Heart Rate Series – Part 1

The Basics of Monitoring Heart Rate when Exercising

If your goal is weight loss or improved fitness monitoring your heart rate can help you achieve success.

“How fast or how hard should I go?”

I frequently start working with women who have been going too fast or too slow during their workouts to get the most benefit from each session.  Furthermore, there are many popular formulas for determining exercise intensity that will not work well for most individuals.  An easy way to determine your proper pace and intensity during exercise is to use a heart rate monitor, which can be a powerful tool for helping you with your fitness goals.

This articles is the first in a series of articles that will help the novice comprehend some key terms for understanding heart rate and proper training intensity.

What is a heart rate monitor?

A typical heart rate monitor consists of a wrist watch and a sensor, which is usually a strap that fits around your torso beneath your chest as close to your heart as possible.  Women who are pregnant or have pace makers many not be permitted to wear a chest strap but there are sensors that you can wear on your wrist, too.  If you have never worn a monitor, it may look uncomfortable, but I have clients that left my office after a training session and forgot they were wearing the chest straps.  They laugh when they realize they are still wearing it when they go to shower.

How does monitoring heart rate help?

Two different examples: Gail, a novice, and Devon, an elite triathlete, both use a heart rate monitor to achieve their fitness goals.

Gail, a beginning exerciser, is trying to lose body fat and learning to jog more than walk during her workout sessions.  On the other hand, Devon is a very competitive runner and would like to decrease her marathon time by running faster longer.  Both women use heart rate to help pace themselves during their workouts.

Gail uses her monitor to help her sustain a jog until her heart rate becomes too high, then she will walk until her heart rate drops back down. Beginners, such as Gail, will discover that if they are walking or jogging while keeping their heart rate at a reasonable rate eventually, the training effect will be for them to go faster for longer periods of time at the same heart rate. Gail will also strengthen her aerobic system by not going too hard for too long which promotes more fat store usage so she can learn to burn body fat efficiently.

Devon can sustain a specific heart rate during a long run, but when she runs too fast her heart rate rises too high and then she has to slow down.  Devon incorporates running intervals at a higher heart rate mixed with recovery periods at a lower heart rate to improve her overall speed. Using a heart rate monitor helps reduce the frustrations of knowing when to pick up the pace and when to slow down so Devon can sustain her pace and measure her progress.

Heart rates are very individual.

For example, Gail and Devon could have the same maximum heart heart rate, but it doesn’t mean they will run at the same pace.  A higher or lower heart rate does not mean that one person is more or less fit then another.  The best heart rate comparison is to look at your own heart rates for a given pace and track the changes over time.  Remember that heart rate is simply a measure of a long chain of internal and external responses of the body.  Each person has individual differences and different fitness levels that cause the heart rate to respond in a particular way.  As bike expert and former pro triathlete Dave Greenfield says, “You are a beautiful snowflake.”  In other words, we are all unique like snowflakes and our heart beats uniquely as well.

Our heart rate tells a story.

Heart rate is measured as the number of heart beats per minute (BPM).  For example an adult with an 80 BPM heart rate at rest is considered normal.

The heart is a very important muscle that can be strengthened through aerobic (or cardiovascular) exercise.  Aerobic exercise refers to exercise that strengthens the heart by involving large muscle groups acting together to create motion repeated over a sustained period of time.  Examples of aerobic exercise are walking, running and cycling.  A strong and healthy heart is important for blood circulation, which controls blood pressure and supplies parts of the body with oxygen rich blood.

As an adult becomes more aerobically fit, their resting heart rate will drop.  This is because the heart muscle has become stronger and does not have to work as hard to pump the same amount of blood at rest.  Some elite athletes have resting heart rates (BPM) in the thirties!

The same effect occurs with heart rate while exercising.  As an individual works out more often for a period of time, they will experience a “training effect,” which means that their heart will beat slower for a given effort or speed.

Your heart pumps all of your blood through your body every minute!

The average adult contains about 5L of blood and all of our blood is pumped through our hearts once every minute.

When you start walking a mile everyday for one month or begin using an elliptical machine for 30 minutes for three times a week, your heart gets stronger and your body adapts, enabling it to endure more activity while giving you more energy and ultimately a higher quality of life.

Your heart rate is there to guide you through your exercise sessions to let you know if you are working too hard or not hard enough.

Now that you have a better understanding of how monitoring your heart rate can help you, the next article will explain how you can figure out your heart rate zones and apply them to your workouts to help you achieve your fitness or figure goals.

Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn. Harriet Beecher Stowe

You may also like...