What Should My Heart Rate Target Be?

by Wendy
(Salem, Iowa)

I am a 37 yr old female and I've just started running over the past summer. I am up to running 40 min and my heart rate gets up to 190 sometimes. Is this too high? My husband says I shouldn't run with such a high heart rate because it can be dangerous.

I am about 7 pounds overweight right now but I've lost so far a total of 43 pounds, so I am not in tip-top shape but I don't feel strained when my heart rate gets that high.

What should my heart rate be when I'm running to be safe?

Thank you for any help you can give!

running tips
Answer by Dominique:
Hi there,
Thanks for your question regarding your high heart rate during running.

My first question would be how you measure your heart rate and if you are sure it is accurate.

190 is very high, most likely to be near or at your maximum heart rate.

With your heart pounding out of your chest it is unlikely that you don't feel strained when your heart rate gets so high.

Then again, your specific physiology and your past fitness/exercise experiences may contribute to you having a high heart rate during exercise.

It sounds like you were obese and you may not have had a history of exercising; this often causes people to have a much higher heart rate during exercise.

Your heart pumps around the blood in your body. When your heart hasn't been trained and is not that strong, it requires more beats to pump around sufficient blood.

I am not saying it is something to worry about, I am not saying it is dangerous without knowing how long your heart stays at this level and how often you get to this level. If this is just once a week for short amounts of time, no problems. When I do speed work my heart rate gets high as well.

However, if you reach this heart rate every time you exercise and for prolonged periods of time, then yes, I'd encourage you to make some changes. I would encourage you to work out your maximum heart rate first, then use a calculator like the Zoladz heart rate calculator or Karvonen heart rate calculator to work out the appropriate running training zones.

Most of your running, especially as a beginner, should be in the lower zones (zone 1 and zone 2).

Alternatively you can use the Maffetone approach, which is to take as your maximum heart rate for cardio: 180 - age. This works out to be 180 - 37 = 143 for you, and he'd make you subtract an extra 5 because you haven't been running consistently for the last two years, so 138.

Whichever method you use, Maffetone, Karvonen or Zoladz, you'll get a much lower target value, something in the 130-150 range probably, depending on the method.

Now, running at such a low heart rate is, at first, frustrating. You'll have to walk a lot, stop and start etc. But it is really, really worth it. What I am asking you to do is to go through that and stick with it for a month.

You will find that your body adjusts over time.

Soon, you'll be able to keep on running while sticking to your target heart rate zone. Then, you'll find that you'll get faster while not increasing your heart rate.

As you do this it is most likely that both your rest heart rate and maximum heart rate will drop to lower levels. This provides a lot of benefits: increased fitness, you'll feel less stressed and worn out and you'll most likely sleep better as well.

I think you have done really well with the weight loss you have been experiencing and the exercise you have been doing. Now it is time for the next step in the process: becoming truly healthy by doing exercise that truly helps you develop your cardiovascular system.

Dr Maffetone has written an excellent book on the benefits of low heart rate training, Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing.

He is a bit of an acquired taste. His writing will not appeal to everyone. It took me a few read-throughs to fully appreciate what he is saying.

The book is looking at your holistic health, i.e. an overall approach, looking at different factors that can influence higher heart rates and not obtaining your athletic potential.

And he proposes some fairly rigorous changes, not only to exercise, but also to your diet.

The book is useful to all runners, especially if you want to get to a new level of health and fitness, but appears to be really useful for you, given your high heart rate.

Hope this helps.
Kind regards,

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