Heart Rate Reserve

Runner Checking Heart Rate Monitor 490637325.jpg
Runner Checking Heart Rate Monitor. Johner Images/Getty

Definition: The heart rate reserve is the difference between a person's resting heart rate and maximum heart rate. It is the range of heart rate values that you can see for an individual, between the lowest they have at rest and the highest they can achieve through exertion. (Definition provided by racewalking coach Dave McGovern)

Heart rate reserve is used to calculate heart rate exercise zones by the Karvonen formula.

In studies, the heart rate reserve has been found to compare well with the oxygen consumption reserve (VO2R) for estimating exercise energy expended at different exertion levels.

Also Known As:

  • HRR
  • HRmax – HRrest

Examples: I am improving my heart rate reserve by getting in better shape and lowering my resting heart rate.

Heart Rate Reserve Used for Target Exercise Intensity

The Karvonen Formula uses the heart rate reserve number before calculating heart rate percentage of maximum numbers for target heart rates. You need to know your resting heart rate by taking your pulse first thing after awakening and before you get out of bed. Then you need to know your maximum heart rate, which can be estimated by subtracting your age from 220 (classic Karvonen Formula) or 206.9 - (0.67 x age) with the updated formula. This may not be accurate if you are in very good aerobic condition for your age, and so athletes may use other methods to determine their maximum heart rate.

With these two numbers, the Karvonen Formula is: Exercise HR = % of target intensity (HRmax – HRrest) + HRrest. The middle term is the heart rate reserve, which is then multiplied by the percentage of target intensity desired, and then the resting heart rate is added back in.

If you want to exercise in the moderate intensity zone, the % of target intensity defined by the CDC is from 50% to 70%

Increasing Your Heart Rate Reserve

Maximum heart rate is mostly age-based and difficult to change with exercise, with only small effects seen. The implications for heart rate reserve is that you would increase it most by lowering the resting heart rate. The resting heart rate is seen to be lowered by increasing cardiovascular fitness, although overtraining can result in a temporary increase in the resting heart rate.

To achieve a larger functional heart rate reserve, the chief mechanism is to lower resting heart by building cardiovascular fitness with activities such as brisk walking, jogging, running, cycling and other endurance exercises. These cardio exercises challenge the lungs and heart and when engaged in regularly they build cardiovascular capacity.


Tanaka H, Monahan KD, Seals DR. Age-predicted maximal heart rate revisited. Journal of the  American College of Cardiology. 2001 Jan;37(1):153-6.

Swain, DP. "Energy cost calculations for exercise prescription: an update". Sports Medicine. 2000 Jul;30(1):17-22.

Zavorsky, GS. "Evidence and possible mechanisms of altered maximum heart rate with endurance training and tapering". Sports Med. 2000 Jan;29(1):13-26.

Jackson, Andrew S. "Estimating Maximum Heart Rate From Age: Is It a Linear Relationship?" Med Sci Sports Exerc. 39(5):821, May 2007.

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