Cardio Intensity Guidelines



The “Talk Test”

This is probably the most familiar of the cardio intensity guidelines methods. It is a subjective measurement, yet it is convenient and considered reliable. Here is how it works . . .

Once you are warmed up and have worked up a little sweat by walking or jogging, test yourself by trying to speak in short sentences — utterances of just a few words. If you can do it without gasping for air, you are not going too fast. On the other hand, if you can talk on and on, while not even breathing hard, you are going too slowly. Pick up the pace.

For more cardio intensity guidelines precision, there are all sorts pulse rate monitoring devices you wear like a wristwatch. These can work well because a quick glance at a monitor isn’t much of an interruption in your workout.

Heart monitors on treadmill handrails are convenient too. Grip the handrails for a few seconds and see your heart rate is right there on the screen. No stopping for pesky calculations. Pretty neat.



The Standard Method (most commonly used) . . .

  • Subtract your age from the number 220. That is your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR). Do not exercise at or near your Maximum Heart Rate.

  • Exercise instead at your Target Heart Rate (THR), which should be between 60% and 90% of your MHR.

  • Beginners’ Target Heart Rates should be in the 60% to 70% range. Intermediates, 70% to 80%. And advanced exercisers, 80% to 90%

  • Do not go above 90% for sustained periods.

  • To increase aerobic capacity, train at least 3 times per week, and approximately 4 to 6 weeks in one category before moving up to the next level.

The Karvonen Formula (considered more precise than the Standard Method) . . .

  • Determine your resting heart rate (RHR) by measuring it before getting out of bed in the morning. Count your heartbeats for 10 seconds, and multiply by 6. That is your resting heartbeat. (As your cardiovascular system becomes stronger, your resting heartbeat will become lower. So you will need to repeat the measurement.)

  • Now determine your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR): Subtract your age from 220. That is your MHR.

  • Subtract your resting heart rate (RHR) from your maximum heart rate (MHR).

  • Multiply that figure by the intensity percentage you want (between 50% and 85%).

  • Add your resting heart rate (RHR) to that figure.

  • That is your Target Heart Rate (THR) using the Karvonen Formula for cardio intensity guidelines.


Always check with your physician before beginning an exercise program.



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