How Heart Rate Monitoring Can Improve Fitness/How to Choose a HRM
Heart rate monitors provide valuable data that can help improve performance and maximize the benefits of training. By tracking your heart rate, you can gauge your training and search for cues from your body that point to the effectiveness of a particular exercise program. Before purchasing a heart rate monitor, it's important to understand the science behind heart rate and blood flow. This will help in understanding what the different measurements mean.
First, a quick lesson: the amount of times the heart beats per minute is called the heart rate. Exercise makes the heart stronger, enabling it to pump more blood throughout the body per beat. Oxygen from the lungs is delivered to muscles through the bloodstream. The heart beat increases during exercise in order to supply the muscles with the additional oxygen they need. There are a few different numbers that come into play with the heart rate:
Resting Heart Rate
This is the number of beats per minute while at rest. Resting heart rate (RHR) should be measured when you first wake up or when you're sitting and relaxed. The average RHR for a man ranges from 60 to 80 beats per minute, and the average for women is between 70 and 90 beats per minute. Some extremely conditioned athletes can have a RHR below 50 beats per minute. To find your RHR: use a heart rate monitor to track your RHR at different points throughout a week. Take the average of these numbers to get the most accurate measurement of your RHR.
Maximum Heart Rate
When exercising as hard as you can, you'll approach your maximum heart rate (MHR). To get the most accurate measurement of your MHR you would need to use an electrocardiogram, which would require visiting a fitness specialist or doctor. Because most people don't have access to this type of specialized test, there are a few easy calculations that will provide an estimate. One formula: simply subtract your age from 220. For example, a 40 year old would subtract 40 from 220, equaling 180 beats per minute. While not completely accurate, this calculation will provide a general idea of MHR.
Training Heart Rate
The training heart rate (THR) is the rate your heart maintains during certain types of activity, measured in percentages of your MHR. Depending on your goals and the level of exercise, this number can vary. During faster running for a long period of time, your heart rate will generally fluctuate between 70 and 80 percent of your MHR. During a slower, longer run, your heart rate will typically range from 60 to 70 percent of the MHR, and a vigorous walk between 50 and 60 percent.
Recovery Heart Rate
Immediately after a workout your heart rate drops, allowing the body the ability to recover. Your heart should quickly begin beating within 20 beats of your RHR.
By using a heart rate monitor, you can track all of these numbers throughout your training. A heart rate monitor is beneficial for ensuring you're exercising at the proper intensity to reach your goals, whether your aim is to strengthen your heart, improve endurance, control weight, or simply stay healthy.
Heart Rate Zones
During exercise, heart rate is typically measured in zones. Various different formulas are used to calculate specific individual heart rates within each zone, but in general, the zones are as follows:
Zone 1: 50 - 60% of MHR; this extremely light effort aerobic zone is an easy/recovery exercise level and aids in lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. Exercise in this zone tends to last from twenty to forty minutes.
Zone 2: 60 - 70% of MHR; this light effort aerobic zone is utilized in endurance activities and aids in building muscle mass, losing fat mass, increasing endurance and strengthening the heart. The body utilizes stored fat and develops muscle in this zone. Between forty and eighty minutes are typically spent here.
Zone 3: 70 - 80% of MHR; commonly described as a transition zone, this moderate effort aerobic zone should feel fairly comfortable but still cause you to sweat. Efforts in this zone aid in stroke volume, increase the number and size of blood vessels, and help increase the respiratory rate. Time spent in this zone is generally between ten and forty minutes.
Zone 4: 80 - 90% of MHR; this threshold zone requires a hard effort. Training in this zone improves anaerobic tolerance and enables maximum fat and calorie burning. Carbohydrates are used as the calorie source. Time spent in this zone ranges from two to ten minutes.
Zone 5: 90 - 100% MHR; being in this zone requires maximum effort. This is the highest calorie burning zone, burning very little calories from fat. Training in this zone helps strengthen the neuromuscular system and improve speed. Overtraining, injury, and poor performance can occur when exercising too much in this zone. Typically between zero and two minutes will be spent in this zone, as the muscles quickly lose oxygen. Sprinting is one example of zone 5 intensity.
Targeting different zones enables you to control your exercise intensity and see how hard your body is working, in turn improving your overall fitness. Tracking progress over time using a heart rate monitor will allow you to see how your body reacts to different types of training and will enable you to adjust as needed. Using a heart rate monitor to track your heart rate can also help prevent overexertion and avoid unnecessary stress. Training at the right level will also aid in recovery and prevent fatigue and injury. Every body is unique and individual, and monitoring cardiovascular health and fitness allows you to tailor your training plan to improve performance and overall heart health.
A variety of different options are available when it comes to purchasing a heart rate monitor. Heart rate tracking is typically done using a wristwatch that wirelessly connects to a transmitter that is strapped around the chest. The transmitter detects electrical activity in the heart and delivers that information to a receiver in the watch through a digital display. Chest strap models are typically most accurate when compared to other models (for example, finger sensor models) and measurements are taken consistently without interrupting the workout. In contrast, finger sensor models use only the wristwatch monitor. The heart rate can only be measured by pressing a finger on the monitor's sensor. Unlike chest strap models, you must stop your workout to use a heart rate monitor with a finger sensor. These models are a little less accurate and do not have the ability to track distance and speed.
When choosing a heart rate monitor, you should first determine the features that are most important to you. Basic models provide general data like the heart rate, averages, highs, and lows. As you increase in price, you'll see different features like GPS/distance and speed measurements, calorie computation based on heart rate and activity, programmed training programs, timers and alarms, online data management, and the ability to monitor your health by tracking weight and body fat, among other measurements. Higher priced models also offer the ability to track multiple heart rate zones, along with the time spent in these zones.