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Finding your Workout Zone

Updated on September 17, 2012

With the value humans place on time, it is frustrating to feel like ours is wasted. Everyday people make the active decision to begin an exercise regimen even though many have only a basal amount of knowledge on what they need to do to achieve their health and fitness goals.

Most of us know someone that goes to the local gym or “Y”, puts in countless hours of exercise every week but never seems to physically change. These people always stay within an arm’s reach of obtaining their goals and never seem to know why. So why do an elite few come to the gym and watch the pounds melt away while others continue to spin their tires in the mud?

Just because people seem to be having greater success with their fitness program does not necessarily mean they have better genetics or a faster metabolism. This also does not mean these people are working out harder than the person next to them. More than likely, these people are simply using their workout time more effectively and burning calories at a more efficient rate. If there is one particularly important training tip someone should research before restarting their workout engine, finding their personal workout zone is definitely the answer.

What is a Workout Zone?

Some people might not know what a workout zone is. More popularly known, a workout zone is someone’s target heart rate zone. Because it is a zone, the workout zone has a high and a low number which gives people an effective and safe range to exercise within. Each person’s workout zone is individual specific and is based upon their age and current level of fitness.

Because no two people are alike, people have different workout zones. This means that Sally, who is age 43 and who has a friend Jen, who is also 43, may not have the same exact workout zones.

Because the workout zone is based on a person’s current level of fitness, a person’s workout zone can change multiple times per year as the person becomes more fit and in better aerobic shape. The opposite is true as well. If someone leaves the gym at an elite level of fitness, then returns after taking a six month hiatus, don’t expect them to come back having the same cardiovascular recovery time as they did when they left the gym six months ago.

Find your Average Resting Heart Rate

A workout zone is a basic math formula. The first thing you need to do, in obtaining your workout zone, is to get your average resting heart rate (RHR). The best time to do this is immediately after waking up from sleep and before getting out of bed. It is recommended after sleep because this is the time the resting heart rate is the most accurate. If you attempt to take your RHR during the mid-day, things such as stress, caffeine, nicotine, and physical movement affect the result.

In order to get a RHR, you will need to locate your brachial artery and count your pulse for an entire minute.

The brachial artery is found in the neckline. Place your index and middle fingers directly under the ear, then slide your fingers down until they are directly under the jawbone, pressing slightly.

You may average your RHR over three mornings to obtain the average resting heart rate. Add the three numbers together and divide the number by three to get the RHR. For example: (62+65+63)/3 = 63

Find your Maximum Heart Rate and Heart Rate Reserve

Next, find your maximum heart rate and heart rate reserve. Obtaining your maximum heart rate (also known as HRMax) is easy. Simply take 220 and subtract your age. For example, the HRMax for a 42-year-old would be: 220-42 = 178 beat per minute (BPM).

To get your heart rate reserve (also known as HRmaxRESERVE), subtract your RHR from your HRMax. For example: 178-63 = 115 BPM.

Obtain your Low Number

I previously mentioned the workout zone is a range and that a range includes two numbers. The first number is the lower end of your workout range. The low end of the range is calculated at using approximately 60% of your aerobic heart rate capacity. This means that once your heart rate arrives at this number, your body will be working at 60% of your maximum heart rate capacity. Anything under this range and you will be spinning your tires in the mud and wasting your time like the example of people mentioned above.

To get your lower HR limit, figure 60% of your HRmaxRESERVE (multiply by 0.6) and add your RHR to the answer. For example: (115 X 0.6) + 63 = 132 BPM.

Obtain your High Number

Now we need to get to the high range number. The high range number is calculated at using approximately 80% of your aerobic heart rate capacity. Working at 80% of your maximum heart rate ensures that you will definitely be burning calories at an effective clip. The high range also serves as protection from keeping you from getting too close to your maximum heart rate range. Getting too close to your maximum heart rate can open yourself up to heart failure and other cardiac stress attacks.

To get your upper HR limit, figure 80% of your HRmaxRESERVE (multiply by 0.8) and add your RHR to the answer. For example: (115 X 0.8) + 63 = 155 BPM

Put it all Together

So for the above example, this 42 year-old person’s workout zone would be: 132-155 BPM

This might sound confusing but it really is not. If you have any further questions/suggestions, please don’t hesitate to post them. Now get to the gym and make your workout time count!

Other Things to Consider

More information and other things to consider when thinking about finding your workout zone:


Healthy Heart Zone (Warm up) --- 50 - 60% of maximum heart rate: The easiest zone and probably the best zone for people just starting a fitness program. It can also be used as a warm up for more serious walkers. This zone has been shown to help decrease body fat, blood pressure and cholesterol. It also decreases the risk of degenerative diseases and has a low risk of injury. 85% of calories burned in this zone are fats!

Fitness Zone (Fat Burning) --- 60 - 70% of maximum heart rate: This zone provides the same benefits as the healthy heart zone, but is more intense and burns more total calories. The percent of fat calories is still 85%.

Aerobic Zone (Endurance Training) --- 70 - 80% of maximum heart rate: The aerobic zone will improve your cardiovascular and respiratory system AND increase the size and strength of your heart. This is the preferred zone if you are training for an endurance event. More calories are burned with 50% from fat.

Anaerobic Zone (Performance Training) --- 80 - 90% of maximum heart rate: Benefits of this zone include an improved VO2 maximum (the highest amount of oxygen one can consume during exercise) and thus an improved cardiorespiratory system, and a higher lactate tolerance ability which means your endurance will improve and you'll be able to fight fatigue better. This is a high intensity zone burning more calories, 15 % from fat.

Red Line (Maximum Effort) --- 90 - 100% of maximum heart rate: Although this zone burns the highest number of calories, it is very intense. Most people can only stay in this zone for short periods. You should only train in this zone if you are in very good shape and have been cleared by a physician to do so.


  • When you take your reading for your resting heart rate, make sure to do so the morning after a day where you are rested, as trying to do this after a day of a hard workout can affect your results.
  • You should ensure during your workout that your heart rate falls within your target heart rate zone to maximize cardiovascular fitness.
  • A rule-of-thumb is that if you're able to sing, you're not working out hard enough. Conversely, if you're not able to talk, you're working out too hard.
  • One of the most common ways to take a pulse is to lightly touch the artery on the thumb-side of the wrist, using your index and middle fingers. This is called a radial pulse check.
  • You may also place two fingers below the jawline, along the trachea (windpipe) to feel for a pulse, again using your index and middle fingers. This is called a carotid pulse check.
  • When taking your pulse for ten seconds during a workout, stop exercising. Do not allow yourself to rest before taking your pulse, and immediately resume exercise after the ten seconds. Multiply by 6 and you'll have your heart rate.
  • If you are serious about working out and becoming more cardiovascularly fit, you may want to consider purchasing a heart monitor for accurate readings during your workout sessions.
  • You can get dehydrated so don't forget to drink lots of water!


Make it count!

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    • ChristyWrites profile image

      Christy Birmingham 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      You present a wealth of useful information here for people working out at any fitness level. Note to self to go for the planned walk soon!

    • jaybird22 profile image

      jaybird22 6 years ago from New York

      billybuc - 63? Nice try, I have a client that is 76 ;-) The beauty of this information is that it can be used by anyone regardless of what your age is.

      Whereas a walk around the neighborhood might not even elevate an athletes heart rate, it could very well put you in your cardio zone. Something that might put an athlete in a cardio zone might put you in an anaerobic zone.

      Start out slow. Find out what your fitness goals are, relay it to the above listed workout zones, and start to conduct an activity that will get you into this zone.

      You may be surprised. Maybe some of the simple things you do around the house, like using a push mower, already puts you into this zone and you don't even realize it.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Jay, I'm trying to support you but I'm sixty-three years old and you have me reading hubs about workouts???? Can't you write something about going for slow walks around the neighborhood?

      Very good hub and information even if it wasn't written for me. :)

    • jaybird22 profile image

      jaybird22 6 years ago from New York

      Thanks ksinll ;-)

    • profile image

      ksinll 6 years ago

      Good information.


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