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How A Heart Rate Monitor Can Assist Your Training

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Your heart is the most important muscle in your body and most of us are aware of the importance of getting enough cardiovascular exercise. Using a heart rate monitor can help assure that you are working your heart properly as you exercise. Like any muscle, the heart needs to be exercised, and serves as a barometer for the rest of your body by telling you how hard you are loading it during various functions. It circulates blood, rich in oxygen from breathing, from your lungs to your trunk and lower extremities. Monitoring your heart rate is the easiest way to keep yourself working in the right “zone,” reducing your chance of injury and over training, and increasing the odds that you’ll get the results you want.

Heart rate monitors can measure your cardiovascular and physiological stress during training sessions. They provide you with an accurate gauge of the intensity of an exercise, which is reflected in your heart rate. The harder you exercise, the higher the heart rate should go. When your heart rate changes, it’s a sign that something is happening, which can be something good or something bad. In either case, having this information will allow you to properly react. By constantly monitoring your heart rate you will learn to tell when your workouts are effective, when you are over or under training, and even when you may be getting sick and need to back off.

Heart rates are measured in beats per minute (bpm). Your resting heart rate indicates your basic fitness level and is defined by the number of times your heart beats per minute while your body is at rest. The more well conditioned your body, the less effort and fewer beats per minute it takes your heart to pump blood to your body at rest. Measure your resting heart rate immediately after awakening and before you get out of bed. Take these measurements for five consecutive days and find the average. This average is your actual resting heart rate. Resting heart rate is dependent on your living habits and a number of factors such as quality of sleep, stress level, and eating habits.

Your average heart rate is the number of times it beats in a certain period, like over the course of a workout.

Your maximum heart rate (Max HR) is the highest number of times your heart can contract in one minute. Max HR is the most useful tool to be used in determining training intensities, because it can be individually measured and predicted. Unfortunately, the only way to get a true accurate reading is to have an exercise test clinically administered. Without this option, you are forced to use a ballpark figure, which can be calculated using this formula:

WOMEN: 226-your age = your age-adjusted Max HR
MEN: 220-your age = your age-adjusted Max HR

For example, if you are a 30-year-old woman, your age-adjusted maximum heart rate is 226-30 years = 196 bpm (beats per minute). Keep in mind that these formulas apply only to adults and are not accurate. The generally accepted error in age-predicted formulas is +/ - 10 to15 beats per minute, which is due to different inherited characteristics and exercise training. If you want to exercise/train at your most effective levels, your Max HR should be measured, but this formula will work fine for your immediate purposes.

Your anaerobic threshold is the physiological point during exercise at which muscles start using up more oxygen than the body can transport (the point where lactic acid accumulates and you get “pumped”). It’s also worth noting that while you can train your max heart rate and your anaerobic threshold (so that they are always changing slightly), the actual numbers don’t correspond to fitness versus another individual. Some people have naturally higher maximum heart rates than others.

A target zone is a heart rate range that guides your workout by keeping your intensity level between an upper and lower heart rate limit. There are various target zones that are suggested for an individual to follow that correspond with a specific exercise.

Heart Zones

Zone Name Percentage of Max HR Perceived Exertion Difficulty
Z1 Healthy Heart Zone 50%-60% 2-5 (perceived exertion)
Z2 Temperate Zone 60%-70% 4-5 (perceived exertion)
Z3 Aerobic Zone 70%-80% 5-7 (perceived exertion)
Z4 Threshold Zone 80%-90% 7-9 (perceived exertion)
Z5 Redline Zone 90%-100% 9-10 (perceived exertion)

Higher zones require less time in zone than lower zones

At the lower zones, or "cruise" zones as they are sometimes called, you can train in that zone for longer periods of time. But, as you move up to higher intensity zones, you need to decrease the amount of time that you spend in that zone, particularly in the top two (the Anaerobic and Redline zones). To put it simply: you can walk farther than you can sprint, and overdoing it is nearly a guarantee of injuries or burnout.

Zones are relative

Your five heart rate zones are specific to your maximum heart rate, not anybody else's. With two runners, each maintaining a heart rate of 160 bpm, one might well be in their Z4 Threshold Zone and the other may be in their Z2 Temperate Zone. It's all relative.

Zones are metabolic, calorie burning zones

Each heart zone burns a different number of calories per minute based on how fit you are.
Zone 5 = 20+ calories per minute
Zone 4 = 17-20 calories per minute
Zone 3 = 12-17 calories per minute
Zone 2 = 7-12 calories per minute
Zone 1 = 3-7 calories per minute

Fat is burned differently in each of the heart zones

You'll burn a different ratio of fat to carbohydrates in each of the heart zones. Remember, once you've crossed over the exercise intensity threshold called "anaerobic threshold," you are burning no additional fat, though you still burn fat. That's because oxygen has to be present for fat to burn. If there's no additional oxygen present, there's no additional fat burned during this period. However, don’t confuse this with meaning that you won’t lose body fat in higher zones. Other factors that result from training is these zones will lead to a reduction in body fat, such as an elevated metabolism over time caused by muscular breakdown and/or increased muscle mass, which raises the metabolism.

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