Fitness Goals

How Hard Should I Be Working During My Cardio Sessions?

Target Heart Rate/ Fat Burning Zone

Cardiorespiratory exercise (running, jumping, stepping, spinning aerobic class) is a good way to improve our aerobic capacity. As our aerobic strength increases, the efficiency at which we’re using oxygen increases, and we’re able to sustain longer activity. People often work out on cardio equipment but fail to make progress either in their weight loss or in their endurance or strength. There are many possible reasons for this. Most often, I find that it is because they are not working hard enough. Sometimes this is because they were led to believe that there’s some sort of fat burning zone which is way lower than their perceived maximum exertion—which is somewhat of a misconception…So how hard should you be working?

Some fitness professionals used to believe that if you worked out at a lower intensity you would be burning more fat. The idea was that your body requires less energy when you are working out at a lower intensity so the body would dip into fat stores rather than glucose (sugar)/blood sugar/sugar stored in your muscles for fuel. You may even still see target heart rate on some workout machines at gyms and find that this is targeting you to work out at 60-65% of your maximum heart rate…as if this is some sort of unique fat burning zone. Yes, it’s true that this is the aerobic training zone whose main source of fuel is carbs, fat and protein and where the anaerobic system mainly uses glucose for fuel. However, when you work out harder, and reach into the anaerobic zone, you burn more calories overall and therefore burn more fat calories and more sugar calories.

Take for instance, if you are working out at the gym for 30 minutes at your “target heart rate of 60%” and you burn 200 calories. For the point of illustration lets say 70% of those are from fat and 30% are from sugar. However if you spend the same30 minutes working at a higher intensity and burn like 300 calories, with 50% from fat and 50% is glucose..You are burning more calories from fat and more calories overall!

To further press the point, look at it this way: glucose that doesn’t get burned off can turn into fat anyway.

Another benefit of working in the anaerobic zone is the after-burn. What that means is that the body’s metabolism remains elevated longer after the workout. (Also known as excess post oxygen consumption).

Recovery of the metabolic rate after a cardio workout can be several minutes post-workout if you stay only in the aerobic zone, but after anaerobic training, it can be several hours and even up to 12 hours or longer for exhaustive interval training or circuit weight training. This post-exercise energy expenditure during the recovery can really speed weight loss.

OK, before you foolishly exert yourself into oblivion…just wait..and keep reading. I like to give clients a Target Heart Rate Range for establishing a safe and effective cardio training parameter. There are a few methods in which to do this but for today, I’m going to give you the simplest formula I know to get a good estimate.

(The drawback to this formula is that is underestimates Heart Rate Max for men and women under age 40 and overestimates it for men and women over 40..but knowing this, you can always fine-tune for your self). Here goes:

Target Heart Rate Formula:

Take 220 and subtract your age to get your age predicted maximal hart rate.

For instance:

220-40 years old= 180 This is the theoretical maximal heart rate of a 40 year old.

Then, multiply the result (in this case 180) by the percentage of maximum you would work at

I recommend keeping your heart rate between 64% and 94% of max. So the target heart rate range for this client would be between 115 and 169 beats per minute for safety sake.

Furthermore, I like to break it down for clients who are just starting out so they can progress safely or so that we can work in a class setting so as to monitor intensity for the warm-up, body of the workout and cool down. (Some folks push too hard in the warm up and cannot sustain that level during the bulk of the workout) this gives them a guideline.

The first zone for beginners would be 65-75% of maximum, the second zone 80-85%, and the third zone 86-90% of maximum

In the case of the 40 year old:

.65x 180= 117
So the first level is 117-135 Beats per minute

And so on….

.80x 180=
.85x 180=
For level 2

For level 3

Realistically, you cannot sustain 94% too long, and at 60% you’re not making too much impact on your cardio strength unless you are a beginner. For those unaccustomed to exercise, we may start out in zone 1 for 2 or even 3 weeks and adjust as necessary. Seasoned exercisers may want to strive for the 80%+ for the bulk of their workout. Those using High Intensity Interval Training (a topic for another post) may want to spike their workout with intervals in the 80-90% range occasionally. These guidelines are for healthy individuals. (The recent recommendations for pregnant women is not to exceed 140 beats per minute but please check with your healthcare provider for your individual situation…Those with CVD risk factors, or on blood pressure medication will have unusually low heart rate readings so the method discussed here may not apply. Again, please check with your healthcare provider.)

One great way to monitor how hard you are working that I highly recommend, is to wear a heart rate monitor. These are relatively inexpensive, easy to get (most sporting good stores have them) and allow you to know your heart rate at a glance.

You can also measure the number of beats in 10 second pulse check at the radial (wrist) artery or the carotid (neck) artery and then multiply by 6 to give you the approximate number of beats per minute..(10×6=60 seconds in a minute) (Please don’t stop moving while you are checking as this can cause blood to pool in your extremities and cause you to be keep moving or at least lifting your knees)

Another methods for monitoring intensity include the talk test and the rate of perceived exertion.

Now you know how hard you should be working during your cardio workouts. 220 – age x % of max (60-90% of max) you want to work in.


Fitness Theory and Practice : A Comprehensive Resource for Group Fitness Instructors.Aerobics and Fitness Association of America. Fifth Edition 2010. p. 254 -256

NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training Third Edition Ed. Miceal A. Clark, Scott C. Lucett, Rodney J. Corn 2008. p. 110

Fitness Goals

Setting S.M.A.R.T. Fitness Goals

(Originally posted January 1, 2012)


Any day is a good day to make a fresh start on your fitness plan but as covention has it, the first day of the new year is typically when most of us resolve to make a new beginning…and the first day of 2012 is here! For those of us that have fallen way off the healthy diet and exercise wagon, the temptation to make drastic changes to our lifestyle is strong. Unfortunately, old habits die hard and after a few weeks, earnest resolutions often end in frustration. Before you set your New Year’s fitness resolutions, know that there is a technique to being successful. I suggest making S.M.A.R.T goals as your first step.

S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym for the 5 steps of specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based goals. It’s a simple tool used by businesses to go beyond the realm of fuzzy goal-setting into an actionable plan for results and its equally applicable to our individual fitness goals. As with business plans, our fitness plan also needs to be flexible/a work in progress and we need to evaluate it periodically—to make sure we are on track or that the plan meets our lifestyle. A woman who becomes pregnant, for instance might need to re-write parts her plan to accommodate her new needs


Specific, focused goals are more likely to happen and can jump-start other exercise goals. Rather than saying things like, “I will work out 3 times a week”, plan it out. For instance, “I will l attend spin class on Tuesdays with Amanda, lift weights for

my upper body with a trainer Thursdays, and do yoga on Sunday.” Better yet, if you are relatively sedentary, start by signing up for that first personal training session or take a walk around the block or visit to the yoga studio just to check it out ..Yes, even that is a step in the right direction.


One of the most motivating things about fitness goals is that they are easy to measure. Get naked in front of a mirror and take a good long look. Make a mental note of what you like and what you don’t. Yes, also note what you do like! Take our your measuring tape. Measure your thighs, calves, biceps, forearms, waist, hips, bust and tush. You can take out your “skinny jeans” and use these as a sign of your progress. You can also use fat calipers to measure your percentages. You can also use the scale*. Write it down, re-check these numbers once a month. Things like blood pressure and cholesterol are affected by diet and exercise. These can be

measured by your physician, consult with him/her on when a good time for a re-check would be. Keep a journal to log your daily diet and exercise –studies show it helps you reach those goals faster!

*One note about the scale as a measure, is that our body weight fluctuates regularly depending on where we are in our menstrual cycle, how much salt we consume, water we drink etc. Also, muscle is more dense than fat so there will be times early on that your weight won’t change much but your body will. Therefore, weighing yourself daily becomes somewhat irrelevant. I recommend weighing yourself on the same scale at the same time of day wearing the same outfit/none only once a week.


High and unrealistic goal sets you up for failure. If you cannot run around the block, running a marathon in a month isn’t a realistic goal! Maybe running a 5K in 6 months would be a good plan. Deciding to cut all sugar or carbohydrates is likely to set you into binge mode. Take a moderate approach to sweets – indulge in a square of dark chocolate once a week, just don’t make a meal of it and don’t feel the need to cut it out entirely. Take it one day at a time. Instead of deciding on a huge long

-term goal like losing 40 lbs in 4 months, try to set short-term goals by the month or even the day such as “lose 4 lbs. by February, or “lose a pound a week,” or “cut 250 calories per day.” When you reach your mini-goals be sure to celebrate them! Reward yourself with a new pair of leggings or a bandana for instance. Then, continue to set new small goals to help you attain that big goal at the end of your weight-loss rainbow.


This is where you ask yourself. Why do I want to lose the weight? Why do I want to be stronger? Shut out all your negative thoughts, close your eyes and really focus on why you want to get moving. Is it because you are fed up with the aches and pains you suffer because of carrying around so much extra weight? Is it because you huff and puff when climbing a set of stairs? Has your yearly doctor checkup resulted in a prescription for cholesterol medication and a scary talk? High school reunion coming and you’re embarrassed to show up in the outfits you have in your closet? Nobody but you has to see these reasons though, so go ahead and purge it on paper.


Grab a piece of paper. Decide on your overall goal and write it in a place you will see it. Then, decide on smaller goals—something you can reach in one week from the start date. It could be as simple as losing a pound or swapping out 1% milk in your coffee for the full-fat or cream you have been using, or going for a walk each morning. Set a new goal for each week without losing the progress you made the first week. Keep those and build on your success. Then set a goal for one month from your start date and a year and so on until you reach your dream.

What are your fitness goals? Why are you starting to work out this year? Feel free to share them with other readers…