Cardio Heart Rate to Keep You in Your Training Zone

Cardio Heart Rate

Cardio Heart Rate is a term used to describe your increased heart rate during cardio exercises. Your heart rate is the number of heart beats per minute.

Why does your heart rate increase during exercise? The heart continuously circulates blood through the lungs, and during cardio, this process becomes even more important and intense.

During exercise or workout routines, your muscles send a signal telling your body they are in need of more oxygen. The heart then has to increase its activity, and pump more blood to the lungs for oxygenation. This increased oxygenation of your blood is then pumped to the muscles.

Table of Contents

Resting Heart Rate

Cardio Heart RateYour resting heart rate is the number of heart beats per minute while at rest. The average resting heart rate for an adult is 60 to 100 beats per minute. Some medical conditions might cause a heart rate outside of this range, and your resting heart rate will increase slightly with age.

Extremely well-conditioned athletes can have much lower than average heart rates, which is an excellent way to prevent heart disease.  Lance Armstrong reportedly has a resting heart rate of an amazing 35-40 beats per minute. (1)

This indicates a body that is running at peak efficiency, as the heart has very little work to do to properly oxygenate the body.

Measuring Your Cardio Heart Rate

To measure your heart rate during exercise, slow your pace to a point where you can take your pulse on your neck or your wrist. (2)

There are two ways to check your cardio heart rate:

  1. Fingers placed on your neck on your carotid artery
  2. Placing your fingers on your wrist

Checking Heart Rate on Your Neck (Carotid Artery)

This is generally the easiest and most effective way, as you can feel your pulse more clearly and pronounced. 

Just place the tips of your index and middle fingers to the right or left of your trachea (windpipe) as shown below. Move your fingers around slightly until you feel your pulse (on your carotid artery).

Good Cardio Heart Rate

Checking Your Heart Rate on Your Wrist

Place the tips of your index and middle fingers on your wrist as shown below. Position your fingers approximately 1 inch from the base of your hand, and on the top half of your wrist. This is the best location to find your pulse. It can be a little tricky to find the first time, but after that you’ll have it down. 

Checking Cardio Heart Rate

Next, count the heart beats in15 seconds using your wrist watch. Multiply this number X 4, and that is your heart rate per minute.

Your beats per minute will vary greatly depending on your physical conditioning. If you’re in great physical shape and do lots of cardio, you might be hard pressed to get over 130 beats per minute even with intense exercise. And on the flip side, if you’re out of shape and do very little cardio, you might be over 140 walking around the block.

As your conditioning improves with exercise, it is very satisfying to see your cardio heart rate slowly decrease during exercise as your conditioning improves weekly. This improved heart rate is a clear sign of your body’s improving efficiency.

Training Heart Rate

Training Heart RateYour target cardio heart rate for any cardio exercise is 50% to 85% of your max heart rate.

For men, Max Heart Rate (MHR) = 220 – (your age)

For women, Max Heart Rate (MHR) = 226 – (your age)

So, if you are 35 years old, your max heart rate (MHR) is 185 beats per minute (220 – 35 = 185), and 50% to 85% would be as follows:

50% x 185 = 92 beats per minute

85% x 185 = 157 beats per minute

So your target heart rate for cardio training would be 92 to 157 beats per minute.

If you are a cardio beginner, you should be closer to the 92 – 110 heart rate range, and more experienced and conditioned athletes can move closer to the 157 range.

Heart Rate Training Zones

Workout levels are categorized as follows:

  • 100%: Maximum Intensity Exercise
  • 90%: Vigorous Intensity Exercise
  • 80%: Anaerobic – Hardcore Exercise
  • 70%: Aerobic – Cardio Exercise for Endurance
  • 60%: Weight Control – Fat-Burning Exercises
  • 50%: Moderate Activity – Warming Up Exercises

The following table shows the heart rate (beats per minute) according to age (20 to 70 years old) and workout level.

Zone% of MHRWorkout IntensityDescription
Zone 590-100%Maximum IntensityHelps fit athletes increase speed; Very short durations
Zone 480-90%AnaerobicIncreases Max Performance; Shorter durations
Zone 370-80%AerobicImproves aerobic conditioning
Zone 260-70%Weight ControlImproves endurance and fat burning; longer durations
Zone 150-60%Warm-upImproves overall health; ideal for warm-up and recovery

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David Williams

A diet and fitness enthusiast, David is an ex-Army Airborne Ranger and Infantry soldier with decades of fitness and wellness experience. A West Point graduate with a degree in engineering, he focuses on technical research related to fitness, nutrition, and wellness. He loves the beach and working out, and spending time with his wife and daughters.

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  1. How to Help Prevent Heart Disease At Any Age. (2015).
  2. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2019). Exercise intensity: How to measure it. Mayo Clinic.

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