Fitness Articles

Reference Guide to Exercise Intensity

An In-Depth Look at Heart Rate, RPE and the Talk Test

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2. The Karvonen Formula is one of the most effective ways to estimate your target heart rate, because it takes your Resting Heart Rate (a good indicator of your fitness level) into account. Because it’s slightly more involved than other formulas (see #1 above), it isn’t used quite as often. But our Target Heart Rate calculator uses this formula and does all the work for you! You can see the details of this formula below, or simply use our calculator to find your target heart rate.

How to Use the Karvonen Formula:
  • Calculate your Max Heart Rate: (MHR = 220-age)
  • Find your Resting Heart Rate (RHR). Prior to getting out of bed in the morning, take your pulse on your wrist (radial pulse) or on the side of your neck (carotid pulse) for one full minute. This is your true resting heart rate. Measuring at other times of day, even at rest, does not yield the same results. To help assure accuracy, take your resting heart rate three mornings in a row and average the 3 heart rates together.
  • Plug your numbers into the formula, using percentages that reflect your fitness level (i.e. 50% to 60% for beginners and 75% to 85% for advanced), as indicated below:

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About The Author

Jen Mueller Jen Mueller
Jen received her master's degree in health promotion and education from the University of Cincinnati. A mom and avid marathon runner, she is an ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach, medical exercise specialist and behavior change specialist. See all of Jen's articles.

Member Comments

  • Thank you so much for this article! I have been wondering about it, but haven't had time to look it up. Whenever I start exercising again I can't use the recommended heart rates. But after I've been back exercising consistently for a month, then I can start using it. - 5/20/2016 9:08:46 AM
  • I usually do the talk test or PRE, heart rate calculations don't seem to work for me. If I used the guidelines for that I'd never get in a good workout. My resting pulse is normal-to-high (78 last I checked) but I periodically check on the monitors on the gym machines (which admittedly I know are inaccurate) and my heart rate gets really high, like around 180 if I'm pushing myself, 150-160 if just walking on the treadmill at an incline. I have no idea why my heart rate gets so high, when I was in the military my workouts would push it past my "max" heart rate. - 5/15/2016 11:26:33 PM
  • I do the exertion thing, I cannot hold a conversation though so I guess I am working too hard. I am out of breath most of the time while I am walking and especially when I get to go to the gym and use the elliptical or stair climber. I just know I have lost 21 pounds in about 4 months and still have close to 30 to go. - 4/19/2016 9:45:32 PM
  • I can't use the target heart rate method either. I doubt my heart would handle it very well. I run out of breath long before I get there. I will do what I can do, and hope it is enough. I need to lose the weight, but am not willing to die trying. - 4/3/2016 11:00:11 PM
  • Definitely cannot use the target heart rate method - my minimum would throw me into A-Fib if it got that high. I do use perceived rate of exertion and the talk test which both seem to work for me! Research all suggestions then listen to your body!! - 3/12/2016 8:58:28 AM
  • Does this work for people who have a pacemaker/defibri
    llator? I don 't believe my heart rate is allowed to go over 80. - 11/26/2015 11:10:43 PM
  • PUCAKNAPP
    The chart on page 4 has an error. The order should be---
    8. Very hard
    9. Extremely hard
    10. Maximum exertion
    http://www.cdc.
    gov/physicala
    ctivity/basic
    s/measuring/exertion.htm - 11/7/2015 10:18:34 AM
  • I know some people like the definite quantification of having heart rate numbers, but individuals vary in this as in all other bodily measures. A friend's husband was getting extremely frustrated that he was not getting his heart rate up in his "target zone". He finally brought it up with his doctor, who told him that a lifetime of athletic activity had adapted his heart to have a larger than average stroke volume, which meant that his heart was very strong and efficient, pumping more blood per beat, and didn't need to be in the "target zone" to support vigorous activity. Numbers can be a guideline, but they are not the end-all and be-all. - 9/29/2015 11:18:57 AM
  • The older you get, the more different the results of these two formulas are. Very confusing. - 9/29/2015 10:31:12 AM
  • Great info! Thank you for the updated info !!! I've been using the numbers from 20 years ago!!!! - 9/8/2015 12:21:24 PM
  • Good info! Thanks. - 9/5/2015 10:07:41 AM
  • This was really excellent information, which really helps me a lot more than the general, often conflicting, info out there. Thanks too for the Target Heart Rate Calculator and link--that's really helpful! - 6/18/2015 5:41:16 PM
  • WENDYSIAN
    @BELDAME
    I can't stop laughing at your comment lolol
    Its really tickled me that. Fair play, what you say is very true mind! - 5/8/2015 2:12:55 PM
  • NJMSTAR
    I think the the standard formula for determining MHR is very inaccurate for many people. I bought a heart rate monitor thinking I must not be working hard enough because I never saw improvement in my fitness level. According to the formula I should be in defib at rates over 160, but I found that I was frequently in the low to mid 160's and felt fine. When I slow down to the 75 to 80% range it feels like nothing more than a casual stroll. Although I am in better shape than many my age (60), I would hardly be considered an athlete, just a slightly overweight housewife. - 4/11/2015 10:05:09 AM
  • "And what if you are walking 17 mph but it is all hills (up and down)"

    That's some pretty fast walking!!!

    My doctor told me to forget the calculations and heart monitor devices and let your body tell you (as long as you are pushing yourself).

    and basically, you know when you are pushing yourself when " you can answer a question, but not comfortably carry on a conversation."

    the most important thing here is I got my doctor's advice. - 2/24/2015 4:44:27 PM

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