How do I figure out my target heart rate?

December 17, 2012

Q: I have currently lost 21.5 lbs. since June and now weigh 167. I am only 5-foot-4 and will be 47 this month. I have started to work out four days a week. I want to get my body fat to a healthy number. I need help finding my target heart rate. Sometimes I get a little worried that it is too high. Once I figure out my target heart rate, should I always stay within that zone? Also, as I get in better shape, will my heart rate improve? My goal by June 12 is that I will be weighing in at 150 or less. Thanks for any advice you can give me.

A: Monitoring your workout intensity is one of the best ways to lose weight, and learning how to figure out your target heart rate is a great place to start, but in order to completely understand this concept, let’s break it down and answer one question at a time.

Your target heart rate zone is when your heart beats between 60 to 80 percent of its maximum potential. In order to find your target heart rate zone, all you have to do is subtract your age from 220. Then multiply the answer by both .60 and .85. The answers will give you your heart rate zone. (220-47= 173, 173 x .60 = 104, 17 3x .85 = 147) Therefore your target heart rate zone is 104-147. If you’re a beginner, you should keep your heart rate on the low end of this range; if you’re at a moderate fitness level, stay somewhere in the middle and if you’re more advanced, shoot for the top end of the zone.

One of the most important things to consider when deciding if your heart rate is too high is whether or not you have any risk factors. If you have heart problems, stroke, high blood pressure or are on medications, your guidelines might be different, and you should consult with a doctor before starting an exercise program.

Your max heart rate is 173. This will give you a nice reference point that can serve as a warning sign: If your heart races past this number, it’s time to slow down.

The one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work when it comes figuring out what workout intensity is best for you, because as you get in better shape, your heart is capable of tougher workouts. In fact, if you don’t increase the intensity, your progress will come to a screeching halt. In most cases, as you lose weight, your heart rate will stabilize and you’ll have a hard time getting it past the target zone, but you will also be able to function at a higher heart rate without concern. In fact, athletes can work up to a much higher percentage of their target heart rate.

Don’t forget the talking test. Learning to figure out your target heart rate zone is an excellent way to make sure you’re getting the most out of your cardio workouts, but it’s really not difficult to figure out whether you’re working hard enough to burn fat. The bottom line is, if you can hold a conversation while you’re doing a workout, you’re probably not working to your full potential.

So good luck with your quest to lose weight and work within the proper intensity. I’m sure you’ll have no problem reaching your goals.


  • Chris Antonio is a personal trainer and former world-class weightlifter. He has been lifting for more than 20 years and has trained a wide variety of clients ranging from All-American athletes to the average person trying to get into shape. To send a question to the Ask the Trainer column, email Chris at or check out