Use the Karvonen Method to Determine Your Heart Rate Training Targets

Posted by Filed Under: Training

The basis for how you determine your target heart rate may not be exactly correct.

In the past when I figured out the heart rates I should be training at, I used training zones like the ones listed below and described by Sports Coach Brian Mac:

The Energy Efficient/Recovery Zone – 60% to 70%
The Aerobic Zone – 70% to 80%
The Anaerobic Zone – 80% to 90%
The Red Line Zone 90% to 100%

It’s only been recent that I was shown that our zones are not accurately arrived at by simply multiplying our maximum heart rate by percentages. Andrew, of Downeast Running, introduced me to the Karnoven Method for determining accurate heart rate training targets.

Wikipedia does an excellent job of describing the Karnoven Method:

Target Heart Rate = ((Maximum Heart Rate – Resting Heart Rate) × %Intensity) + Resting Heart Rate

So, for someone with a Maximum Heart Rate of 180 and a Resting Heart Rate of 70 we have two examples:

For A 50% Target Heart Rate: ((180 − 70) × 0.50) + 70 = 125 bpm
For a 85% Target Heart Rate: ((180 − 70) × 0.85) + 70 = 163 bpm

I can say from personal experience that the Karnoven Method target heart rates feel right compared to using the Max Heart Rate x % formula I used previously. I found that staying under the 80% aerobic zone target using the standard method was difficult—the pace felt too slow under that method which put my target heart rate at 160 beats per minute. But, with the Karnoven Method, my target became 170—a heart rate which allowed me to run at a faster pace while still carrying on a conversation—an often used indicator of appropriate aerobic effort.
And how does all this help you become a better runner? Take a look at this article by Jeff for the answer and then give the formula a try. I suspect you won’t be disappointed.
Was this article a bit ahead of the learning curve for you? Don’t worry because next week we’ll talk about the basics around Resting Heart Rate, Maximum Heart Rate and how to measure them.

About Mark Iocchelli

Also known as the "Running Blogfather", I'm a 40-something marathoner who has beaten stress fractures and terrible shin splints. Now I'm running double the mileage with no pain - and I'm getting faster. I love to talk about running form and Arthur Lydiard. I also enjoy taking photographs, have a beautiful (and very patient!) wife, and am the proud father of two crazy kids. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments about the site.

  1. Funky Dung on October 27th at 10:52 am

    Any suggestions for estimating max heartrate. Every time I think I have the right value, my heart monitor eventually tells me I’ve gone over 100%.

  2. Mark Iocchelli on October 27th at 11:09 am

    Hey Funky Dung,

    Yeah, I will post something next week for everyone. How does that sound?

  3. air-run on October 27th at 11:30 am

    Well written article Mark!

  4. Blaine Moore (Run to Win) on October 27th at 7:30 pm

    Funky Dung, I wrote about how to determine your max heart rate about a year ago. Basically, I think that the 220-age formula is way too innacurate to be worth using. A better method is to do a workout designed to elevate your heart rate and to work off of the max you get out of that.

    Personally, I rarely worry about my heart rate when I am running. I think that the resting heart rate is a much more useful thing to know. Then again, I have a very good sense of per mile pace and how far I’ve been running and can plan workouts around that.

    Mark, I’m looking forward to reading your method for determining the max heart rate.

  5. A Passion for Running » my training plan + Q&A on March 7th at 9:58 pm

    […] Q: How did you figure out your “easy” “hard” “recovery” and long run training targets? A: Coach Andrew taught me the Karnoven Method for calculating heart rate based training targets. My Karnoven targets are: […]

  6. Heart Rate Monitors: Do They Make a Difference? » Complete Running Network on December 4th at 3:29 pm

    […] Read these related CompleteRunning articles: You Gotta Have Heart, Miles & Miles & Miles of Heart! Use the Karvonen Method to Determine Your Heart Rate Training Targets; […]

  7. How to Accurately Determine Your Maximum Heart Rate & Have An Out of Body Experience At the Same Time : Complete Running Network on January 7th at 11:28 pm

    […] from parts one and two ———————————— […]

  8. Jimbo on January 26th at 11:23 am

    Okay guys, so you use the Karvonen method (HRR). Do you then also train with a higher actual heart rate when your resting heart rate goes up (getting ill or getting over-trained)? Cause that’s what Karvonen says you should… Also, as you get fitter (lower resting heart rate), then you should train at a lower actual heart rate… says Karvonen… when you should at least stay at the same actual heart rate, but instead increase speed.

  9. aw on May 4th at 10:07 am


    The Karvonen method is simply a mathematical tool for calculating your target heart rate based on your NORMAL resting heart rate. If your resting heart rate is faulty due to illness or overtraining, the Karvonen method will calculate a faulty target zone.

  10. aw on May 4th at 10:20 am


    You are correct, the Karvonen method does calculate a lower target zone as you get fitter (lower resting rate). This is because as you get fitter, it takes less effort to do the same amount of work. The Karvonen method takes this into account. When you achieve a lower resting rate you have two options:

    -Do the same work with less effort (Keep your intensity% the same)
    -Do more work with the same effort (Increase your intensity%)

    The Karvonen method accurately reflects that you no longer need to work as hard to achieve the same intensity. Thus, to maintain your target heart, you need to increase the intensity.