Your heart beat is the most important sound your body makes, and tracking your heart rate is an effective way to maximize your fitness regime. Understanding the differences between resting and maximum rates, and what this data means to your health is important. So obtaining precise information on your hear rate is key.
Holding two fingers to your wrist works in a pinch, but tracking your heart rate with a monitor is a far more accurate method. This article will explore information about heart rates and heart monitors, and offer advice on how you can incorporate this information into your fitness routine.
What Is Your Heart Rate?
Unless you have the new HeartMate II mechanical heart, chances are you have a heart beat. That beat or rate tells you a lot about your current state of activity. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the average person has a resting heart rate around 60-80 beats per minute (BPM). This rate is by no means a fixed or pre-determined rate, as each individual will vary to some degree. Furthermore, your health level, age, weight and other factors can affect your resting heart rate. But the resting heart rate is used to determine your ‘training target range’.
You might recall seeing charts on the wall of your local health club that show age and heart rates. This range usually goes from 50-90% of your resting rate. Your heart increases its speed as demands for oxygen are generated due to physical activity. Here is an example of what would be considered normal for a 40-year-old male:
Age: 40 years
Target HR Zone 50–85 %: 90–153 beats per minute
Average Maximum Heart Rate 100%: 180 beats per minute
The AHA also notes “your maximum heart rate is about 220 minus your age.” So if you don’t have a chart handy, use that calculation as a rough guideline.
Your resting rate will also decrease as your physical fitness improves, particularly if you are involved in an endurance sport. For example, Lance Armstrong’s resting rate is around 32 bpm while the average man’s is 70.
The Importance Of Target Heart Rates
When you start off with any exercise regime, you need to keep in mind that you are probably out of shape. Like any muscle in your body, your heart needs time to build up its strength and endurance. So the last thing you want to do is attempt to hit your maximum heart rate during the start of your new program. Instead, if you have access to a chart (you can download a copy form the AHA website), then you should be looking at the low range of your target heart zone (for example, 50-55%).
Then over the next several months, you can continue to increase your physical activity in order to increase your target heart rate. In order to effectively exercise your heart, you need to constantly be pushing your heart rate into your target heart zone. Think of it as a moving target, with gradual increases necessary to achieve maximum performance. Remember – your heart will adapt quickly! So hitting your maximum target heart rate will eventually require you to push yourself even harder.
Heart Rate Targets For Specific Sports
Heart rate targets will vary from sport to sport, but the ones that require constant motion usually require a higher endurance level – like basketball, jogging, and soccer. This means that your training needs to replicate the conditions your heart will be put under during the actual game, as you need to ensure your heart can handle hitting maximum heart rates. A good sign you are out of shape is when you are gasping for breath, as your heart is unable to keep up with the demand for oxygen.
Even in less strenuous exercises, such as walking, golfing, or tennis, there are right and wrong ways to achieve maximum heart benefits. At the very least, you should be pushing your heart to a minimum of 50% of your target heart zone in order to best benefit from your exercise.
Here Are Some General Guidelines
This would be the level for maintaining a healthy heart – usually where beginners start.
At this level you begin to burn off excess fat. You might be 3-6 months into your new fitness program, regularly hitting the gym 3-5 times per week.
At this level you might be at the gym in excess of 6 months, and have incorporated a longer cardio return into your training. Now you are actively pushing your heart rate into higher target zones.
This is a high intensity zone, when you are engaged in serious cardio-vascular activity.
This level is reserved for those in amazing shape, and usually only done in bursts – say springing while jogging.
Heart Rate Training During Exercise
An efficient way to combine exercise with heart rate is to monitor your heart rate during exercise. By understanding your resting, target, and maximum rates, you can effectively coordinate your workouts to push your heart at the right times. This is a quick and effective way to test the results of your exercise, and you will see many people in the gym monitoring their heart rate. Most aerobic machines come with either hand sensors or chest straps, so that you can monitor every beat of your heart during your training.
Drawbacks to heart rate training are mainly due to the fact that heart rates vary depending on numerous factors, and your resting and maximum rates will change as your physical fitness improves. This means that the formula for calculating your rate is a guideline, and it may not represent reality.
Heart Rate Monitors
Aside from built in machine sensors, there is a wide array of heart monitoring devices on the market. The most common is used by runners, and involves a chest strap that monitors the heart rate from the chest, sending the information to a wristwatch. There are also less effective models that work by taking the pulse from the wrist, using a device that looks similar to a wristwatch. In any event, the more sophisticated models can store data so you can track your training in order to optimize your performance.
By doing this, you will note how your heart adapts, increasing the range required to push into your maximum target heart range. Another benefit with monitors is that the data can be displayed while you are training, allowing for more effective coordination of heart rate data and effective cardio workouts.
The Last Beat
Keep in mind that most of the charts hanging in your health club are guidelines, and if you are serious about starting an intensive training program you should consult your doctor first. Once your doctor has accurately assessed your resting heart rate, you can slowly begin effective heart rate training.