How to Measure and Understand Heart Rate

How to Measure and Understand Heart Rate

Most people have heard about monitoring their heart rate–the speed at which your heart beats– for exercising safely and effectively. However,  they don’t always understand what to do or why they’re doing it. They are aware exercise raises the heart rate, but have no real idea about just how much that increase should be. How often should your heart rate be elevated? How much exercise, for how long?

To learn what heart rate is optimum for your goals, you must first understand what is heart rate and how it relates to exercise. You should also learn the different methods for accurately identifying your target heart rate.  

What is Resting Heart Rate?

With each beat, blood is pumped out from your heart for circulation to different parts of your body. The resting heart rate also known as RHR,  is the speed at which the heart beats while you are resting. If you are physically active or stressed out, your heart rate will increase. A normal resting heart rate for adults varies from 60 to 100 beats per minute (bpm). Men have an average reading of 70-72 bpm while women usually have a higher RHR of 78-82 bpm. This difference is because women have smaller hearts and lower blood volume circulating in their body.

Your resting heart rate can be changed through training, meaning you can improve the RHR count. The fitter or healthier you become, the lower your resting heart rate will become. Well conditioned athletes usually have a resting heart rate of about 40 to 60 bpm. This means their heart has to do less work and is more efficient!

So when you are training effectively, your RHR  should ideally become lower over a period of time. But if, despite your workouts,  your RHR is getting higher, it is a clear sign of overtraining. Regardless of your recovery level, there may be some differences  in your daily heart rate. A reading of 3 to 4 bpm more than your normal values is not something to get tensed over. But getting a count of over 5 to 7 bpm more than your normal RHR may be an indication that you have not fully recovered from your workout.

A higher resting heart rate for a longer time duration– like two to three weeks– can be a sign of training fatigue. This means you are not scheduling enough recovery time between your workouts. Take at least a short break to see how your heart rate responds to the extra recovery time.

Keep in mind that stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and certain medications can also affect the heart rate; don’t check your heart rate immediately after these activities.  It’s advisable to consult your doctor as early as possible if your RHR is over 100 bpm as this is considered abnormal and fast.

How to Measure Your Resting Heart Rate

If you want to know your resting heart rate, it’s best to check it as soon as you wake up in the morning. However, if your alarm clock jolted you awake, your heart may race for a few moments. If so, give it a few minutes to slow down.

Its best to lie down while checking your RHR. Start by placing two fingers on your pulse at your neck or wrist.

  • Count each heart beat for 60 seconds.  This is a better method to get the most accurate RHR.
  • If you feel too sleepy to count all the way, you can count the beats for just 30 seconds and then multiply your count by 2.
  • You can even count for 6 seconds and then multiply by 10. This is an easier method, but has a larger potential for error.

You can actually check your RHR at any time during the day or night, as long as you are rested
and comfortable, but it’s most accurate after a long restful sleep. Experienced coaches  advise athletes to take a “true” RHR reading first thing in the morning and then a “live” RHR during the day and before training as this provides a lot of information on how different activities during the day affected recovery.

Calculating Maximum Heart Rate

Your maximum heart rate or MHR is the number of heartbeats per minute when your heart is working at it’s maximum capacity. It is the highest heart rate that can be achieved by a person while performing strenuous activities. It’s important to find out your maximum heart rate as your target heart rate–the optimum heart rate level for achieving your goals– is calculated using MHR.

Subtracting your age from the number 220 is an easy way to calculate your MHR. But since MHR actually decreases as we age, this can give your reading that may be up to 12 beats per
minute up or down.

A more accurate calculation can be made using the  Maximum Heart Rate Formula:
206.9 – (0.67 x age) It’s hard to get an exact MHR is affected by many factors. A variety of MHR values can be found among people of the same age, size and gender.

  • Size: smaller people end to have higher MHR than larger people.
  • Gender: Probably because of the size difference, women tend to have higher MHR than men.
  • Age: MHR can decline with increasing age.

Undergoing an Electrocardiogram [ECG or EKG] exercise stress test with a physician can get you an MHR reading with higher accuracy. ECG  tests are done to screen people for safe participation in exercise, so the medical personnel will be focused on looking for heart disorders in the test results.

Target Heart Rate for Different Exercises

For an effective cardio workout, it is important to exercise at a certain level of intensity. Your target heart rate is a zone at which you can attain the level of exertion necessary for improving your cardiovascular fitness. Depending on your age, sex, level of fitness, the target heart rate zone will vary from 50 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate.

  • 55-75% of your maximum heart rate is a comfortably low intensity for beginners. This is a good zone for warming up and cooling down. Training at this intensity is designed to improve the basic function of your circulatory system to pump blood more efficiently towards working muscles.
  • 75-85% can serve as a warm up for more seasoned athletes. You should be able to hold a conversation at this heart rate level. Beginners can train in this range for improving their aerobic capacity. This is an ideal zone to switch down to during high intensity interval training.
  • 85-89% is good zone for losing weight and for developing power endurance based fitness. Attaining this range requires above average effort from your side. This is the tipping point between slower, steady state exercise and faster, higher power based exercise.
  • 90-94% is an intensity zone that is well outside your comfort zone. Exercise in this zone is dedicated to the ability to sustain high intensity efforts in which fast twitch muscles are more prevalent in activation (high power movements). If you can sustain this level even for short durations, it helps burn calories while improving your body’s ability to more efficiently clear waste products from your muscles. High intensity interval  training is one way of achieving these levels.
  • 95-100% is a level only the fittest can achieve one rep after another. Training in this zone is all about how well you recover between bouts of activity! Even they can only sustain this heart rate only  for a short while, the goal becomes performing each bout at the same intensity, with the same power output every time. A cycle of all out sprinting followed by jogging is an example of very-high intensity interval training with active recovery.

Heart Rate Monitors

An easy way to calculate your heart rate is to use a heart rate monitor. A heart rate monitor is a device that can detect your heartbeat, count the beats per minute and then display it for you. Heart rate monitors can continuously track and display your heart rate as you perform various activities or exercises.

Some models of heart monitors give alerts when you are working out above or below your set target heart rate. This allows the users to adjust the intensity of their workouts accordingly. Heart rate monitors which can be strapped around the chest are said to be more accurate than wristband heart monitors. Under Armour has a variety of different heart rate monitors to help with your training efforts.

Listen to Your Heart

Maximum heart rate is not a reflection of your level of fitness and it doesn’t change with your training achievements. But fitter you become, the lower your RHR becomes and you will be able to perform more workouts at your maximum heart rate.

If you are a beginner, you can comfortably start your warm up at 50 to 60 percent of your maximum heart rate. To improve your fitness, you have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. You should aim to build up gradually towards working out in a 70 to 80% range to build up your endurance. If you are a reasonably fit person, then you can focus more on working from the 80% zone towards the 90 to 100% zone.

So learn to calculate your resting heart rate and maximum heart rate so that you can figure out your target heart rate. Your workout will be enjoyable, effective and safe as long your heart rate stays within your target heart rate range. So calculate your target heart rate and get started on your fitness journey. Book a session with Gloveworx today to Become Unstoppable!