Improving fitness through exercise is a common goal for many people these days. What kind of fitness you achieve, though, depends on a number of factors, chief among which is the rate at which your heart beats during exercise.

Three Heart Rate Zones

There are three broad zones of heart rate that apply to certain levels of exercise. Progressing from moderate levels of heart rate through to intense activity, each one of these bands bestows its own particular fitness benefits.

The three zones are The Endurance Zone, the Aerobic Zone and the Anaerobic Zone.

Calculating the Bands

The heart rate zones for different types of training are calculated as various percentages of your working heart rate (WHR) plus your resting heart rate (RHR)

Resting Heart Rate

Your resting heart rate is the number of times per minute your heart beats when you are at rest. You can measure your RHR by lying down in a quiet place and relaxing fully for 20 minutes, then counting your pulse for one minute.

With exercise, your heart grows stronger and so is able to pump more blood with each contraction. Because of this, your resting heart rate will fall as you get fitter.

Maximum Heart Rate

Your maximum heart rate is the greatest number of times your heart can contract in one minute. MHR can be measured by a cardiologist or a sports physiologist using treadmill stress test techniques. It can also be reasonably accurately determined by the following formulae:

  • Men: 220 minus your age = MHR
  • Women: 226 minus your age = MHR

Working Heart Rate

Your WHR is found by subtracting your RHR from your MHR i.e.


Once you have determined your RHR and your WHR you can then calculate the various zone metrics.

The Endurance Zone

This is the recovery and fat-burning heart rate. Training at this level will also improve your endurance.

To train within this zone calculate 60%-70% of your WHR and add your RHR. For example, if your WHR is 150 and your RHR is 70 then your endurance zone heart rate is found by:

70% of 150 = 105

105 + 70 = 175

So to train within the endurance zone your level of activity needs to raise your heart rate to 175 beats per minute.

The Aerobic Zone

This level of training will improve your aerobic fitness level and your cardiovascular system.

To train within this zone calculate 70%-80% of your WHR and add your RHR.

The Anaerobic Zone

This is an intense level of training that cannot be sustained for long periods. The body burns glycogen, rather than fat, and as a result, produces lactic acid. When a point is reached where the body cannot purge the muscles of lactic acid at a rapid enough rate the muscles begin to fail. By training in the anaerobic zone you can improve your body’s ability to purge lactic acid.

To train within this zone calculate 80%-90% of your WHR and add your RHR.

The Right Zone

Training within a particular zone will help you achieve your fitness goals. By keeping a check on your heart rate you’ll always know how your body is responding to the demands you make of it.

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