Posted by: Dr. Tyrone A. Holmes | November 7, 2008

Calculating Your Training Zones with the Karvonen Method

        Greetings, in my last post, I introduced a very simple method for calculating your training zones based on maximum heart rate (MHR).  While fine for most exercisers, using the 220 – your age  formula can be inaccurate when it comes to estimating MHR.  Therefore, I will describe another method for determining your Training Zones known as the Karvonen Heart Rate Reserve Method.  Heart rate reserve is the difference between your MHR and your resting heart rate (RHR).  It represents the working heart rate range within which all activity occurs.  While the Karvonen formula also has the weakness of estimated MHR, it is more useful because it takes your current physical condition into consideration (i.e., lower RHR is correlated with increased aerobic fitness).  It is also more closely aligned to your Maximal Oxygen Uptake (also known as VO2 Max, it is the highest amount of oxygen you can utilize in a given time period).  The formula is as follows:

(MHR – RHR) x Desired Intensity + RHR = HR in beats per minute (determine your RHR by wearing your heart rate monitor overnight).

Using the Karvonen method and assuming a RHR of 70 BPM, the Heart Rate Training Zones for the 30 year old man described in my previous post would be as follows:

  • Zone 1 = 130 to 142 BPM
  • Zone 2 = 142 to 154 BPM
  • Zone 3 = 154 to 166 BPM
  • Zone 4 = 166 to 178 BPM
  • Zone 5 = 178 to 190 BPM

Notice how the heart rate zones are significantly higher using the Karvonen Method.  Because of this, only competitive athletes and experienced exercisers in excellent physical condition should use this method.  Beginners and those trying to ‘get into shape’ should stick with the standard MHR formula described in my previous post.  It may be less accurate, but it is a safer place to start.  As your physical condition improves, consider switching to the Karvonen Method.

NEXT POST – November 12, 2008

A More Accurate Way to Determine Maximum Heart Rate


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