2020 is around the corner, and if one of your resolutions for the New Year is to improve your fitness, you need to set goals. But how do you figure out how much exercise and what kind of training is right for you? With some (fairly) simple math and consideration of what your goals are, you can put together a plan in 3 easy steps. 

1.Know Your Target Heart Rate

Do you need to lose weight? Tone up? Are you trying to keep your heart healthy or lower stress? Your reasons for exercising can determine what type of activity you should focus on first. Everyone does well on a mix of cardio and weight training exercises, but you might want to focus on one more than the other, depending on your goals. 

To figure out what’s best for you, you need to think about what your heart is doing during different levels of activity. Your heart rate during exercise determines what type of benefit you are getting from it. First, you need to do a little math to find out what your target heart rate is.

*First, subtract your age from 220; this will give you your maximum heart rate. For instance, if you are 30, your maximum heart rate would be 190.

*Next, take your resting heartbeat. Do this before you get out of bed in the morning by holding your fingers to your neck on the side of your windpipe or over the thumb side of your wrist. Take your pulse for 15 seconds and then multiply that number by 4. For instance, if you count 20 beats in 15 seconds, your resting heart rate would be 80. A healthy resting heart rate for an adult is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. 

*Now subtract your resting heart rate from your maximum heart rate. Using the examples above, 190-80= 110. This is your Heart Rate Reserve (HRR). You will use this number to figure out what your zones are. Your moderate-intensity exercise zone will be between 50-70% of your maximum heart rate. Your vigorous-intensity zone will be between 70-85% of your maximum.

*Multiply your HRR by .5 (50%) to figure out what your low end for moderate exercise is. Using the same example as before, 110 x 0.5= 55. Now add your resting heart rate to this. 55+80=135, this is the lowest end of your moderate-intensity exercise range. Now find 70% (Your HRRx 0.7+ resting heart rate) and 85% (your HRRx 0.85 + resting heart rate.) In our example, this would be 157 and 173.5, respectively. 

Phew! That was a lot of math. But now you have some important numbers that you can use to measure whether you are getting what you want out of your workout. Make sure to write them down, so you don’t have to redo the math anytime soon.

 Let’s say you are our hypothetical 30 year old with the numbers we just calculated. If your main goal is to lose weight, you should aim for your moderate-intensity heart rate zone (between 50-70%). In this case, that means your heart rate should be between 135 beats per minute (bpm) and 157 bpm while working out. 

If you are trying to strengthen your heart, you should aim for your vigorous exercise heart rate zone (between 70-85%), in this case, between 157 bpm and 174 bpm. 

You should check with your doctor before you begin any exercise program. If you take prescriptions, ask your doctor if they affect your heart rate and how you should compensate for that when designing your work out. If you are out of shape or have a health problem, you should start by working out on the lower end of your heart rate zone and slowly work yourself up to your higher zone. 

Interval training is an effective and safe option for most people. During an interval workout, you will spend most of your workout in your moderate heart rate zone, interspersed with short bursts (15-60 seconds) of more intense activity. This type of workout is perfect for both cardio training and weight loss. 

To check your heart rate while you are working out, stop and count your heart rate for 15 seconds like you did when getting your resting heart rate, then multiply that number by 4. You could also invest in a good heart monitor to wear during your workout. 

2.Know How Many Calories You Need To Burn

Whether your goal is to lose weight or to maintain your current weight, you need to know how many calories your body needs each day. Once you know that, you can determine how many calories to cut out through exercise or diet changes to lose weight. Unfortunately, there is some math involved in this too.

First, use one of these formulas to calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). Remember to do the stuff in the parentheses first. 

Adult male: 66 + (6.3 x body weight in lbs.) + (12.9 x height in inches) – (6.8 x age in years) = BMR

Adult female: 655 + (4.3 x weight in lbs.) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age in years) = BMR

Then multiply that number by one of these activity factors (pick the one that best describes you):

  1. If you are sedentary (little or no exercise) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.2
  2. If you are lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.375
  3. If you are moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.55
  4. If you are very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week): Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.725
  5. If you are extra active (very hard exercise/sports & physical job or 2x training) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.9

That wasn’t too hard, right? Now you know how many calories you need each day to live and maintain your current level of fitness. This is also the number of calories you need to maintain your current weight. If you want to lose weight, you will have to subtract calories by eating less or exercising more.

 Keep track of the calories you are eating daily for a couple of weeks, if your actual calorie intake is above your caloric need, change your diet and add in exercise until you are at your caloric need. Then cut back from there to lose more weight. 

One pound of body fat contains about 3500 calories, so if you want to lose one pound per week, you would need to cut out 3500 calories during the week, or 500 calories per day. One to two pounds of weight loss per week is considered healthy. For most people who need to lose a small amount of weight, cutting your calories by 500 per day is reasonable. 

Now you are probably wondering how long you have to be active every day so that you don’t have to take all those calories out of your diet. Instead of giving you more math to do here, I recommend that you visit this site and use their excellent calculator that will estimate your calories burned for a huge range of different activities. 

3.Put It All Together

Now that you know how which heart rate zone to aim for and how many calories you need to burn for weight loss, you can combine all of that information to come up with a diet and exercise plan that works for you. Remember that exercise outside of the gym counts towards your calorie-burning goals. Start keeping track of the things you do every day, like walking the dog or playing with your kids. You might find that your goals are easier to reach than you thought.