Heart rates and running FAQs

Your heart rate, usually measured in beats per minute (bpm) is an indicator of how hard your body is working on your run and whilst you may think working harder is better, it’s not always the case and organising your training to different heart rates will benefit you the most.

If you wear a smart running watch such as a Garmin, Polar or Suunto, then as well as getting metrics such as pace and distance, you’ll also be getting data on your heart rate. Being able to understand your heart rate will help you get the most of your running and ensure you don’t cause yourself any damage.

It’s a pretty cool feature but it’s also important to remember that they’re not always 100% accurate and your heart rate can be affected by many other things… not just your levels of exertion while running. Runners come in all different shapes, sizes and abilities too, so always remember that we’re unique and to take any advice with that in mind.

So with all those caveats out of the way let’s move on to the questions around heart rates and running. We’ve found the most frequently asked questions on Google and done our best to answer them here.

How do I monitor my heart rate while running?

The easiest way is to wear a smart watch which has a heart rate monitor inbuilt. You can then change the view on the digital watch face and get your real-time heart rate displayed as you run. You can either simply glance at your watch periodically to see how you’re doing, or depending on your watch model and brand you could set alerts for your training letting you know when you move out of certain heart rate zones.

If you wear your watch all the time then you will also get stats for your resting heart rate, which can be a good indicator of if you’ve had a poor night’ sleep, are fatigued, or dehydrated. Knowing this information will allow you to adjust your run accordingly as perhaps take it a bit easier knowing your heart rate is already elevated.

How to heart rate monitors work?

Most wrist wearables will have little green LEDs on the reverse of the watch that shine onto your skin and analyse the little surges of blood that flow through your veins each time your heart beats. The different wavelengths of green light from these LEDs interact differently with the blood flowing through your wrist, refracting off these surges and then your wearable will do the smart work.

Chest straps will operate in a different manner using electrocardiography to record the electrical activity of your heart. When running, the electrodes pick up the electrical signals given off by your heartbeat and will send that info via bluetooth to your watch or phone.

How do you manually measure heart rate?

The easiest way to measure heart rate is to find your pulse and count the number of pulses felt over the course of one minute.

The best places to feel for a pulse are large arteries near the surface of the skin such as the side of your neck or the underside of the wrist.

How to run with a lower heart rate

If your heart rate is high when running then there are several ways to lower it.

Reduce the intensity. It sounds obvious but by running slower, or by taking walking breaks you can lower your heart rate. You may be pushing yourself too hard or trying to run at too fast a pace for your current level of fitness.

Stay hydrated. If you’re dehydrated then your body won’t function as well and that will include putting pressure on your heart and therefore your heart rate. You really should think about your hydration 48 hours before your run.

Get your sleep. Adequate rest is important to reap the benefits of exercising over time, and a poor night’s sleep can affect your heart rate the next day.

Avoid hot weather. Okay, it’s not always possible to avoid, but try to avoid the hottest parts of the day, or reduce the intensity of your run. According to Cleveland Clinic for every degree your body’s internal temperature rises, your heart will beat about 10 beats per minute faster.

Avoid hills. This probably goes hand in hand with reducing the intensity of your run, but consider the terrain, and if you want a lower heart rate then opt for a flatter route. Don’t avoid hills completely though as incorporating them into your training will help improve your fitness and endurance.

What is a dangerous or unhealthy heart rate while running?

Your maximum heart rate will vary depending on your age but a general rule of thumb calculation is around 220 beats per minute (bpm) minus your age, so if you’re 30 then your max heart rate is around 190bpm.

It’s okay to reach this for small periods of your run, especially if you’re in a race, but operating in this higher zone will increase your recovery times and overtraining will increase the risk of getting injured.

In general, a person’s heart rate should be between 50-85% of their maximum heart rate during exercise.

Is a heart rate of 200 bad when running?

If your heart rate exceeds your maximum heart rate for extended periods then if could cause damage and also increase your recovery time. Subtracting your age from the number 220 will give you your maximum heart rate, so for a 20 year old a heart rate of 200 isn’t too bad.

The important thing to remember is that these calculations are all estimates and some people will have higher heart rate ranges than others. When your heart gets to the point, where it can’t eject blood effectively enough and where it’s not productive anymore then your body’s self-preservation will kick in and you slow down.

What heart rate burns fat?

All heart rates will burn fat, but the optimum heart rate for burning fat is around 70-80% of your maximum heart rate.

Here’s are some rough estimations of your ideal fat burning HR based on your age.

AgeFat-burning heart rate (in bpm) for moderate exerciseFat-burning heart rate (in bpm) for vigorous exerciseMaximum Heart Rate
20100–140140–170200
3095–133133–162190
3593–129129–157185
4090–126126–153180
4588–122122–149175
5085–119119–145170
5583–115115–140165
6080–112112–136160
6578–108108–132155

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