The Average Heart Rate During Exercise


Your heart does not beat at a steady rate during exercise. It varies according to many factors. If you are running on flat ground and you start climbing a hill, for instance, your heart rate will likely increase. If you are cycling and decide to stand and pedal, your heart rate will go up. What’s important to many people is what their average heart rate is during an exercise session. This average heart rate tells you if you have stayed within your preferred target zone.

Target Zones

Exercise is generally divided into two categories—moderate intensity and vigorous. The definition of moderate intensity varies, but generally it is anything from 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate. According to the National Institutes for Health, vigorous exercise is anything over 70 percent of your MHR.


The best way to determine your average heart rate during an exercise session is to wear a heart rate monitor that calculates it for you. According to Rice University, some heart rate monitors not only calculate average beats per minute, but they also measure how much time you’ve spent in your target range. On some units, this data can be downloaded to your computer so you can look at the numbers over a period of time and see your improvement.


Many experts, from the University of Washington to the American College of Sports Medicine, recommend that people alternate exercising at moderate and vigorous intensity to gain maximum health and fitness benefits. Moderate workouts help build endurance and aid recovery from vigorous workouts. Vigorous exercise provides “greater cardioprotective benefits”—such as reducing the risk of coronary heart disease—than moderate exercise, according to researchers at the University of New Mexico.


Your average heart rate can tell you whether you are exercising hard enough or too hard. Just as you use your average heart rate to make sure your vigorous exercise is indeed above 70 percent of your MHR, you should make sure your average heart rate during moderate bouts stays within the moderate range. Exercising too hard on your easy days can lead to burnout caused by overtraining, researchers at the University of Washington say.


Your average heart rate for a given pace of exercise will decline as you become more fit through regular exercise. According to Rice University researchers, that is because your body adapts to working hard and becomes more efficient at delivering oxygen and energy to working muscles. The muscles become better at utilizing the oxygen and fuel.

About this Author

Jim Sloan is a writer and editor in Reno, Nevada. He has been a journalist for more than 25 years and is the author of two books, “Staying Fit After Fifty,” and “Nevada: True Tales from the Neon Wilderness.”