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The Target Heart Rate For HIIT + How To Know If You've Reached It

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September 4, 2020

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) has timesaving and health benefits. The speedy workout style helps elevate the heart rate, to optimize cardiovascular and physical fitness. If you're not reaching that optimal heart rate, though, the benefits may not be as evident. So, how do you know if you're reaching the proper beats per minute?

In a mindbodygreen podcast episode, personal trainer Todd McCullough shares the target heart rate to reach while engaging in HIIT training and how to know if you've reached it—no fancy technology needed.

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Why HIIT training?

HIIT training describes a type of exercise that alternates between short bursts of intense training with short recovery periods. According to McCullough, these workouts should take only seven to 25 minutes, including the warmup. "That seven to 25 minutes, a couple of days a week, does a lot of good," he says. 

Like all things, it depends on your body type and physical fitness level. If walking every day feels better on the body than squat jumps, that's perfectly OK. But "assuming your joints are fine, your back is not hurting, your knees aren't hurting, you can't beat the efficiency of HIIT training," he says. 

What is the target heart rate for a HIIT workout?

In order to be effective, HIIT workouts should cause the heart rate to reach 80 to 90% its maximum capacity, McCullough explains. 

According to the American Heart Association, maximum heart rate1 is about 220 minus your age. To get the target heart rate, calculate the goal percentage (80 to 90% in this case). For example, a person who is 30 years old would have a maximum heart rate of 190; an 80% target rate of 152; and a 90% target rate of 171. Here's a chart to help:

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How can you tell if you've reached target heart rate?

You could pull out a calculator to get these numbers, then check your pulse to see if it matches, but McCullough shares a simpler way to find out whether you've reached the target heart rate. And no, it doesn't require smartwatches or heart rate monitors. 

The easiest way to figure it out is by talking to someone, McCullough says. If you have trouble talking clearly, that's a good sign you've reached that anaerobic (80 to 90%) zone, he explains. "As little as seven minutes [of that heart rate] a day can have an impact." 

Bottom line.

With just seven to 25 minutes each day—yes, that includes the warmup—your body can reach an optimal heart rate and ultimately improve cardiovascular and overall health. "If you're in a time crunch, HIIT training makes sense," McCullough says. 

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