Heart rate training has become extremely popular over the last decade...and for good reason. Your HR is the best indicator of workout intensity that you can measure with relative ease. Most pieces of gym equipment have handles or other means of measuring your pulse. Exercise bikes, elliptical machines, treadmills and other pieces of cardio equipment all have models which include this feature. If you’re a runner, the price on heart-rate monitors have dropped considerably. Most of these devices work with a watch and a chest strap...and they’re fairly accurate.
Part of the concern with fitness programs, is adjusting workouts so that they’re productive (leads to cardiovascular and health improvements), but not so aggressive that it leads to overtraining injuries. How can we gauge this? Our heart's beats per minute or HR. The calculator below is a simple tool to see what your heart rate should be at corresponding levels of effort, based on our age. This is an approximation. Listen to your body, as well. You may get winded at 70% of your maximum heart rate (MHR), when another may not get winded until 85% MHR…it’s not a competition. Use the numbers below to guide you.
When exercising between 70% and 90% of your MHR, you are maintaining and improving your aerobic conditioning. You may have seen heart rate charts on exercise machines that show fat-burning zones between 50% -70% of your MHR.
It’s true that your body will burn a greater percentage of fat at this lower HR, but because of the lower intensity there is less total fat burned than if you were in the aerobic conditioning range. Also, the fitness improvements that you seek are more easily gained through a cycle of stress-rest-heal-rebuild. After you are well-established in a workout routine, you’ll find that working out in the 70% + MHR region will provide the ‘stress’ ingredient, more so than the 50% MHR workouts.
There is no exact science in correlating MHR and fitness, but hopefully the tools and guidelines above will help you better gauge the intensity of your workouts so you can achieve your fitness goals.
The best time to measure your resting heart rate (RHR) is in the morning before you enter your hectic life. To take your pulse, sit up in bed and place your forefinger and middle finger on your carotid artery (neck) or your radial artery (wrist). Count the number of beats or pulses in a 15 second interval by looking at a watch or clock. Multiply this number by 4, and you now have your RHR (beats per minute – BPM). After awhile you’ll get a good feel for your average RHR. If you notice an unexplained increase one morning, it could be a sign of overtraining or an oncoming cold.
Our heart is our most important muscle: listen to it...exercise it...and enjoy the benefits as it gets stronger. One great way to track and monitor your heart's performance is with a monitor. Check out the Running Watch Buyers Guide for more information on these handy workout tools!