Calculating Heart Rate Intensities

HR Intensity Calculator

Calculating heart rate intensities is an integral part of following any well thought-out training program. Your body responds and adapts to activity performed at particular intensity levels for particular durations -- the only practical way to measure the intensity is by monitoring your heart rate during exercise.

To calculate your target heart rate for a particular intensity level, you first need know your maximum heart rate (Max HR) and resting heart rate (Resting HR).

Arriving At Your Maximum Heart Rate
The most accurate method used to measure your maximum is to have a professionally supervised "stress test" where your biological data would be carefully monitored and recorded as you exercised to total exhaustion. If you have access to a heart rate monitor, you can use it to simulate your own test to determine a useful estimate of your maximum. The easiest way to perform your own "stress test" is at the track (running) or on a wind trainer (cycling). After a complete 20 minute warm-up, the object is to start slowly and steadily increase your speed until you reach your physical limit. The closer you come to total exhaustion, the better the quality of the feedback that you will receive.

If you're not excited about the prospects of participating in a stress test in the near future, your maximum heart rate can be approximated by using the standard equation:

Maximum HR = 220 bpm - Athlete's Age

Important Note: The maximum attainable heart rate is often different when performing in different sports. For example, running is more stressful than cycling because the legs are supporting the entire body and are responsible for any vertical movement (fighting the force of gravity). As a result, you can increase the estimated maximum by 5 bpm for running and decrease it by 5 bpm for cycling; for swimming this estimate is more accurate.

Measuring Intensity With the Total Pulse Range
The intensity level for an effort is measured as a percentage ranging from 0-100% the resting pulse (Resting HR) is considered 0% effort and the maximum pulse (Max HR) is 100%. The Total Pulse Range (TPR) is the difference between the maximum and resting heart rates; its value is used to calculate the various target heart rates:

Total Pulse Range = Max HR - Resting HR

For an example, a 30-year-old with a Resting HR of 50 bpm and a Max HR of 190 bpm will have a TPR of

190 bpm - 50 bpm = 140 bpm

This means that it is possible for the 30-year-old athlete to elevate his pulse a total of 140 bpm - from 50 bpm at rest to 190 bpm at maximum intensity.

Determining Your Target Heart Rate
In the SUPER Coach program we will state a specific training intensity level as a percentage, which will correspond to a particular heart rate. To determine the target heart rate corresponding to an intensity level, multiply the intensity percentage by your TPR value, and add the result to the Resting HR:

Target Heart Rate = (Target Intensity % x TPR) + Resting HR

If a 30-year-old wanted to exercise at 70% intensity, the target heart rate would be:

(70% x 140 bpm) + 50 bpm = 148 bpm

In other words, when this athlete's training program called for 70% intensity, the target heart rate would be 148 bpm.

The SuperCoach HR Intensity Calculator
Use our HR Intensity Calculator below to determine your Target Heart Rate for various combinations of Resting HRs, Max HRs, and intensity levels.  Don't forget theimportant note above when choosing a Max HR for a particular sport (cycling vs. running vs. swimming).

Numbers to Take With You
When you're reasonably confident with your personal figures for Max HR & Resting HR, you should note these target intensity levels that will guide you through your training -- write them down and post them next to your bike trainer, treadmill, on your HR monitor, etc.:
60%: minimum intensity required for aerobic benefit;
75%: maximum intensity for solid aerobic activity;
84%: excellent anaerobic benefit with minimized physical breakdown;
88%: an acceptable estimate for your anaerobic threshold (AT);
92%: the upper limit HR during any high intensity work.
You'll be using these targets extensively in all three sports throughout your SuperCoach season. 
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