Cardio Target heart rate: a Beginners Guide To Heart Rate Training For Running

cardio target heart rate

In this beginners guide, you will gain a better understanding of what a cardio target heart rate is and how you can start implementing heart rate training for running.

This is one of the more complex topics so it is easy to get confused. A lot of numbers are thrown around, and misconceptions are in abundance. 

With this guide in your back pocket, hopefully you can avoid all of the confusion and start improving your cardio today. 

Overview of Cardio Target Heart Rates

So what exactly is a cardio target heart rate? 

Well, this is a range where your heart beats per minute should land in for specific results. 

This number is based on a percentage of your predicted maximum heart rate ( 220 – Your age). This is the widely accepted formula and recommended by the CDC.

In this article we will go over 3 different stages of target heart rates for cardio. 

Stage 1

Cardio Target Heart Rate: 65% – 75% of max heart rate

Example activity: walking or jogging

Who its for

Stage 1 training is typically used for beginners and/or sedentary people. If you don’t know where to start, the best bet is to begin here. 


The goal of stage 1 training is to improve your general cardiorespiratory fitness. It is a great starting point for individuals just getting into fitness or improving their cardio.

Ideally, you should be able to maintain a stage 1 heart rate, 65% – 75% of your max heart rate, for 30 minutes at least twice a week.  

How to do it

Begin slowly. Ideally it would be amazing to have high levels of cardio without much effort. 

If you are just starting out, this probably is not true and you will have to be realistic with a time frame. 

Start with trying to maintain the stage 1 cardio target heart rate for around 5 minutes 2 to 3 times each week. 

If you start going over 75% of your max heart rate, tone down the intensity or stop.

With each session, you can attempt to marginally increase the time by a little bit.

Once you hit the twice a week 30 minute goal for stage 1, you have the necessary recommended tools to move on to stage 2 if you would like. 

Stage 2

Cardio Target Heart Rate: 76% – 85% of max heart rate

Example: A group exercise class

Who its for

People who can achieve the goal of stage 1, typically individuals with moderate levels of cardiorespiratory fitness. This is where a lot of folks can really benefit from heart rate training for running, as your performance can improve greatly.


The goal of working in the stage 2 heart rate zone is to improve your cardio workload. 

That means variables such as speed, incline or even time. 

How to do it

Stage 2 should be alternated throughout the week with stage 1. 

Going back and forth between this lower and higher intensity should help give you necessary recovery. 

When you do a stage 2 cardio session, begin by warming up in the stage 1 heart rate zone for 5 to 10 minutes. 

Increase to and maintain a heart rate in the stage 2 zone for roughly 1 minute before dropping back down to stage 1 for 3 minutes. 

Rinse and repeat for as long as you can comfortably maintain. 

Stage 3

Cardio Target Heart Rate: 86% – 95% of max heart rate

Example: Sprinting

Who its for

Stage 3 training is normally reserved for more advanced athletes with high levels of cardio. 

The demands to work in this heart rate zone are greater so it is highly recommended to progress through stage 1 and 2 before attempting this level. 


The goal of the cardio target heart rate of stage 3 is to, like stage 2, increase cardio work capacity. 

The difference is that stage 3 training will help with power. 

How to do it

Start by warming up in the stage 1 heart rate zone for 5 minutes. 

Increase the intensity so your heart rate slowly raises into stage 2 for around 2 minutes. 

Increase the intensity again so that you enter and maintain a stage 3 heart rate for 1 minute. 

Alternate between stage 3 and 2 for 1 minute intervals.

cardio target heart rate chart

Cardio Target Heart Rate: Conclusion

You should now have a better understanding of what is and how to use a cardio target heart rate. 

If you ever get confused or need a refresher make sure to bookmark and come back to this beginners guide from time to time. And for endurance athletes, heart rate training for running might become a staple part for your routine.

To achieve great overall fitness levels it is important to look at all areas of health. 

Cardio is one of these areas that is commonly overlooked. 

If you still feel like you need a little help, consider working with me. 

I am a nationally certified personal trainer who can increase your odds of success. 

Learn more about my training here.