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Measuring Your Max HR

Important note! Before you self-test, please read the "Before Your Start" section at the end of this article.

You won't reach your Max HR with these tests, but they give you a range within which your Max HR probably lies. First step is to rate your fitness level as follows:

  • Poor shape. You have not exercised regularly during the last two months.
  • Fair shape. You walk a mile or more or pursue any aerobic activity for twenty minutes at least three times per week.
  • Good shape. You exercise regularly more than an hour a week or walk or run at least five miles a week.

The second step is take either or both of these tests.


One Mile Walk Test

Find a track, perhaps at a local school, and walk four continuous, evenly paced laps as fast as you can in your current condition. The first three laps put you on a heart-rate plateau where you hold steady for the fourth lap.

Determine your average heart rate for this final lap. Then to predict your Max HR, add 40 bpm if you are in poor shape; for fair shape, add 50; and for good shape, add 60.



The Step Test

Use an eight-inch step. Warm up appropriately. Then, use this four count step sequence: right foot up, left up, right down, left down. Counting "up, up, down, down" as one set and keep a steady pace of 20 sets per minute.

Measure your average heart rate during the third minute, then predict your Max HR by adding 55 bpm if you are in poor shape, 65 for fair shape and 75 for good shape. That number is your predicted maximum heart rate.


Heart zones, expressed as a percentage of your Max HR, reflect exercise intensity and the result benefit. Once you have established your Max heart rate, we provide a chart to show you your specific zones. There are five heart zones and they are each 10% of your Max HR so just fill in these numbers below:

Percentage of your Max Heart Rate Examples Enter Your Heart Rates
50% of your Max Heart Rate = (example 90 beats per min)  
60% of your Max Heart Rate = (example 108 beats per min)  
70% of your Max Heart Rate = (example 126 beats per min)  
80% of your Max Heart Rate = (example 144 beats per min)  
90% of your Max Heart Rate = (example 162 beats per min)  
100% of your Max Heart Rate = (example 180 beats per min)  

To determine your zone just join together the percentages and put them in the chart below. It's easy and takes just seconds to know your heart zones.

Zone Number % of Heart Range Enter Your heart Rate Range for Each Zone
1 50%-60% - bpm (example 90 to 108 BPM)
2 60%-70% - bpm  
3 70%-80% - bpm  
4 80%-90% - bpm  
5 90%-100% - bpm  

Using the 5 zone system to plan your exercise program.
1 minute spent exercising in zone 1 = one exercise point
2 minutes spent exercising in zone 2 = two exercise points
3 minutes spent exercising in zone 3 = three exercise points
4 minutes spent exercising in zone 4 = four exercise points
5 minutes spent exercising in zone 5 = five exercise points

To understand the benefits of each of the 5 zones, and to set up a personal training program, please continue reading this article.

Inside each zone, there are different exercise changes which occur as the result of spending training time "in the zone". Let's go through each one briefly so you know why you want to train in the different zones.

Zone 1
50%-60% of your
individual Max HR

This is the safest, most comfortable zone, reached by walking briskly. Here you strengthen your heart and improve muscle mass while you reduce body fat, cholesterol, blood pressure, and your risk for degenerative disease. You get healthier in this zone, but not more fit -- that is, it won't increase your endurance or strength but it will increase your health.

If you're out of shape, have heart problems, or simply want to safeguard your heart without working too hard, spend most of your training time here. It's also the zone for warming up and cooling down before and after more vigorous zones.

Zone 2
60%-70% of your
individual Max HR

It's easily reached by jogging slowly. While still a relatively low level of effort, this zone starts training your body to increase the rate of fat release from the cells to the muscles for fuel.

Some people call this the "fat burning zone" because up to 85 % of the total calories burned in this zone are fat calories which is equally as important.

Fit and unfit people burn fat differently. The more fit you are, the more effectively you use fat to maintain a healthy weight. On the other hand, perhaps you've been exercising vigorously, but not losing the weight you expected to. Could be you've been working too hard and need to drop back to this zone and exercise longer. To burn more total calories you'll need to exercise for more time in this zone.

Zone 3
70%-80% of your
individual Max HR

In this zone -- reached by running easily as an example -- you improve your functional capacity. The number and size of your blood vessels actually increase, you step up your lung capacity and respiratory rate, and your heart increases in size and strength so you can exercise longer before becoming fatigued. You're still metabolizing fats and carbohydrates at about a 50-50 rate which means both are burning at the same ratio.

Zone 4
80%-90% of your
individual Max HR

This zone is reached by going hard -- running faster. Here you get faster and fitter, increasing your heart rate as you cross from aerobic to anaerobic training. At this point, your heart cannot pump enough blood and oxygen to supply the exercising muscles fully so they respond by continuing to contract anaerobically.

This is where you "feel the burn." You can stay in this zone for a limited amount of time, usually not more than an hour. That's because the muscle just cannot sustain working anaerobically (this means without sufficient oxygen) without fatiguing. The working muscles protect themselves from overwork by not being able to maintain the intensity level.

Zone 5
90%-100% of your
individual Max HR

This is the equivalent of running all out and is used mostly as an "interval" training regiment -- exertion done only in short to intermediate length bursts. Even world-class athletes can stay n this zone for only a few minutes at a time. It's not a zone most people will select for exercise since working out here hurts and there is an increased potential for injury.

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