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Monitoring Your Heart Rate for Maximum Fitness - The Lunch Hour Athlete

Training Log For: 11/03/09

Swimming -- Matthew - 1500m 1 hr
Swimming Laps -- Mike - 1000m - 50min

Posted by Matthew

There are many online target heart rate calculators, but to truly take advantage of monitoring your heart rate you have to calculate several baseline heart rate measurements. The first is your resting heart rate (your heart rate when you first wake up), the you must calculate your maximum heart rate (usually 220 - age in years). I won't go into detail about how to find your resting heart rate or target heart rate, you can use the link above for that. I will however focus on the benefits of focusing more on how your heart is reacting to you exercising by monitoring it's rate in the morning and during exercise.

What does the resting heart rate tell you about your fitness level?

There are many factors that can affect your resting heart rate (RHR) which is the rate your heart pumps blood several minutes after waking up. A person's age, body size, sex, general health, and fitness level can all affect your resting heart rate. Generally speaking though, a lower RHR can signify a healthier more efficient heart. Since one of the main jobs of the heart is to transport oxygen throughout the body, it can be assumed that a heart that pumps less while still delivering the necessary oxygen must be more efficient at doing so. As you train you should keep a log of your resting heart rate, averaging your RHR from week to week to help offset any imbalances (maybe you had a bad dream and your heart was beating faster one morning). The desired outcome is that after training over several months, you should begin to see your RHR lowering as your heart becomes stronger and more efficient.

Using your maximum heart rate as a guide to training

Finding your maximum heart rate (MHR) is really simple. As stated before just take 220 and subtract your age in years. I am 26 so my calculated MHR is 194 bpm (beats per minute). Keep in mind resting heart rates usually range from 40bpm to 100bpm. Assuming I have a resting heart rate of around 60bpm, my heart would have to beat an extra 134 times per minute (more than 2 beats per minute extra) in order to reach my maximum. Now 134 might not sound like much, cars' engines idle around 1k-2k rpm's, but your heart is a muscle, just try to imagine curling a light weight 3 times per second for a whole minute. Like every other muscle in your body however, your heart will grow in strength and capacity when regularly pushed to above average loads. Your maximum heart rate can be used to calculate heart rate ranges for weight loss, higher endurance and higher power.

On the Gyms and Fitness Clubs target heart rate calculator , there is a table that list exercise "zones" based on your maximum heart rate. When you are training, if you are unaware of your heart rate, chances are you are not getting the maximum benefit for your specific goals. All levels of increased activity will increase your heart rate and help burn calories and reduce fat, but regulating your heart rate while exercising can have profound affects on how your body reacts. For instance, if you are wanting to increase your speed, you have to train at higher intensities that will cause your muscles to demand more oxygen than your heart can produce (anaerobic). If you continue to expose your heart to that increased demand over time, your heart will eventually become habituated to that level of training and you can then increase your effort further. However, if you are not taking your heart rate into a range where your muscles ask for more blood than they can receive you will most likely not gain any speed or power with regards to running and sprinting.

Train using varying heart rate ranges to experience the most well rounded growth

Chances are, like me, you are not a professional athlete but someone who likes playing sports, lifting weights and getting a good cardio workout. If that is the case, then you should be training in a way that covers a broad range of specialties. You need endurance, speed, and power whereas an Olympic sprinter needs to focus primarily on speed and power. Varying your exercise routine with regards to your heart rate will help ensure that your heart is gaining strength and efficiency, allowing you to exercise longer at lower intensities, but also have bursts of strength and power that are easier to sustain and recover from.

The end result is an overall increase of your fitness level. While resting, your heart is beating less while improving oxygen flow but your heart is also beating more efficiently when you place a higher demand on it. You will be able to participate in sports at a higher intensity levels for longer periods of time. Just remember that when heart rate is spoken of on the internet or in books, the author is always speaking in generalities based on the "average" or "usual" findings of fitness studies. Your specific maximum heart rate and heart rate ranges will be unique to your circumstances and over all health. Obviously, a person taking nitrates for heart problems cannot use these general rules of thumb and would require a customized fitness and heart monitoring plan from their physician. Before beginning a training or exercise routine where you push your body and heart close to their capacities you should always consult your physician. Proper planning not only yields greater fitness returns but will also reduce injury and medical complications.