The Skinny on Heart Rate Training

26 Feb

I’ve had a lot of questions regarding heart rate monitors in the last several weeks so I’ve decided to dedicate this blog to the low down on heart rate training.  Heart rate training is quite popular among endurance athletes like marathoners, cyclists, and triathletes.

I first learned about heart rate training when I started training in Spinning back in 1992.  In the beginning it seemed like too much information to me, but after using heart rate training for racing and training athletes, I started to like what I saw .  Heart rate training showed me a lot about my clients.  It taught me when I should push them, when I should force them to go slower, and when they needed rest.  It also made me realize that there was a big difference between how hard the heart was working and how hard people thought they were working.  Through heart rate training I helped people achieve more and learn more about their bodies and abilities.

In many group exercise classes, I teach by RPEs, which is an individuals Rate of Perceived Exertion.  If someone has a heart rate monitor on, I can give them target heart rate zones, but I don’t always like to do that because most people don’t truly know what their heart rate training zone is.  Why?  Because there is a magic formula that most people use that does not account for their fitness level.  What is that magical formula?  220-age will give you your maximum heart rate.  However, if that is the only information you needed, how can you tell me that couch potato and the marathoner have the same heart rate during one of my spinning classes?  You can’t, which is why, if you have a heart rate monitor, you should be using the Karvonen formula, which is the goal standard, to determine target heart rate zones.

Below I have listed an awesome calculator for you to use, once you know your resting heart rate.  All you need to do is enter your resting heart rate and the rest is calculated for you.  To truly determine your resting heart rate, I would advise sleeping with yoru heart rate monitor on a day when you don’t have to set an alarm, which for most people would be a weekend day. Once you wake up, look at your heart rate.  Repeat this on another day and that should be your resting heart rate number.  The reason you don’t want to do it the day you set an alarm, is that your reaction to the alarm could cause your resting heart rate to be much higher.  It could also be higher if you are not well rested.  The lower your resting heart rate, the better.  Keep in mind, genetics do play a role in determining your resting heart rate, but so does does training.  I can remember training a local celebrity who had an extremely low resting heart rate.  Her husband could not understand why hers was lower than his.  She was in excellent shape and her numbers proved it!

To find out your max, you can use the equation, 220-age or when you are working out, sprint as fast as you can and use the highest number you see.  Your max heart rate may differ from one sport to another.  Your maximum heart rate is genetic.

The calculation you use for the Karvonen formula is listed below or you can plug your numbers into an online calculator (see the link below).

The Karvonen formula:

The Karvonen method factors in resting heart rate (HRrest) to calculate target heart rate (THR), using a range of 50–85% intensity:

THR = ((HRmax − HRrest) × % intensity) + HRrest

Example for someone with a HRmax of 180 and a HRrest of 70:

50% Intensity: ((180 − 70) × 0.50) + 70 = 125 bpm
85% Intensity: ((180 − 70) × 0.85) + 70 = 163 bpm

To make it simple, use these five training zones:                                                  1.  Recovery=60-70%                                                                                             2.  Endurance=71-80%                                                                                        3.  Strength=81-85%                                                                                             4.  Intervals/Race pace=86-90%                                                                         5.  Speed/Shorter Racing=91-100%

Try doing the equation or plug your numbers into the online calculator:

I have also included a link on where you can get one and how much you can expect to pay.  I would NOT recommend any heart rate monitor that does not use a chest strap.  Chest straps are for accuracy, so if it doesn’t have a chest strap, I can’t say it’s accurate.  I have been using Polar heart rate monitors since 1996 so I highly recommend any Polar heart rate monitor.  If you are looking for a monitor that just does heart rate training, I recommend a simple model, the Polar FT1 Fitness Heart Rate Monitor, listed in the link below, which is only $41 online.  Other models may include the number of calories you burn and more.  If you are a triathlete, you may want to consider a Garmin, Timex, or Polar watch that monitors your heart rate and also has a GPS functionality.

Go to this link to see the different models and prices:

The 411 on the chest strap, wet the center of the plastic piece with some water from your water bottle.  Women, put it at the bottom of your sports bra and men, place it right above your rib cage.  Once you wear it a few times, you will get used to having it on.  Try to keep the chest strap in the same place so you don’t lose it.

More questions?  Post a comment to this blog or send me an email at

In Health and Happiness from Jamaica,


4 Responses to “The Skinny on Heart Rate Training”


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