Training Threshold

Quick revise

After studying this section you should be able to:

  • explain what a training threshold is
  • establish maximum heart rate and work out a training threshold

What is a Training Threshold?

As we have seen, training can be effective only if the body’s systems are put under stress.

So, there must be a suitable element of overload in any training programme. This means that we have to be able to establish the safe yet effective level that an individual should train at. This is known as the training threshold. Physical work done below this level will have little or no effect on the improvement of fitness. However, work done too far above this level can lead to injury.

KEY POINT - A training threshold rate is a safe and effective level to work at.

Working out a maximum heart rate and a related training threshold

Maximum heart rate

To be able to calculate your correct training threshold, it is important to establish your maximum heart rate in beats per minute. Many people use the accepted formula that your maximum heart rate should always be 220 beats per minute minus your age. Some suggest 180 as the maximum and yet others claim that the maximum level varies with age.

These are all rather crude – but essentially safe ways of establishing a maximum heart rate – as they take into account that the maximum declines as a person gets older. This has been shown by scientific research.

A more exact and scientific way of establishing your maximum heart rate is to undertake a test on, for example, a treadmill. This means that a person has to work at maximal effort for a given period of time. Be aware of the different methods.

Using the maximum heart rate to calculate a training threshold

However the maximum heart rate is established, it can be used to determine the appropriate training threshold rate (TTR) for an individual. There are a number of ways that this can be done and each is effective in its own way.

  • The 180 method – deduct your age from 180. This method assumes that your maximum heart rate is 180. Thus the safe and effective training threshold for a 40-year-old person would be 180 – 40 = 140.
  • The 70% to 80% method – this is based on a person working at 70% to 80% of a notional maximum heart rate that is related to a given age. Notional is not the same as maximal.


  • The 60% method – this calculates the threshold level by adding 60% of the range of your heart rate to the resting pulse rate.
    • For example: if a person’s resting pulse rate = 80
    • and his maximum rate = 180
    • then the range = (180 - 80) = 100
    • 60% of the range = 60
    • so the threshold rate = (80 + 60) = 140
  • Karvonen’s formula – this method establishes the threshold as follows:
    • establish resting rate = 60
    • establish maximum rate = 200
    • then the range = (200 - 60) = 140
    • 70% of the range = 98 so threshold rate = (98 + 60) = 158

You should be able to work out a threshold rate for a given set of figures.

To use the 60% method or Karvonen’s formula a person must be able to establish his own maximum heart rate correctly.

KEY POINT -  The 60% method is more suitable for strength work, while Karvonen’s formula is more suitable for aerobic training.


  • Q1 - What two factors does the training threshold rate refer to?
  • Q2 - Which method of calculating the TTR is most appropriate to strength training?



  • Q1 - The safe level for training; the effective level for training.
  • Q2 - 60% method