Heart Rate, Stroke Rate, and Rate of Perceived Exertion

In Training

by Steve Dullack

Heart rate monitors (HRMs) have been the gold standard for measuring our athletic level of exertion during training or competition for years.  HRMs don’t lie, they are truth serum. In fact, my SpeedCoach’s name on my computer is “the Truth.”  Purely training to HR is great on distances where you can get your HR to the zone you are training for.  But what do we do as paddle athletes for short interval training?  In this article I will describe how to calculate a MAX HR and the HR Training Zones that are derived from it.  In the next article, I will explain how I correlate my HR to my Stroke Rate (SR) and my Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). 

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Mandatory legal disclaimer: I am not a doctor or a health professional.  I am a paddler and coach that has used years of research and personal trail-and-error to determine my own training HRs and help others determine theirs.  You should consult your personal physician before starting any new fitness plan.  Everything discussed in this article is a suggestion.

First, you will need to establish you Max HR.  There are several physical tests you can perform to determine your personal MAX HR and I suggest searching the web for a couple different ones do dial it in. It should take about 30 minutes.  If you have not physically tested yourself for your MAX HR or are new to HR training, I suggest using the model developed by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s HART study.  It is    

211 – (0.64 x age) = MAX HR

This equation is not as accurate as personal testing, but it will get you close and is a good starting point.  For this article I will use a 33 year old paddler:   211- (0.64 x 33) = 190.  So by the HART model a 33 year old paddler has a MAX HR of 190 beats per minute (bpm).  Establishing your MAX HR is critical because you cannot set up your HR training zones without it.  So my 33 year old paddler with a MAX HR of 190 bpm has the following training HR Zones:

Training Zone

% of Max HR

Target HR (bpm)


< 60 % < 114 bpm


60-75 %

114-133 bpm


75-80 %

133-152 bpm

4 80-90 %

152-171 bpm

5 90-100 %

171-190 bpm

If you are new to training with a HRM, then this is all you need to get started.  Training to a HR Zone is easier then training to a specific HR because your HR will vary in your workout. It is easier to stay between 80-90% as a range then trying to stick your HR right at 85% and not change at all.   

So now that you have calculated your MAX HR and your training zones, use those for a while.  If you are training for Chattajack or a long distance race, see what 2 hours in Zones 2 and 3 feels like (this will be important later when we start talking about RPE).  If you are working on the start of the race, that first two or three minutes out of the hole, see what +90% of your MAX HR feels like once you get it there. While working shorter intervals, it is more challenging to use a HRM as your sole measurement because it may take 50 seconds to get to your target HR. That is why it is important to correlate your stroke rate along with your HR and your RPE…which will be discussed in the next article. Practice training with your HRM to ensure you are staying in your target zone for that workout and have fun knowing your training is more focused!  If it is good enough for Chuck…it is good enough for all of us.

Sources: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22376273

Steve Dullack is the owner of the Virginia Beach Paddleboard Company, a Team Rider for 404 SUP/HippoStick Paddles and a life-long mullet.

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Showing 13 comments
  • Bluepaddlesup

    Thanks! I just charted out my HRM zones. I’m looking forward to training in the different zones & learning more about RPE.

  • A75

    Great article.. So glad I found this email in my junk folder. I literally purchased a Garmin with heart rate monitor less than an hour ago, and before reading this!
    Must be my lucky day!

  • paddlemonster

    I’m getting mine this week.

  • jmizoguchi

    I’m been using HRM for over 16years started from my mountain bike racing days. Getting aged but HRM really tell me how good athlete still I am and also it also tells me my recovery is not there

  • slcorr

    Received the HR belt for my speed coach today and mapped out my zones. No more guessing. Good article Steve

  • FCallaway

    I know this is an old article. I just calculated my heart rate in excel on a 31 year old which is very close to the 33 year old. For my Zone numbers I am getting 114.6-143 and not 133. Is the 133 incorrect and the correct number supposed to be 143? .75% * 190.

    • Larry Cain

      Hi Fuller,

      According to the formula in the blog post (which uses predicted max HR to calculate training zones) yours would be:

      max HR = 220 – age (33) = 187

      Zone 2 is 60 -75% of max HR so:

      187 x 0.60 = 112.2
      187 x 0.75 = 140.25 Those would be the upper and lower boundaries for the zone

      If you are using HR reserve method, calculate in the following manner:

      The calculation of a zone value, X%, is performed in the following way:

      Subtract your HRrestfrom your HRmax giving us your reserve heart rate (HRreserve)
      Calculate the required X% on the HRreserve giving us “Z”
      Add “Z” and your HRrest together to give us the final value

      Example: The athlete’s HRmax is 180 and their HRrest is 60 – determine the 70% value

      HRmax – HRrest = 180 – 60 = 120
      70% of 120 = 84
      84 + HRrest = 84 + 60 = 144 bpm

      Since I don’t know your resting HR I can’t help you through that calculation.

      This should help you calculate your training zones. I’m not entirely sure what your question is and where you’re getting your numbers from. But this should help you out.


  • FCallaway

    There was supposed to be Zone 2.

  • MA


    I was wondering if you have created a custom activity profile on your Garmin 920XT for paddling? If you have do you mind sharing with us what your profile setup is?


    • John

      I am looking for that. I will ask Jenny Kalmbach. She’s a paddler (winner of the first BOP) and a sponsored Garmin Athlete. Larry may have an idea about this, too. So might Steve Dullack. Let’s start shaking trees.

  • John

    From Jenny Kalmbach: I would create a custom profile and name it Paddle. I would set the data to time, distance, pace and heart rate. It won’t give any specific paddling information (strokes etc) but it works well for training.

    I do hear there may be an upgrade coming to the 920 that has the paddle app. Or they can look at purchasing the forerunner 735XT or the Fenix 3 with or without HR. Those all coming with the specific paddle rate that tracks stroke rate, stroke count and other really cool paddling specific data.

  • SRutt

    Hi I have a Garmin 620 and it will only allow me to put in 5 heart rate training zones there is no way to change them even if i set up a new profile (I have tried). My current training zones have been set up as:-

    Zone 1 – 130-137 (67-70%)
    Zone 2 – 137-151 (70-77%)
    Zone 3 – 151-158 (77-81%)
    Zone 4 – 158-164 (81-84%)
    Zone 5 – 164-195 (84-100%)

    Is there anyway that I can play about with these settings and still do your HR training as you use quite a few more heart rate training zones which I cant add to my Garmin? Sorry if this question has been answered somewhere else and thanks for the help 🙂

    • Larry Cain

      Hi Samantha,

      I answered this in a personal email but will share it again here for others. I’m not particularly good with a Garmin, even though I use one every session. What I do is just look at the unit periodically to check to see that I am in the correct zone. I would suggest you use the 5 zones you have and correlate them to what I’ve been using here as follows:

      PM zone 1 = easy recovery work < your zone 1 PM zone 2A approx your zone 1 PM zone 2B approx your zone 2 PM zone 3 = your zone 3 PM zone 4 = your zone 4 PM zone 5 = your zone 5 PM zone 5+ and 5++ are shorter versions of zone 5 that could be considered higher intensity in terms of perceived exertion. We're finding it is probably better to just use perceived exertion for these levels are HR doesn't climb fast enough to be in zone for short duration pieces. I would strongly suggest becoming really familiar with perceived exertion and how it equates to each HR training zone.

      Hope this helps.


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