How To Determine Your Target Heart Rate


There are some basic rules you should know when you start to use a Polar heart rate monitor.

First of all it is important to know that your heart rate is affected by several internal and external parameters. It takes months (if not years) to get enough experience to understand how the heart rate reacts.

Your Polar heart rate monitor works best for pacing at aerobic cycling, since there is a slightly delay on the pulse frequency. If you accelerate the bike to a new steady state pace, you will reach the steady state pulse a few minutes later.

That is really important to know, and I guess that is why many riders push too hard in the beginning of intervals, because they are trying to get their heart rate up in the target zones. That is a big mistake that could easily be avoided if these riders used a power meter.

In short intervals with a length of less than 2 minutes, I will recommend that you don’t use your heart rate monitor for pacing.

How do you determine your target heart rate?

There are several formulas around on the internet that can be used to calculate target heart rate zones. I have seen formulas with more than 6 different target zones, but I normally prefer to use less.

You can easily define your own target zones when you use the Karvonen formula. Remember that there are several factors influencing on the pulse, so don’t make the intervals to small.Karvonen’s formula: Target HR = Intensity% x (Max.HR minus Min.HR) + Min-HR

Example: Calculation of Target Heart Rate

Intensity=75%, Max.HR=190, Min.HR=54

T-HR = 75% x (190 – 54) + 54

T-HR = 156

10 comments… add one

  • trevor hough

    i was wondering if anyone could answer a question for me. I am a 40 yr old male, long history of running and cycling. Resting heart rate 45, when mountain biking my heart rate can easily get to 185, supposedly max heart rate is 180. Heart rate returns to around 130 within a minutes recovery. Is this high max heart rate normal, are there genetic variations in max heart rate.

    Thanks

    Trevor

  • There are great variation in maximum heart rates. The standard calculation is 220 minus age, but there is a standard deviation of about plus/minus 20 beats. There is no best maximum heart rate. Thus, there are professional riders with low maximum heart rates and other riders with maximum heart rates >210.

    /Jesper

  • Trevor – you bring up an important consideration – Max Heart Rate based calculations are inherently inacurate. The original 220-age calculation was completely arbitrary and not designed to be a performance based calculation. Each individual has their own heart rate max that doesn’t often correlate to a MHR calculation. More important and relevant is your Lactate Threshold Heart Rate (LTHR). A simple way to estimate your LTHR (and develop training zones from there) is to do a simple breathing test. After a short warm up gradually increase your effort until you feel your breathing change to one that is slightly labored (need a breath between sentences) and you feel a slight “burn” in your legs. As soon as you feel that note the HR, back off and repeat to try to calibrate within a couple of beats – though anecdotal (you can also do a full fleged blood lactate profile) it is a good starting point for creating responsible training intensities> Think of it as below LT you have nearly limitless capacity, above LT you are on a short clock!!

    best
    matt

  • Scott McDiarmid

    Hi,

    I’ve done a couple of Max HR tests over the years (I’m 40 now) which comes out at about 210 bpm. I guess my threshold is approx 185. Is there any specific research to indicate that high heart rates like my own are less efficient or hinder performance?

    Thx

  • steve

    I am a 49 year old male. I am active. I cycle about 3 times a week for a maximum of 60 miles and a minimum of 25 miles. I use a polar heart rate monitor. My average heart rate usally runs around 150-159. My maximum heart rate reaches 170-180. I am wondering if I am pushing my heart rate too high at 180. My brother, who is a year older than me, his average is lower than mine. I am concerned that my heart rate is getting too high. Should this be a concern or would this be consider normal.

  • Alan

    Steve.
    I cant comment on your specific numbers, however I am a 48 year old active cyclist, training 3-5 times a week, 30-50 miles and my recorded MHR is 188 and train regulary in the 150-175 range. I recon my real MHR is a little higher, say 190’ish based on my perceived effort at arround 165. My figures are similar to yours.

  • Mike Jones

    Hi, after many years not cycling two years ago I started training again. I go out with riders who are fit 40 yearolds. I have a history of racing covering 20+ years. I dont go much on too many gizzmos but have recently used a heart rate monitor and find riding on undulating terrain my heart rate is 135-150. and about 80% mhr?? , speed is averaging 17mph over say 50 miles. I train approx 150 miles per week. Is this good practice or should I change in some way. I am 67 by the way.
    Regards Mike Velo Club Bristol.

  • Clinton.Weinstein.

    Rode with few guys today who are much faster and stronger.Heart rate was approx 188 for most of the time climbing short hills and dropped to 175 and 160-166 when not pushing to hard .Rode 25 miles
    approx 1hr 37 minutes.Normally when I ride by myself heart rate is 170 when I push to stay at 20 miles/hr.
    age 49 wt 190lbs.

  • I agree with most of the posts above. What is being taught to sports scientists at university right now is that the standard formula, rather than being arbitrary, is an average with a plus or minus of around 14 for (I think) 99% of the population. So for 99% of us it is a useful starting point. Mine comes in at around +12, measured empirically with a standard pulse monitor, ie 220 minus age gives me 166 but I regularly hit 178 on steep hills, more so when I am unfit. Regarding high being bad, not at all! It declines naturally with age so a high max means you are equivalent to younger person. Having said that, low is not necessarily bad either, if you have an exceptionally large heart it doesn’t need to pump as often to supply you with oxygen. The bottom line is that the more oxygen delivered to your working muscles the better!
    Happy new year folks!

  • Frank Drohan

    I’m 69 yo male. 5’8″ and 156 lbs. I have been Cycling for 35 years now.
    I now ride 100-115 miles per week, The longer I ride the Higher my
    HR gets and the easier I can Breath. 130-34 doesn’t even feel intense
    as it did a couple hrs back. Is this like a “Second wind” ? or is my Heart
    rate catching up with my effort and legs all coming together knowing
    what I’m Expecting of them. ” Body Memory”…I ride for 60 miles and still don’t want to Stop as the
    “Train is a Moving down the Track”
    Not any real Leg Speed, [80-100 rpm] Avg 16 mph for 60-75 miles.
    Heart Rate: 112. all is well. Even after 35 years and 5 years of Marathons. [2:44;57 Best time].
    Simple Advice: Be Proud of yourself. Be You. Don’t STOP because LIFE doesn’t…fpd

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