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the target heart rate

by Michael Stefano

Target heart rate (THR) zone is a term we’'e all heard. The idea is to engage in an activity that gets the heart to beat at a certain rate, for a certain length of time, for a certain number of sessions per week, achieving optimum cardiovascular heath and maximum fat burning.


There is a simple formula for calculating your individual THR, which is 60 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate (MHR).

Maximum heart rateis estimated by subtracting your age from 220. 

Follow the example for a 40-year-old:

220—40=180 (estimated MHR)

60% of 180 = 108

90% of 180 = 162

For a 40-year-old man or woman to be in their THR zone, their heart must beat between 108 and 162 beats per minute. At this level of exertion, they would be exercising aerobically, burning a lot of fat, and giving their heart-lung system a good workout. To be effective, the activity should be repeated at least three times weekly, for at least 15 minutes each time.

Monitor your heart rate by feeling for the pulse with your index and middle finger at the radial artery (wrist), or carotid artery (neck) for six seconds, and multiply by ten. Be assured that results can be achieved at the low end of the zone (60%), and with a reduced chance of injury or over-training. Beginners should always start at the low end and proceed with caution.

Before elevating your heart rate into the THR, be sure to get a physical exam, and clearance from your physician.

Michael Stefano is author of The Firefighter's Workout Book, as well as a twenty year veteran of the New York City Fire Department. His simple, yet highly effective training programs are used by firefighters across the country, and the general population alike.

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Posted September 2003
Updated November 2010


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