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Understanding Your Target Heart Rate as a Runner

As a runner, you should keep track of your running heart rate during exercise. Your running heart rate tells you how hard you’re working and how your physical fitness is changing over time. If you want to improve your running performance, this article will give you the information you need to understand what your running heart rate means during exercise, the factors that affect your heart rate, your ideal running heart rate, and how to maintain a safe heart rate when you exercise.

Why is your heart rate important while running?

Woman manually checking her heart rate with her two fingers on her neck while looking at her smart watch.

Your running heart rate is a key indicator of the intensity of your run, which can help you improve. If you aim to become a faster and stronger runner, you’ll want to make sure you’re training at the right intensity. Running too slow won’t give your body the stimulation it needs to get fitter. Alternatively, pushing too hard could result in overtraining. Training at the correct running heart rate is what will ultimately boost your performance.

You can also use your running heart rate to track your progress over time. For example, if you run the same route each week, you can look back at your running heart rate data from each run to determine how your overall fitness is improving over time. It should gradually decrease because the more fit you get, the easier it will become to maintain your pace throughout your run.

What are the factors that affect heart rate?

Old man at the beach checking his heart rate while using two fingers on chin and looking at smart watch.

Many different factors can influence your resting heart rate, including:1

  • Age
  • Weight
  • Fitness level
  • Family history

While running, your running heart rate will automatically increase, but other factors can also boost your heart rate. They include:

  • Certain medications
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Medical conditions
  • Temperature and humidity
  • Caffeine and alcohol consumption

Target heart rate zones by age

Man looking at heart rate app on the phone.

Your resting heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute (bpm) while your body is at rest. A lower resting heart rate is better because it means your heart doesn’t have to work as hard to maintain a steady beat. In comparison, your maximum heart rate is the highest number of beats per minute your heart can pump under maximum stress.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), your target heart rate during moderate exercise should be about 50 to 70% of your maximum heart rate. During high-intensity exercise, it should be about 70 to 85% of the maximum.2 

Although it varies from person to person, this chart from the AHA includes average target heart rate zones you can use as a guide.2

AgeTarget Heart Rate Zone 50-85%Average Maximum Heart Rate, 100%
20 years old100-170 bpm200 bpm
30 years old95-162 bpm190 bpm
35 years old93-157 bpm185 bpm
40 years old90-153 bpm180 bpm
45 years old88-149 bpm175 bpm
50 years old85-145 bpm170 bpm
55 years old83-140 bpm165 bpm
60 years old80-136 bpm160 bpm
65 years old78-132 bpm155 bpm
70 years old75-128 bpm150 bpm

Some medications or health conditions can affect your heart rate. In these instances, you should speak with your doctor and ask what your maximum and target heart rates should be during moderate and intense exercise.

How do I calculate the maximum heart rate?

Heart rate machine.

Now that you know your maximum heart rate while running let’s talk about how you can use your age to calculate it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), your maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age.3 

So, if you’re 40 years old: 

  • Your maximum heart rate is 180 bpm. (220 – 40 = 180 bpm)
  • For moderate physical activity, your heart rate should remain between 90 bpm and 126 bpm. (180 x 0.50 = 90 bpm and 180 x 0.70 = 126 bpm)
  • For more vigorous exercise, your heart rate should be between 126 and 153 bpm. (180 x 0.70 = 126 bpm and 180 x 0.85 = 153 bpm)

You can use the same formulas we used above to calculate your ideal maximum heart rate and target heart rate zones based on the intensity of your runs. 

Maintaining a safe and healthy heart rate while running

Woman looking at smart watch while on a run.

One of the easiest ways to monitor your running heart rate while you run is to wear a fitness tracker on your wrist or elsewhere on your body. That way, you can periodically check your running heart rate as you exercise and make sure it’s in a safe zone.

However, you can also take your pulse manually by lightly pressing the tips of your first two fingers on the artery on your inner wrist. Count your pulse for 30 seconds and multiply the result by two to determine the number of beats in 60 seconds (or your beats per minute).

You can use either of the above approaches while running indoors on a treadmill or outdoors on your favorite route. Vingo offers fun and exciting running routes around the globe that you can explore while running on your treadmill at home or the gym.

What to do if my running heart rate is too high?

Woman hunched over looking at smart watch before working out.

If you start tracking your running heart rate during your runs and determine that it’s too high, you need to slow down. Pushing yourself too hard can be harmful to your health. Other signs you’re working too hard can include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest tightness
  • Being unable to talk while running

On the flip side, if your running heart rate is too low and you don’t feel challenged by your running routine, you need to exercise harder to reap the benefits you want. Regularly monitoring your running heart rate will help with this, but if you need additional assistance, you may want to consider working with a trainer who can help you set goals and accurately assess your progress.

Key Takeaways:

Your ideal running heart rate while running depends on factors like your age, weight, and fitness level. By monitoring your heart rate while you run and aiming for target heart rates, you can maximize your training efforts, get the results you want, and avoid overtraining.

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Sources:

  1. Heart rate: What’s normal? (2020, October 2). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/expert-answers/heart-rate/faq-20057979 
  2. Target Heart Rates Chart. (2022, July 19). Www.Heart.Org. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/target-heart-rates 
  3. Target Heart Rate and Estimated Maximum Heart Rate | Physical Activity | CDC. (n.d.-b). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/measuring/heartrate.htm 

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