Heart rate is important in aerobics and not everyone wants to invest in heart rate monitors so this blog is for you the do it yourselfers.

The best way to insure aerobic success is to train at your target heartrate; in other words, your training zone.  One of the best formulations to determine your training zone or target heart rate is the Karvonen Formula.  The formula is pretty simple.  Basically it is your maximum heart rate minus your resting heart rate multiplied by the desired exercise intensity.  Then you add your resting heart rate to that number and you have your target heart rate.

Training Heart Rate = (maximum heart rate minus resting heart rate) x desired exercise intensity (50-85% is the spread to choose from) + resting heart rate.

The hardest part of this calculation is actually determining your maximum heart rate.  Your maximum heart rate (MHR) is the fastest rate at which your heart will beat in one minute.  The typical way we calculate MHR is with the formula 220-age.  This formula is a bit controversial because it doesn't reflect the differences in heart rate according to age.  A more accurate formula, offered in a study published in the journal, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, is 206.9 - (0.67 x age).  Here is how these calculations differ.  If you are 60 years old, using the older, less precise formula you have 220-60=160 as the MHP.  Using the better revised formula you have 206.9-(40) or 169.9 (rounded up to 170).

Once you get the MHP, the rest is just simple math.  Let’s take an example.

What is the training heart rate for a 40 year old with a resting heart rate of 80 beats per minute at 70% intensity?

40 x .67 = 26.8; 206.9-26.8 = 180.1 (maximum heart rate).

180 (MHR) – 80 (RHR) = 100 (resting heart rate)

100 x 0.70 (70% intensity)  = 70

70 + 80 (RHR) = 150 (Target Heart Rate at 70%).

If all those numbers and calculations bother you a second method of making sure that you get a maximal effect from your aerobic activity involves perceived exertion.    Borg’s Scale of Perceived Exertion is a scale with numbers ranging from 6-20.  A score of 6 represents no activity while 20 represents very, very hard and near failure. 

Aerobically, a person needs to perform work between a score of 11 (moderate work intensity) and 15 (hard work intensity) for 20-30 minutes continuously.   We know that as people exercise they rarely do so at a perfectly steady pace so using a range is the best method to keep you in your optimal training zone. 

Be honest when you evaluate your level of exertion.  Do not be concerned with leg pain, cramps, etc.  Just honestly rate what you feel your exertion level is. 

15 Point Scale

  • 6 - 20% effort
  • 7 - 30% effort - Very, very light (Rest)
  • 8 - 40% effort
  • 9 - 50% effort - Very light - gentle walking
  • 10 - 55% effort
  • 11 - 60% effort - Fairly light
  • 12 - 65% effort
  • 13 - 70% effort - Somewhat hard - steady pace
  • 14 - 75% effort
  • 15 - 80% effort - Hard
  • 16 - 85% effort
  • 17 - 90% effort - Very hard
  • 18 - 95% effort
  • 19 - 100% effort - Very, very hard
  • 20 - Exhaustion

The overall goal of engaging in aerobic activities is to prevent illness and disease and to promote fitness.  Fitness is enhanced by keeping your heart and lungs in good condition.

There are certain aerobic factors that are either genetically wired, predetermined by early childhood activities or influenced by the presence of limiting diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bronchitis and asthma.  The remainder of aerobic efficiency and cardiovascular conditioning can be highly influenced by practicing aerobic activities and by supplementation.