As a runner, one of the most important biometrics you should consider is your heart rate while running. Your heart rate while running gives tremendous insight into how hard you’re working, or the intensity of your run.
Your exercise heart rate increases with effort or intensity, in a fairly linear and predictable pattern, meaning that as you run faster or harder (uphill, for example), your heart rate increases at a similar and steady progression in accordance with the increase in intensity.
Moreover, because your heart rate while running correlates with your aerobic effort (the percentage of your VO2 max), heart rate data from a heart rate monitor can be used as a practical, feasible, and tangible measurement of the intensity level of your run without the need for using expensive laboratory equipment or collecting and analyzing expired respiratory gasses.
But what should your heart rate while running be? What is the average heart rate while running based on your age? Is there an ideal running heart rate? Can your heart rate while running be too high?
In this guide, we’re going to look at:
- Why Is Heart Rate While Running Important?
- Factors That Affect Average Heart Rate While Running
- How to Calculate Your Target Average Heart Rate While Running
- Average Target Heart Rate While Running, Sorted By Age
- Is My Heart Rate While Running Too High?
Let’s get started!
Why Is Heart Rate While Running Important?
As mentioned, your running heart rate is a good indication of the effort you’re exerting while running. In order to get the most out of your training and become a faster and stronger runner, it’s important to ensure you’re training at the right intensity.
If you habitually run too slow or take it too easy, you’ll fail to provide the exercise stimulus your body needs to get faster and fitter as a runner. In other words, you’ll stunt your progress.
On the other hand, if you hammer your easy runs or run recovery runs too fast, you risk overtraining and won’t give your body the rest you need to recover from hard workouts and races. Over time, you’ll run yourself into the ground.
One other note: Your heart rate while running can also be used as a marker of progress. Much like other stats such as distance and pace, you can look at your heart rate data on certain benchmark runs and compare them over time.For example, if you have a favorite five-mile neighborhood loop, periodically run it at the same pace and observe how your average heart rate while running gradually drops over time.
Factors That Influence Your Average Heart Rate While Running
Aside from the pace you’re running or the intensity of your workout, there are several factors that affect your average heart rate while running. Some of these factors, termed interpersonal factors, are responsible for differences in average heart rate while running between two different runners.
Intrapersonal factors, on the other hand, are responsible for differences in average heart rate while running for the same runner doing a run at the perceived intensity level on two different occasions.
3 Interpersonal Factors that Affect Average Heart Rate While Running
Maximum heart rate decreases rather linearly with age so much so that the traditional—and still widely used—formula used to estimate max heart rate is simply 220 — age in years.
An older runner will usually have a predictably lower average heart rate while running than a younger runner because the same effort level or training zone correlates to lower heart rates for an older runner.
For example, consider a 20-year-old runner and a 50-year-old runner. Using the simple age-predicted maximum heart rate formula 220 — age, the 20-year-old runner has a max heart rate of 200 bpm while the 50-year-old runner has a max heart rate of just 170 bpm.
If both of these runners head out for a high Zone 2 aerobic run at 70% effort, the younger runner will have an average running heart rate of 140 bpm whereas the older runner running at a comparable intensity would have an average heart rate of 119 bpm.
#2: Fitness Level
The fitter you are, the lower your average heart rate because your heart contracts more forcefully, leading to a larger stroke volume (amount of blood pumped per beat).
Certain medications can increase or decrease your heart rate. For example, beta-blockers reduce your heart rate while stimulants (medications for ADHD or narcolepsy, for example) increase your heart rate.
If you habitually take medication that impacts your heart rate, expect there to be differences in your average heart rate while running compared to what would otherwise be expected for your age and fitness level.
Note that medications can also potentially affect a single runner’s average running heart rate from day to day (intrapersonal factor) if your dosage or timing of your medication relative to your run changes.
4 Interpersonal Factors that Affect Average Heart Rate While Running
Emotional stress can increase your heart rate. Stress triggers the sympathetic nervous system, as frequently described as the “fight-or-flight” response, which triggers an increase in heart rate and respiration rate.
This is a primitive biological response designed to help prepare your body to flee danger.
If you are stressed or anxious before or during a run, your average running heart rate will ride higher than on a day where you are calm and serene.
If you sleep poorly or are overtired, your heart rate while running will be higher. In fact, even your resting heart rate can be a good indication of your recovery from training and fatigue level.
If you track your resting heart rate and notice it trending upward or notably higher one day, you’re not recovering fully from your workouts or have been sleeping poorly.
The same principle applies to your average heart rate while running; if your body is tired, it takes more effort or work to do any level of exercise, and your running heart rate will be higher.
#3: Environmental Conditions
The weather or environmental conditions can also affect your average running heart rate from one run to the next.
Your body has to work harder in hot and humid conditions, and the natural cooling mechanisms like evaporative cooling through sweating are less efficient. As such, your average running heart rate will increase on a hot run compared to mild conditions.
#4: Caffeine Usage
Caffeine is a stimulant, so it typically increases your heart rate. If you have a large cup of coffee and then head out for a run an hour or two later, expect a higher average heart rate while running than if you wait eight hours before hitting the pavement.
How to Calculate Your Target Average Running Heart Rate
The American Heart Association recommends a target heart rate of 70-85% of your maximum heart rate for vigorous physical activity, such as running.
You can calculate your target average heart rate while running by first estimating your maximum heart rate (220 – age in years).
Then, find 70% of this value by multiplying your result by 0.7. This is the lower value in the range. Finally, multiply your age-estimated max heart rate by 0.85. This is your upper value.
For example, if you are 40 years old, your estimated max heart rate is 220 – 40 = 180 bpm. Then, 0.7 x 180 = 126 bpm and 0.85 x 180 = 153 bpm. Therefore, your target average heart rate while running should be 126 – 153 bpm.
Keep in mind that 220 – age is just a rough estimate of your actual heart rate. The standard deviation is nearly 17 beats in either direction.
According to researchers, a more accurate estimation can be found through the following formulas:
- Maximum Heart Rate for Males = 208.609-0.716 x age
- Maximum Heart Rate for Females = 209.273-0.804 x age
For example, if you’re a 40-year old male: 208.609-0.716 x 40 = 180 bpm. If you’re a 40-year old female: 209.273-0.804 x 40 = 177 bpm.
Average Target Heart Rate While Running, Sorted By Age
Use the table we have created below to find your average target heart rate while running according to your age, along with the heart rate ranges for each training zone.
|Age In Years||Maximum Heart Rate||Average Target Running Heart Rate||Average Zone 1 HR||Average Zone 2 HR||Average Zone 3 HR||Average Zone 4 HR||Average Zone 5 HR|
Is My Heart Rate While Running Too High?
When it comes to running, faster and harder aren’t always better. It’s important to pay attention to the goal of your workout and keep your heart rate and effort level within the intended heart rate zone.
If you are finding that your heart rate is routinely higher than your target average heart rate while running—particularly if you’re using a true maximum heart rate rather than an estimation—you probably need to slow your pace.
Chronically exceeding your target running heart rate can compromise recovery and lead to overtraining, according to research.
If you have additional concerns, you should speak to your healthcare provider.
To explore more reasons as to why your heart rate may be fluctuating while running, check out our article Why Is My Heart Rate High On Easy Runs? 8 Reasons + Solutions, here!