How Hard to Work — The Training Zone

Studies show that you need to minimally challenge yourself to obtain improvements from your training. For example, if you train fewer than two days per week, at less than 55 percent of your maximum heart rate, or for fewer than ten minutes at a time, you will not get aerobic training benefits. This is not to say that you aren't using energy; rather, what it means is that the level of intensity is not strong enough to strengthen your cardio-respiratory system. Therefore, it's important for you to understand how to monitor how hard you're working, also referred to as the intensity, so that you will know when you're getting a training effect.

Calculating Your Target Heart Rate

You can measure how hard you're working by a variety of methods. One easy way is to calculate your target heart rate. Your heart rate, or pulse, is the number of times that your heart beats per minute. As your workload increases, your heart beats more rapidly and you begin to breathe more heavily. Your heart rate will continue to escalate to a certain point as you near the maximum amount of times that your heart can beat per minute. Then, you must slow down to allow the system to recover. Age and your physical conditioning determine how hard you can work and how long you can sustain a particular level of effort. In general, because the risk of injury increases with intensity and most people don't enjoy working at the limits of their ability, it's better to work at a moderate level.

Newborn infants have a rapid heart rate. A newborn's heart typically beats 220 times per minute. As we age, the maximum rate that our heart beats at slows. This decline is on average a loss of one heartbeat per minute per year of life.

To estimate your training zone, follow these instructions.

  • Subtract your age from 220. This is your estimated maximum heart rate.

  • Multiply your maximum heart rate by 55 percent or by 65 percent depending on whether you are a new or experienced exerciser. New exercisers should use the lower number. This number represents the lower end of your training zone.

  • Multiply your maximum heart rate by 85 percent or 90 percent. Only very experienced and highly fit exercisers should use the 90 percent figure. This number represents the higher end of your training zone.

  • These two figures represent the range of training heart rates for your training zone.

Let's put these figures into practice. Assume that you are a twenty-five year old woman who is new to exercise.

  • 220 − 25 = 195

  • 195 × 55% = 107.25, rounded to 107

  • 195 × 85% = 165.75, rounded to 166

  • Your training zone = 107 to 166 beats per minute

Using this as a guideline, when you walk, skip, or do any of the other suggested aerobic activities, you want your heart rate to be between 107 to 166 beats per minute. You should be breathing a little harder than usual and breaking a light sweat. You should not be working so hard that you can't talk.

When it comes to smart workouts, the old motto “No pain, no gain” does not apply! Never push yourself to the point of complete exhaustion when exercising. Your goal is to feel good, not sap yourself of all your strength. No one wants to see a limp, listless bride when wedding day rolls around.

The drawback to using this method of calculating your training zone is that it is based on averages and therefore can only provide you with an estimate of what your individualized target zone may be. Depending on your personal history and genetic factors, this estimate may be off by as many as 15 beats per minute. Furthermore, if you're not standing upright while you train, your training zone will also vary. For example, if you're swimming, your heart does not have to work as hard since you're supported by water and you're lying horizontally (your blood does not have to circulate against gravity). In this case, your target heart rate may be as many as 10 to 15 beats per minute lower.

Take your pulse either at your neck or wrist. To take your neck pulse, place two fingers on your temple, outside your eye. Slide your fingers down to your neck until you feel a pulse. Count for ten seconds while keeping your feet moving. Multiply by six.

If you're taking any medications that affect your heart rate, such as those prescribed to regulate blood pressure, your heart rate will not accurately reflect how hard you're working. Pregnancy also affects your heart rate. If you have any medical conditions, be sure to check with your health care provider to determine what an appropriate exercise intensity is for your individual situation.

Using the Karvonen Formula

The Karvonen formula is another method of calculating your target heart rate that is more individualized because it takes into account your resting heart rate. Your resting heart rate is your pulse when you're completely at rest. It's most accurate if it's taken first thing in the morning before you get out of bed. Ideally, to measure your resting heart rate at this time, you should wake up without an alarm, because being startled by a loud clock will elevate your heart rate. Take your pulse for one minute. For further accuracy, take your resting pulse first thing in the morning for several days and use an average of those readings. This is your resting heart rate.

To calculate your training zone using the Karvonen formula, follow these instructions:

  • Subtract your age from 220. This is your maximum heart rate.

  • Subtract your resting heart rate from your maximum heart rate. This number is referred to as your heart rate reserve.

  • Multiply your heart rate reserve by 60 percent.

  • Take this number and add your resting heart rate. The total is the lower end of your training zone.

  • Take your heart rate reserve and multiply by 80 percent.

  • Take this number and add your resting heart rate. The total is the upper end of your training zone.

Let's apply the Karvonen, formula assuming that you are the same twenty-five year old who is new to exercise. Let's assume that you're healthy and your resting heart rate is 75.

  • 220 − 25 = 195

  • 195 − 75 = 120 (heart rate reserve)

  • 120 × 60% = 72

  • 72 + 75 = 147(the lower end of your training zone)

  • 120 × 80% = 96

  • 96 + 75 = 171 (the upper end of your training zone)

Using this method, the training zone is between 147 and 171 beats per minute. When you compare the two, you can see that this method allows for a higher heart rate to reflect the individual's good health. At the same time, it is not that much different from the rougher age-based estimate. In general, the Karvonen formula is best for fit people with a history of exercise.

Using a Heart Rate Monitor

The most efficient way to track your heart rate is to use a heart rate monitor. While this is not an essential accessory for training, it's an excellent tool that can teach you a lot about how hard you're working. In addition, you can use your heart rate monitor to measure your resting pulse. Today's models can even store data that you can then upload onto your computer to track over time.

The most accurate heart rate monitors work via a monitor that is strapped to the chest. These are preferable to finger or wrist monitors, because they deliver the most reliable pulse reading. The technology continues to improve and current models are fairly comfortable and unobtrusive.

Heart rate monitors measure your heart rate using a transmitter that straps on to the chest. This transmitter electronically measures the heart rate and sends a wireless signal to a wrist watch that simultaneously displays the heart rate. Some exercise machines have monitors that display heart rate so it's not necessary to wear a wrist watch.

Unless you're interested in collecting data, select a simple model with basic features. The more bells and whistles that a monitor has, the more complex it is to set and the more chances it has to malfunction. Essentially, you need to be able to read your heart rate clearly when you're exercising. Using your heart rate monitor on a regular basis will improve your body awareness. You'll know when you're working aerobically. If you push too hard and become breathless, you'll also see your heart rate elevate. You'll know when to back off to prevent becoming overly winded and having to slow down.

Using Rate of Perceived Exertion

Borg's Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is another easy method of determining your exercise intensity that requires no equipment and is particularly useful if you're taking medications that alter your heart rate. Dr. Gunnar Borg created this scale, also referred to as the Borg Scale. Rate of perceived exertion is based on your subjective evaluation of how hard you feel that you are working. Studies show that this personal estimate is often quite accurate. One caveat is that this scale is most accurate when used during activities that you are familiar with doing. Typically, whenever you learn any new skill, the perception is that it is more difficult and may result in an overestimate of the actual level of exertion.

The original Borg scale used numeric values between 6 and 20, because it was based on studies conducted on twenty-year old college students. The maximum heart rate of 200 represented 220 minus the age of 20 and was represented on the chart as 20. In subsequent studies Dr. Borg conducted together with his daughter, Elisabeth Borg, they developed a new RPE scale.

Ratings of Perceived Exertion


Subjective Rating


Nothing at all


Very weak










Very strong




Extremely strong

The Talk Test

The talk test is the least high-tech form of monitoring intensity. Simply put, when you work aerobically, you should not be huffing and puffing breathlessly, but rather breathing at a harder rate than you would be at rest. If you're breathless, it means that you're working at too hard an intensity and you will quickly need to stop, rest, and recover. If you're working at the appropriate aerobic intensity, you are challenging your heart and lungs at a sufficient level to improve conditioning and to continue to train for at least ten consecutive minutes to increase your endurance.

If at times you're having trouble fitting in your exercise routine, never lose sight of simple aerobic activities. You might not always have time to hit the weights at the gym or make it to a class, but even fifteen or twenty minutes of walking around your building daily at work will add up to fitness in your wedding-workout crusade.

To gauge this intensity level, the talk test is simple and effective. When you're in your cardiovascular training zone, you should be able to speak a few words and carry on a light conversation. You should not be able to sing or recite lengthy poetry effectively. The talk test is the easiest indicator that you are working at your correct level of exertion.

  1. Home
  2. Wedding Workout
  3. Cardio-Fitness — Getting in Peak Shape
  4. How Hard to Work — The Training Zone
Visit other sites: