Howto – Calculate your maximum heart rate and training zones

Calculating your maximum heart rate and training zones

Your maximum heart rate (MHR) is the highest number of beats per minute your heart can reach during all-out effort. Because maximum heart rate decreases as you get older, a popular calculation used is: 220 – age = MHR

For example, a 40-year-old man would have an MHR of 220 – 40 = 180 beats per minute. Remember to, that for women you subtract your age from 226.

Follow the steps above to calculate your MHR.

Once you have calculated your MHR, it is then possible to calculate your heart rate training zones, which are as follows:

Heart Rate Zones Table:


% Maximum Heart Rate

Training Zones

1 90 – 108 Healty Heart Zone
2 108 – 126 Fitness Zone
3 126 – 144 Aerobic Zone
4 144 – 169 Anaerobic Zone
5 169 – 180 Red Line (Maximum Effort)

Take your MHR and multiply by 0.5, 0.6, 0.7, 0.8, 0.9 to determine the percentage number for each heart rate zone this training guide uses. If your MHR is 180, you would multiply that number by 0.5 and 0.6 to determine what your MHR range is for zone 1 (which would be 90 to 108 beats per minute).


Healthy Heart Zone (Warm up) — 50 – 60% of maximum heart rate: The easiest zone and probably the best zone for people just starting a fitness program. It can also be used as a warm up for more serious walkers. This zone has been shown to help decrease body fat, blood pressure and cholesterol. It also decreases the risk of degenerative diseases and has a low risk of injury. 85% of calories burned in this zone are fats!

Fitness Zone (Fat Burning) — 60 – 70% of maximum heart rate: This zone provides the same benefits as the healthy heart zone, but is more intense and burns more total calories. The percent of fat calories is still 85%.

Aerobic Zone (Endurance Training) — 70 – 80% of maximum heart rate: The aerobic zone will improve your cardiovascular and respiratory system AND increase the size and strength of your heart. This is the preferred zone if you are training for an endurance event. More calories are burned with 50% from fat.

Anaerobic Zone (Performance Training) — 80 – 90% of maximum heart rate: Benefits of this zone include an improved VO2 maximum (the highest amount of oxygen one can consume during exercise) and thus an improved cardiorespiratory system, and a higher lactate tolerance ability which means your endurance will improve and you’ll be able to fight fatigue better. This is a high intensity zone burning more calories, 15 % from fat.

Red Line (Maximum Effort) — 90 – 100% of maximum heart rate: Although this zone burns the highest number of calories, it is very intense. Most people can only stay in this zone for short periods. You should only train in this zone if you are in very good shape and have been cleared by a physician to do so.

Below are some sample running sessions and their appropriate heart rates that they should be run at, curtesy of Running World.

Sample Running Sessions:

  • 60% Recovery run – dead slow. It may feel biomechanically odd at first, but it’s important. 30-40 minutes.
  • 60-70% Long, slow runs – up to 65% the body is teaching itself to burn fat as fuel (useful for marathons). Anything from 1-3hrs.
  • 70-85% Fartlek – speedplay (moderate-paced runs with random fast bursts). 30-60 minutes
  • 70-85% Undulating route – peak at 85% on the climbs. 30-90 minutes
  • 85% Anaerobic threshold run (or ‘tempo run’) – this teaches your body to run hard for long periods. Approximately 10-mile to half-marathon race pace. Sample session: 1.5 miles at 60%, then 15-20 mins at exactly 85%, then 1.5 miles at 60%.
  • 85-90% Approx 5K-10K pace. Sample sessions: 6 x 800m peaking at 90% in each rep; 5 x 2000m peaking at 85% in each rep.
  • 95% Peak heart rate at 400m rep pace (not full-out race pace). Sample session: 12 x 400m with 200m jog recoveries, making sure recovery heart rate drops to at least 70%.

NB: you can’t usefully use a heart rate monitor to pace intervals below 1000m – rather, the figures above 85% are a guide to what you can expect to reach at the end of each repetition.

7 thoughts on “Howto – Calculate your maximum heart rate and training zones

  1. Don’t get too wrapped around the axel with the 220-AGE forumla to compute HRmax. That formulation is developed such that 95% of the population has an actual HRmax above the calculated value. My HRmax is 174, way above the computed value of 168. If you’re doing any serious exercise, I’d suggest running a workout that will get your HR very near (with a couple of points) of your actual HRmax.

    Find a hill with a 6% to 10% grade and sprint 100 meters and then jog back down to the starting point. Repeat two more times. Near end of your 3rd sprint up the hill, you’re HR will be 2 or 3 BPM pull it’s absolute maximum.

    Good luck.

  2. This page wasnt working earlier. i tried accesing it but it timed out 4-5 times now but i can access it now. Why did this happen? Am i the only one having this error?

  3. I am a 49 year old woman who has previously been very active, but I have slowed down in recent years. Trying to kick it back into shape and having a difficult time. I am slightly overweight (5’2″ and weigh 137.5 lbs.) I teach a step aerobic class and I work out on an elliptical trainer. I purchased a Polar HR Monitor, and it seems like I’m always above my training zone. I regularly range from 150 – 170 during my workouts, with only 10 – 15 minutes being in my target zone. (So, I figure that’s basically the warm up and cool down times!) The only time I manage to stay in my target zone is when I do my brisk walks for an hour. My HR during the walks ranges from 124 – 144. My questions are: 1. What are the bad things that can happen from working out ABOVE my supposed max HR, 2. Is this why I am NOT LOSING ANY WEIGHT, even tho I am eating a mostly primal diet, 3. Why does working out at a lower level feel like I’m wasting my time, and 4. Should I be doing more heavy weight lifting and then easier cardio? Any advice would be appreciated. I recently started a stressful job, and that was when I started getting fat thighs again. I am currently working out WAY harder than I was prior to the job, but I used to be 130 lbs and was much more trim in the arms and thighs areas. Is it the job or am I working out to intensely during the cardio periods?

  4. I think you should check with your doctor before you starting a full-on training program. If you’ve not been taking regular exercise recently that is.

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