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First, you need a yardstick for gauging your intensity level. Use this formula to find your maximum heart rate, or how many times your heart beats per minute (bpm) when you're going full throttle.
206 - (your age) x 0.88 = ____ bpm
So if you're 26, that's 180 x 0.88 = 158 bpm.Get in the Zone
Now you can calculate your intensity as a percentage of your maximum heart rate rather than guessing how hard you're going. Using your device, aim for the bpm percentage ranges below, based on the type of workout you're hankering for.
60% to 75%
Light to moderate intensity: An easy sing-if-you-want pace for building endurance or recovering between sprints.
75% to 85%
Moderately challenging: A brisk pace (you can speak only in choppy sentences) that boosts your aerobic capacity so you can go longer before you feel fatigued.
85% to 90%
High intensity: A push-it pace (you can eke out a word or two at a time): good for intervals between one and four minutes long, which challenge your V02 max.
90% to 95%
Sprint: An all-out pace for short intervals of up to one minute; works fast-twitch muscles, which are your power boosters.
0 to 5: Warm-up; Zone 60 to 75
5 to 11: Moderate-intensity run; Zone 75 to 85
11 to 14: Recovery jog or walk; Zone 65*
14 to 17: High-intensity run; Zone 85 to 90
17 to 20: Recovery jog or walk; Zone 65*
20 to 21: Sprint; Zone 90 to 95
21 to 25: Cool-down; Zone 65
*Jog or walk until your heart rate comes down to 65 percent; adjust timing if needed.
Bulky black heart rate monitors are so five minutes ago. Rock one of these stylin' high-tech picks instead.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, October 2013.