATI Physical Therapy is a nationally recognized orthopedic rehabilitation provider, specializing in physical therapy, sports medicine, work conditioning/hardening (F.I.R.S.T.™), functional capacity assessments, aquatic health, hand therapy, and women’s health. With over 200 clinics in seven states (Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania) ATI is known for its motivating staff, hands-on, personalized treatment programs, exceptional results and innovative research-based programs.