HOW & WHY Use a Heart Rate Monitor
We all know how to turn it on and watch our heart rate climb during a workout, but do you know how to use a heart rate monitor to get the most out of your workouts?
Unfortunately, most people don’t know how to use them as effectively as possible. But fear not! This is your crash course on heart rate monitor training: how to use that weird chest strap to perform better workouts, recover like a pro, and ensure you’re getting the most from your exercise.
Personally, I have only been using a HRM for about 3 months now and I dont use it on a regular basis. They are expensive, they dont make you faster and can be hard to use. So why use it?
Despite the downsides, heart rate monitors are incredibly helpful for two major reasons:
- Monitor the intesity of a workout being performed and either scale back or increase accordlingly.
- Ensure you recover properly, which in turn improves overall fitness.
It is important to remember that your heart is a muscle which, like any other muscle, becomes stronger as you exercise it.
During an aerobic workout, large groups of your body’s muscles are used over an extended period of time in a consistent, rhythmic manner.
When being worked this way, your muscles demand oxygen. The harder you work your muscles the more oxygen they require. This oxygen is supplied to your muscles from your lungs via the bloodstream. As a result, your heart pumps faster during a workout in an effort to deliver the additional oxygen that your muscles are demanding.
Measuring your heart rate using a heart rate monitor is a good way to gauge the effectiveness of your workout – as you strengthen your body through exercise you also strengthen your heart.
Your heart rate can be divided into 4 different “categories”:
- RESTING HEART RATE – the rate your heart beats per minute on days when you are most relaxed. Although heart rates vary between individuals, the average RHR for a man is between 50 to 70 beats per minute. The average for a woman is between 60 to 80.
This can be measured when you get out of bed in the morning, or when you’re in a relaxed and comfortable position.
- MAXIMUM HEART RATE – the peak amount of beats that your heart has the potential to reach, per minute. To get an idea of your maximum heart rate subtract your age from the number 220. For example; if you’re 35, your MHR would be 185 (220 – 35 = 185). This formula is not an exact science and does not ensure complete accuracy, but its a nice way to get perspective.
NOTE: Measuring your maximum heart rate can be dangerous, as you can cause serious damage to your body if you push it too far!
- TRAINING HEART RATE – the rate you maintain during workouts in an effort to achieve improved fitness. The right number to train at depends on your fitness goals and is widely debated among professionals. As a general guideline, you can train as low as 50 percent or as high as 70 percent of your maximum heart rate. For Example; if your MHR is 185 your training rate could be 129.5 (185 / 70 = 129.5). A nice target heart rate calulator can be found here.
- RECOVERY HEART RATE – the rate you should bring your heart down to after your workout. This is generally measured after a 2 minute resting period from your workout. To test for improvements, record the training heart rate during exercise, then record recovery heart rate at the two-minute mark. Subtract the two-minute recovery rate from the training heart rate to determine a baseline for improvement. For example, if training levels were 129.5 beats per minute and the two-minute recovery rate was 75, then 54.5 is the recovery heart rate.
How to Use Your Heart Rate Monitor.
So now that you are aware of how to measure your progress and different stages of your training, lets look at how to optimize your training by using your Heart Rate Monitor.
First, you’ll need a guidline for measuring your intensity level. This can be done during a workout, but as mentioned earlier, it can be dangerous and result in injuries.
A good alternative guidline for finding your Maximum Heart Rate is to use the formula below:
206 – (your age) x 0.88 = _______ maximum beats per minute
For Example: If you’re 30 years old, thats 179.6 bpm (206 – 30 x 0.88 = 179.6).
Now, lets look at your intensity levels as a percentage of your maximum heart rate, rather than guessing how hard you’re going. This way, by using your heart rate monitor, you’re able to better regulate your training while in progress.
Here’s a general guideline to heart rate zones:
- Zone 1: 50% to 60% — Very light, almost walking speed. Great for warm up and recovery.
- Zone 2: 60% to 70% — Very comfortable effort for building endurance or recovery between sprints.
- Zone 3: 70% to 80% — “Average” effort; easy enough to still maintain a conversation. Use this for training aerobic maintenance or cardiac output, or the volume of blood the heart pumps per minute.
- Zone 4: 80% to 90% — High intesity workout. Ideal for training for improvements in aerobic capacity and intervals.
- Zone 5: 90% to 100% — As hard as you can go! Great for developing anaerobic capacity as well as short intervals of up to a minute.
Below is a rough example of how a 30 minute workout would like:
0 to 5: Warm-up; Zone 60 to 75
5 to 11: Moderate-intensity run; Zone 75 to 85
11 to 14: Recovery jog or walk; Zone 65*
14 to 17: High-intensity run; Zone 85 to 90
17 to 20: Recovery jog or walk; Zone 65*
20 to 21: Sprint; Zone 90 to 95
21 to 25: Cool-down; Zone 65