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I get many questions from readers and clients about target heart rate zones - namely, are target heart rate calculators accurate? There's been much studied and written about this because the basic formula we've always used to calculate maximum heart rate (220 - age=MHR), which is one element you use to calculate your zones, has never been validated. While experts have updated that formula (now it's 206.9 - (.67 x age)), we now know that there is no formula that provides 100% accuracy.

The point is, many people rely on those numbers even if they're not working. The most common question I hear is: "I'm working in my target heart rate zone and barely breaking a sweat. Should I keep working at this pace or change what I'm doing?"

I tackle this question in my latest FAQ, Is my target heart rate calculation accurate? Maybe you'll find new ideas for how to use your target heart rate calculations to your advantage.

Do you have any thoughts or suggestions about target heart rate? Leave a comment and tell us what you think.

April 1, 2009 at 4:50 pm
(1) Steph says:

I think the first thing is to make sure that you aren’t reading your heart rate off a cardio machine. They are known to be grossly inaccurate, so try using a heart rate moniter and then see how your heart rate makes you sweat….or not.

April 2, 2009 at 8:03 am
(2) Fiona says:

My target heart is right on the money according to the above calculation. Although the stupid cardio machines always switch to manual on me saying its too high. frustrating.

April 2, 2009 at 9:33 am
(3) Naomi says:

According to the “official” formula, I am in fat burning mode when changing into my work-out clothes, aerobically working when normally walking into the work-out room, in an anaerobic state if I’m running late to my work-out and walk a little faster, at maximum peak when I’m warming up and I guess “dead” when I actually start my work-out (Spinning).

April 2, 2009 at 10:33 am
(4) Norma says:

I’m 58 and if I’m doing something strenuous, like fast biking or jogging, my heart rate monitor shows the range of heart beats to be over 170, which appears to be well above my target, acccording to some calculations. However, since I can still breathe properly and don’t feel short of breath, I keep on going and just hope I don’t go into cardiac arrest.

April 2, 2009 at 12:42 pm
(5) Jim says:

The difference in the two formulas is a difference of about 7 beats for a person of my age. For about $50 one can go to a sports performace clinic…..usually associated w/ a university and get a lactate threshold test . It’s a better indicator of a training range. Either way, if your older, check w/ your physician.

April 2, 2009 at 3:53 pm
(6) Lynda says:


I am 61 years old and walk on a regular basis. I asked my doctor about target heart rate and told him about my routine. He told me that I would know if I were doing too much by how I felt while exercising. I thought this made sense and I have been following his advice.

April 2, 2009 at 5:39 pm
(7) Fitness fan says:

I believe the “220 – age” for maximum heart rate is used to include the relatively unfit, since the standard treadmill test uses this limit. The max heart rate must be reached in order for the test to be concluded. In order to apply the treadmill test to most of the population, the max heart rate would have to be achievable for even significantly unfit people.

I am 63 yrs old and my current heart rate maximum is 160 – 165 bpm, using a Polar wrist heart rate monitor while exercising on an elliptical machine. The Keys CG2 elliptical, which I use, has its own heart rate monitor. I have found that the Polar and Keys heart rate monitors either match, or are at most no more than one heartbeat different from each other. I am assuming the heart rate readings are accurate; although I have no real basis for this conclusion other than the results from the two monitors are so close to each other.

Based on my actual max heart rate, I found the algorithm (Stevens Creek Software) yielding the closest max heart rate to my actual:
214 – 0.8 * age = 214 – 0.8 * 63 = 163.6
The heart rate at 85% would be 139.1

The algorithm (206.9 – 0.67 * age) presented here by Paige would yield results (164.7 bpm) close to the Stevens Creek value (163.6).

You’re probably asking, and rightly so, if I know my actual max heart rate, why was I looking for a calculator? Actually, I was looking for a calculator before I knew my real data, so I could tailor my workouts accordingly.

April 2, 2009 at 11:59 pm
(8) Fitness fan says:

An addendum to my previous comment.

With a heart rate monitor, one can determine his max heart rate by going full-blast on a treadmill or elliptical or running outside. This is what I did after I got used to my elliptical and began pushing the limits.

Also, the Keys CG2 heart rate monitor I am referring to uses a chest strap, which is more accurate than the heart rate provided by the hand grips, which are also provided, on the CG2. When I say the Polar and Keys elliptical heart rate readings are close, I am comparing the two chest strap readings for the Polar wrist unit and the elliptical.

April 8, 2009 at 3:09 pm
(9) Mike Moldenhauer says:

I’m a heart attack survivor and had triple bypass surgery 8 years ago. I have been in cardiac rehab ever since. For the past 7 years my workouts at the hospital have been for maintenance. The exercise physiologists at the hospital have told me to pay more attention to how I feel during exercise rather than relying on my heart rate monitor. I believe they are right in what they say because if I exercise to stay within my target heart rate, I would be well over my maximum heart rate in less than 15 minutes. I do however use my heart rate monitor to make sure that my heart rate comes down in a reasonable amount of time because of an incurable heart rhythm problem I have.

May 6, 2009 at 6:32 pm
(10) Josh says:

No one can guess or use a chart or formula to find out your true MHR. You have to test it through some way. MHR is no determining factor in fitness level either. Some people have hearts that operate like big diesel motors, pumping larger quantities of blood in slower strongs, and others have little high rpm 4cyl hearts, pumping low quantities but at a higher rate. Whats more important is the rate in which your HR drops after hard exercise.

June 25, 2011 at 9:25 am
(11) Malinda says:

This makes eevtryhing so completely painless.

September 12, 2013 at 11:18 am
(12) Randy Tinfow says:

I’m a 61 year old, still playing competitive soccer 4x weekly.

According to the new calculation, my max HR is 165. That’s pretty accurate, in my opinion. I’ve been able to hit 172 and sustain for 5 seconds while on a treadmill, but that was extreme.

I am using a Polar HRM monitor to track my peak and average rate in games. No matter how hard I push, my peak rate has never surpassed 148, or 90% of max. My average rate for 90 minutes is ALWAYS 102 bpm (62% of max), never budges no matter what my perception of effort.

In my opinion, the new formula is useful, though certainly not precise.

November 22, 2013 at 4:38 pm
(13) chuck says:

I’m 61 yrs. old-I do a 30 min. workout on the treadmill. Start out @ 3.5 MPH , 0% incline for 1 min. Then bump it up to 1% for 2 mn. then 2% from there till the 10 Min. mark, then 3% for ten more minutes…by that time I’m up to around 128-130 BPM and really sweating-dripping. At the 20 mn. mark I boost incline to 5% and speed down to 3 MPH for 5 minutes. At the 25 minute mark I go back up to the 3.5 MPH speed and drop the incline to 2%. This really gets thing going to around 135 BPM. At 27 mn. I increase to 3%, cool down the last 2 mn. with 3.5 speed at 2%. great sweat workout, not too much for this old man.

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