Ask the personal trainer: Can I exceed my target heart rate?

Is it dangerous to go over your maximum heart rate?

Question: Is it dangerous for me to go over my maximum heart rate? I wear a heart rate monitor, and I notice that my heart rate sometimes goes over 85% when I'm finishing a heavy weight training session or taking a spinning class.

Answer: First, let's make sure you know what your target heart rate should be. To work it out, subtract your age from 220. That's your maximum heart rate per minute. Once you've determined that, follow this advice:

  • As a general rule, if you're new to exercise, you should be working at 50-65% of your maximum heart rate. As you progress to an intermediate level, bump it up to 60-75%, then to 70-85% at the highest fitness levels.
  • If you have vascular disease and are on prescribed medications that lower your heart rate, the above percentages will not apply and you should consult your doctor for guidance.
  • It's possible to exceed the upper limit of your zone without any negative effects, as long as you do not have coronary artery disease or are at risk for a heart attack. What it may do, though, is leave you with a musculoskeletal injury.
  • Exercising above 85% of your target heart rate could bring you sore joints and muscles. It puts you at risk for overtraining, which may discourage you from exercising, which is altogether unproductive.

The bottom line:

Sticking within your target heart rate zone is recommended.