Can heart rate training help me unlock my fitness?
Starting a journey to get fit can feel impossible sometimes. There is an entire industry built around advice and programs and information built to get you lean and healthy. This surplus of information can be a blessing, but it can also be a curse.
You don’t need to be a fitness industry professional to use technology and data to get the most out of your training. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned athlete, getting to know your personal fitness through your heart rate is a valuable tool to help you get to the next level. Knowing your metrics helps you push through and get to know your goals a lot better. When you fully understand where you are and where you’re going your fitness journey suddenly becomes a lot easier.
One of the best ways to learn about your fitness is through tracking your heart rate. While in the past heart rate training may have only been a tool for professional athletes, it’s getting more accessible with new technology. With inexpensive and popular fitness tracking solutions like the Apple Watch or Polar H10 anyone, regardless of their fitness level, can use heart rate training.
Still, heart rate training can seem difficult to understand. What do those numbers MEAN? How can you use them to unlock your fitness? Just keep reading to learn more about the value of heart rate training, and what this training can do for you.
Where do I start with heart rate training?
If you have a device that can track your heart rate you probably have seen your heart rate displayed. You probably have noticed that your heart rate is low when you’re sitting, and higher when you’re exercising. You’ve got a handle on the concept, and understand that you need heart rate training, but how do you interpret these raw numbers?
Your targeted heart rates depend on your genetics, age, fitness, and gender. The first important number to calculate is your resting heart rate. Your resting heart rate is the number of times your heart beats every minute while you are completely at rest. This number generally ranges between 60 and 90 beats per minute. Well-trained athletes can have heart rate lower than this number without seeing bad effects, but numbers significantly higher or lower than this range can be signs of health problems that you should discuss with your physician.
How do you find your resting heart rate?
There are several ways of measuring your resting heart rate. The simplest way is to wear a heart rate monitor while resting and keep an eye on your numbers. During restful activities your heart rate should change slightly, but stay within a few standard numbers. It is usually safe to take the lowest of these numbers as your resting heart rate. If, on the other hand, you see numbers that are much lower than you expect you should ignore these. Your resting heart rate shouldn’t be a value that you can’t repeat.
Your resting heart rate is important to know for a few reasons. You need to know what your body is doing at its baseline in order to be able to understand your activity. If you resting heart rate is incorrect in a fitness tracking app you’re using the app might think that you’re being active all the time. This can mess up your daily calories burn. Keeping all of your data accurate is the best way to make sure that your calorie burn and intensity is being recorded appropriately.
What about maximum heart rate?
The second number to calculate is your maximum heart rate, or MHR. Your MHR is the highest heart rate possible for your body while pushed to its physical limits.
The most accurate way to determine this number is to get a VO2O2max test from an exercise physiologist, which will test your physical fitness and give you a document outlining all of your key fitness metrics. You can also estimate this number. Many fitness trackers and apps can estimate your MHR based on your age. If, however, you use one of these age-based calculations you should keep an eye on your actual heart rates achieved during exercise. If you’re frequently seeing your MHR recorded as higher than the MHR that your app is estimating you should raise your MHR value accordingly. On the other hand, if you find that you’re never even coming close to your MHR it might be a good idea to lower it.
Your maximum heart rate, like your resting heart rate, needs to be accurate. If your MHR is too high or too low this can throw off your calorie burn calculation. It can also show the wrong intensity, telling you to push yourself harder than you need. Like every other aspect of your fitness, these numbers are very personal. Keep adjusting them while you work on your heart rate training.
What is heart rate training?
Heart rate training refers to using heart rate while doing various forms of physical activity to achieve a particular effect. Because different heart rates are correlated with different physiological effects athletes can use real-time heart rate information to increase or decrease intensity to maintain a specific physiological state. By keeping at a relatively low heart rate, for example, an athlete can burn more body fat relative to carbohydrates and can sustain that activity for a much longer time than activity at a higher intensity. Similarly, people looking to increase their cardiovascular endurance can keep their heart rate strictly within 70-80% of their maximum heart rate in order to train for this outcome most efficiently.
Heart rate readings can also help you to measure and understand improvements in fitness over time. If you are doing the same workout but see your heart rate lower you can learn a lot about your health. If the same activity is less intense over time it’s a good sign that you’re becoming more physically fit. Similarly, tracking your resting heart rate is a simple way of understanding how improving your fitness can transfer to other aspects of your total health, both inside and outside of the gym. Heart rate training also allows you to estimate calorie burn more effectively, making weight loss easier to plan and measure over time.
What are the heart rate zones?
There are lots of ways to think about your heart rate. You can choose a specific target heart rate, but that’s not usually very adaptable. Different activities sometimes require different intensities. A lot of heart rate training enthusiasts like to break down their HR into these 5 zones:
The first zone is the WARMUP zone. This zone is made up of heart rates below 59% of your MHR. This is a relatively low heart rate suited to warming up and cooling down from exercise. This type of activity can be sustained for a very long time.
The next zone, from 60% to 69% of MHR is the FITNESS zone. In the FITNESS zone your heart rate is still low. You can maintain this level of exercise for a long time. Even though the intensity isn’t very high, you should see cumulative positive effects on your fitness. Working out in the FITNESS zone is still valuable. Use this zone for longer workouts. Long runs walks are a great time to target the FITNESS zone. They aren’t very intense, but still benefit your body. When you’re talking about exercise all movement is good movement.
From 70% to 79% of MHR is the ENDURANCE zone. This zone burns proportionately more fat than carbohydrate. It balances intensity and endurance to really push the limits of a persons fitness while keeping the possibility of injury lower. While exercising in the ENDURANCE zone you will probably feel like you’re working hard. You can expect your heart rate to elevate and to breathe harder. At this zone you should still be able to hold a conversation.
80% to 90% of MHR is the HARDCORE zone. This is the highest heart rate that is usually possible to maintain for longer periods of time. For intense athletes exercising in the HARDCORE zone will significantly push the limits of a person’s performance, but will not be a sustainable state for a longer cardio session.
90% to 100% of your maximum heart rate is the RED LINE. This zone is the highest possible heart rate zone for training. This activity is not sustainable for very long, as the body is relying entirely on stored carbohydrate for energy. You should use this heart rate zone for interval training. You will get the most out of the RED LINE zone when you alternate it with rest periods.
Heart rate is a powerful tool for athletes to increase performance and measure progress at a professional level. It is one of the most valuable fitness tools for people who love in depth analysis. It is also useful for beginners, though, because heart rate training is very understandable. With the ability to customize your resting and maximum heart rates HR training is very adaptable.
Heart rate training is a valuable tool because it is so adaptable. As you grow and progress, heart rate training still works. Once you’ve understood the basics you have a fitness tracking tool that you can use for the rest of your life. From beginner to pro, heart rate training has something to offer for everyone.