Your heart rate can be a good indication of how far you are pushing yourself during cardiovascular exercise.
If your heart rate is too low during cardio, it’s a sign to increase the intensity of your exercise to achieve better gains. If your heart rate is too high during exercise, it can potentially be dangerous.
Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced runner, it’s hard to know what the ideal average heart rate should be when running.
Guidelines for the optimal heart rate during exercise vary depending on several factors, such as:
- fitness level
- other factors, such as any medications or conditions such as stress.
In this article, we’re going to start by explaining what your heart rate is, what happens to your heart rate during running, how to calculate your target heart rate, and how to measure your heart rate whilst running.
What is your heart rate?
In simple terms, your heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute (bpm). As a general guide, your normal resting heart rate is between 60 bpm and 100 bpm.
When you exercise, the number of times your heart beats within a minute increases.
What happens to your heart rate when running?
When you run or take part in any other cardiovascular exercise, your heart rate increases. This indicates how hard you’re working.
As we touched on earlier, if your heart rate during exercise is too low, you’re probably not getting the optimal benefits of your exercise. But you also need to be mindful that it doesn’t go too high.
This is where defining your average maximum heart rate and your target heart rate zones can be important.
Sustaining cardio activity within your target heart rate range can help you work out at a level that is vigorous enough to achieve your fitness goals.
How do I calculate my average maximum heart rate?
As a general rule of thumb, you can find your maximum heart rate when you subtract your age from 220.
So, as an example, this might be 190 for a 30-year-old (220 – 30) or 180 for a 40-year-old (220 – 40).
The American Heart Association has put together a handy table that will help you figure out the average maximum heart rate for your age – but remember this is just a guide.
It’s not recommended to exercise at your maximum heart rate. Many sources recommend that the highest your heart rate goes during physical activity is 85% of your maximum:
How do I calculate my target heart rate zone?
We’ve actually put together an article that provides an more in-depth explanation of the different target heart rate training zones during exercise.
As a really broad overview:
Zone 1: The healthy heart rate training zone
This is typically between 50-60% of your maximum heart rate, and will be achieved by conducting some really light exercise, such as casual walking.
Zone 2: The fitness heart rate training zone
This is around 60-70% of your maximum heart rate and is likely to be achieved where you can exercise comfortably whilst still carrying on a conversation. So for running, this would be the equivalent of a light jog that improves basic endurance and burns fat.
Zone 3: The aerobic heart rate training zone
This heart rate zone is between 70-80% of your maximum heart rate. This is the zone you’ll be in for moderate exercise intensity and is the ideal running heart rate if you’re looking to improve stamina and aerobic fitness.
Zone 4: The anaerobic heart rate training zone
You’ll be hitting this zone at 80-90% of your maximum heart rate when you are engaging in more vigorous activity. Exercising in this zone can feel quite intense – you’re unlikely to be able to speak. This is the ideal target heart rate zone for increasing your speed and performance.
Zone 5: The redline zone
Some sources don’t recommend you exercise at this level at all, and it shouldn’t be something that is encouraged for beginners. This is where you are exercising at over 90% of your maximum heart rate. It will feel ‘all out’, and like the hardest workout you’ve ever done. You might reach this level in a 100m sprint, for example.
How do I measure my heart rate whilst running?
Measuring your resting heart rate is easy.
Find your pulse point on your wrist (two fingers over your radial artery, near your thumb) or your neck (near your ear and behind your jaw line), and count how many pulses you feel for 15 seconds. You then multiply this by four and this is your resting heart rate.
When you’re running, however, it would be hard to do this without stopping every couple of miles, and it might not be completely accurate!
The best way to keep track of your heart rate while running is with a heart rate monitor you can strap to you, or a smartwatch that has a heart rate monitor included.
Smart watches are becoming increasingly affordable, so you don’t need to break the bank to get one. They use electrical signals to process the heart rate and this can either go to your watch or smartphone app. You can check it in real-time and some you can even adjust to alert you if you go into the danger zone for your heart rate.
Measuring your heart rate when training will also help you figure out your ideal pace for race day. It’ll take some work, but once you understand the different zones your heart rate goes through when running, you’ll be able to tailor your training plans and pacing accordingly!