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Maximize Cardio Workouts Using Your Heart Rate

Understanding heart rate zones will help you track your performance as you work toward your fitness goals.

by goldsgym

Whether you’re new to cardiovascular exercise or hoping to improve your results on your fitness journey, our cardio heart rate guide will help you get the most out of your workout.

Brooke Daniels, a Gold’s Gym fitness expert, says cardio workouts will help you lose weight or maintain your current weight, increase your heart strength and lung capacity and reduce your risk of developing diabetes.

Studies show there are other benefits of cardio exercise such as improved memory, cognitive function and mood. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services recommends that adults complete at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, or 75 minutes of high-intensity activity, per week.

Benefits start with breathing

“The key to cardio is remembering that breathing deeper and faster maximizes the amount of oxygen in your blood,” Daniels explains. “When you’re at the point of breathing fast and deep, that’s when you’re burning fat and calories.”

Calculate your maximum cardio heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. (Example: a 40-year-old’s maximum heart rate is about 180 beats per minute.) This helps you calculate your target heart rate, which is based on percentages of the max heart rate.

“People typically hop on a treadmill and hit ‘quick start’ because they want to get moving,” Daniels says. “But hitting ‘manual’ or a specific workout program is better, because it will ask you for your age and weight and then calculate the target heart rate, which will help guide you through your workout.”

Cardio heart rate zone guide

Cardio exercise falls into four zones. Although they may vary slightly, these zones display on the dashboards of most pieces of cardio equipment (and are featured on cardio workouts in the GOLD’S AMP™ app). Check throughout your workout to make sure your heart rate registers within the zones that align with your goals.

1. Warmup zone (Walk)
Your heart rate is in this zone during low-intensity activity such as walking your dog or getting the mail. A smart warmup is about 5 to 10 minutes spent gradually raising your heart rate. A cooldown should be about the same amount of time.

2. Moderate zone (Base)
This is the range for weight loss. You should be working at 50 to 70 percent of your max heart rate (for the 40-year-old, between 90 and 126 beats per minute). Your intensity should fluctuate throughout the workout. Many of the machines at Gold’s Gym, such as treadmills, have preset programs to help ensure this.

3. High-intensity zone (Burn)
Here you’ll aim to work at about 70 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate (for the 40-year-old, that’s a range of 126 to 153 beats per minute). This is where cardio can become an anaerobic exercise — a type of training that promotes strength, speed and power.

4. Maximum-effort zone (All-out)
This is where you’re hitting your max heart rate (for the 40-year-old, that’s 180 beats per minute) because you’re pushing as hard as you can. After reaching your max, you’ll need time to recover. A good pattern is 20 seconds of exercise followed by 40 seconds of rest, Daniels says.

Zone transitions

After warming up, take one to two minutes to get into the moderate zone. When you’re ready to advance to high-intensity and maximum-effort, take the same amount of time to get into each. It’s up to you to listen to your body and adjust intensity as needed, especially since max cardio heart rate changes as we age and can vary greatly from person to person. “Understanding how you feel is key,” Daniels says.


See more cardio fitness posts on the Gold’s Gym blog and keep up with us on social media:

Step Up: Treadmill Workout for Beginners
Dive Into This Pool Workout



Gold’s Gym has been defining the fitness industry since 1965. From its beginning as a small gym in Venice, California, Gold’s Gym has grown into a global icon with nearly 700 locations across 6 continents. Featuring state-of-the-art equipment, certified personal trainers, a diverse group exercise program and a supportive, motivating environment, Gold’s Gym delivers a dynamic fitness experience focused on strength and performance. More than a gym, Gold’s Gym combines coaching, community and more than 55 years of fitness expertise to help people around the world achieve their potential through fitness.

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