Aerobic Conditioning and Target Heart Rate

Aerobic conditioning is the ability of the heart, lungs and circulatory system to supply oxygen and nutrients to the working muscles. It involves the ability to persist in activities, such as elliptical training, walking, jogging and cycling. In other words, it's the prolonged use of large muscles.

People have different aerobic fitness levels, but in order to really get health benefits from aerobic conditioning, you should exercise for prolonged amounts of time, striving for 20–60 minutes.

However, you can still obtain health benefits from doing 5–10 minutes of aerobic exercise. The measurement of heart rate, or pulse, is represented in beats per minute (bpm). To assess heart rate, place your fingertips on either the radial or carotid pulse site. If you choose to take your pulse at the carotid site, avoid putting heavy pressure on the carotid arteries because they contain receptors that sense increases in pressure and respond by slowing the heart rate.

To determine the number of beats per minute, take the pulse rate (counting the first pulse beat as 0) for 10 seconds and then multiply by 6. The rate at which your heart beats during exercise can be used to assess how hard you are working. When performing light to moderate exercise, your heart rate increases as your work rate increases. This ensures that blood travels to the muscles so they can get the oxygen and nutrients they need to continue working.

Being able to measure your heart rate allows you to determine aerobic exercise intensity by taking your pulse during a workout and comparing it to your target heart rate. A common method to determine your target heart rate (THR) is to use a percentage of your estimated maximum heart rate (MHR).

Check out the formulas at the end of this article to determine your MHR and THR. What training zone you should exercise in depends on many things: your fitness level, age, underlying medical conditions, fitness goals and if you are in a recovery phase of your program, just to name a few.

But basically, you can divide the heart rate training zones into three categories:

50–60% of MHR: This intensity is for individuals who are beginners or just starting an exercise program, after they have checked with their doctor and been cleared to exercise.

60–70% of MHR: This intensity is for those who exercise regularly and would like to continue increasing overall fitness or improve race times.

75-85% MHR: If you're a healthy, experienced and fit individual and your goal is to improve aerobic capacity or athletic performance, you will likely be exercising in this training zone.

While these zones are general recommendations, it is important to understand that varying your training intensity is important no matter what your fitness level. There may be times when a highly trained athlete will train in the 50%–60% zone (e.g., for recovery or long, slow distance training).

Studies show that people who exercise at too high an intensity have more injuries and are more likely to quit. Also, competitive athletes may need to add higher intensity interval training sessions on occasion to help train muscles to handle lactic acid.

2 methods to find your MHR:

Age-Predicted MHR

220 – Age = MHR

MHR x % intensity = THR


34-year-old at 75% intensity 220 – 34 = 186 x 0.75 = 139.5 bpm

Karvonen Formula—Heart Rate Reserve

220 – Age = MHR

MHR – Resting Heart Rate = Heart Rate Reserve

(HRR x % intensity) + Resting Heart Rate = THR


34-year-old, resting heart rate = 62 bpm, at 75% intensity 220 – 34 = 186 – 62 = 124 x 0.75 = 93 + 62 = 155 bpm


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