What is your target heart rate, how do you reach it, and what are the modern gadgets available to help you track it?
We’ve all seen them, those people strapped with gadgets on their arms, chest, and wrist running on treadmills, through the park, or cycling down the street. But what on earth are they tracking and why?
The short and simple answer to this mystery is they are tracking their heart rate.
But why? Are they afraid they will have a heart attack from running too fast? Or are they so meticulous about their exercise conditioning that they need to be precise with numbers to gain a winning edge?
Can’t they just use their fingers to calculate their heart rate? Does it even help with reaching your fitness goals?
Most importantly, what does your heart rate tell you anyway?
Well it turns out; heart rate monitoring does have its uses whether you are an avid professional athlete, or simply someone who wants to make sure you are working out hard enough to burn fat and get rid of cellulite.
There, I’ve partly given the answer away. For a good majority of people, fat burning is the number one curiosity for checking out target heart rate.
For professional athletes or exercise enthusiast, they check it to see if the intensity of their work-out is in a certain performance zone. Those zones include fat burning, aerobic and endurance, anaerobic, and vo2 Max.
Lastly, people with heart conditions check their heart rate to make sure their heart rate doesn’t speed up too much, even while doing low to moderate intensity exercise.
How To Find Your Target Heart Rate
There are two popular calculations in use today. The first, and “older” way to calculate target heart rate is by taking the number 220 and subtracting your age. The resulting number gives you your maximum heart rate, in which you would be exercising at 100% of your potential, pushing your heart to the maximum limit. Your target heart rate, according to the American Heart Association, is far less than that and should be 50 to 85% of your maximum heart rate. This is the intensity where you are able to reap the most health benefits.
So to find the number of beats per minute (bpm) for your target heart rate, you multiply your maximum heart rate by 0.5 and 0.85. Your target heart rate lies between these two numbers. Thus, it’s more like a range than a single number.
For Example: 220- age (41) = 179 bpm Maximum Heart Rate
179 x 0.5 = 89.5 and 179 x 0.85 = 152.15
Target Heart Rate is therefore between 90 and 152 bpm
The second “modern” way to calculate target heart rate from maximum heart rate is by using the 2007 formula which is slightly more accurate. For this one you take the number 206.9 and subtract (0.67Xage) to find your maximum heart rate. Then multiply by 0.5 and 0.85 to find target heart rate parameters.
For Example: 206.9 – (0.67 X 41) = 179.43 bpm Maximum Heart Rate
179.43 X 0.5 = 90 and 179.43 X 0.85 = 152
Target Heart Rate is between 90 and 152
As you can see the formulas are really not that different and only pushes the bpm up or down by about 1 bpm if rounding up or down occurs. In this case, the parameters stayed relatively the same.
As scientific as the whole thing is made out to be, there is no magic number that is 100 % accurate, because there are so many variables that determine your true fitness level or how well you will actually perform. That’s why it’s useful to monitor your own heart rate and keep a log of your personal performance and go over it with your doctor.
But What Do Your Numbers Mean?
Well for starters, the more fit you are the lower your resting heart rate (rhr) will be.
Most non-athletes have a resting heart rate of between 60 and 100 bpm. An athlete’s heart can beat slower at about 40 to 60 bpm, because their hearts are stronger and able to push out more blood with each stroke.
Yet, this slower heart rate alone is not a perfect indicator of overall fitness either. Again, other factors play a role.
One factor in particular is the medications a person takes such as beta blockers which lower heart rate. However, all things considered, having a lower resting heart rate is a decent indication that you are making progress when you exercise and that your heart is in better condition.
A simple way to calculate your rhr is by finding your pulse in your neck with your index and middle finger. Once you have found it, start a stop watch and count your beats for 10 seconds. Next multiply the number of beats by 6 to find the beats per minute.
For Example 13 beats over 10 seconds would be:
13 X 6 = 78 bpm rhr
Another meaningful number is target heart rate which allows you to set the intensity of your work-out.
Say you want to burn fat and get rid of cellulite, and you want to do it as fast as possible without over-training. When your resting heart rate is sitting around 78 bpm, as it is in the example above, and your target heart rate zone starts at 90 bpm; then it won’t take much intensity to get you into your target zone where you are sure to burn fat.
If your rhr is 100 bpm then, it’s best to start at a low intensity until you improve your rhr because you could easily over-train. If you are in great shape, you may have to push really hard to reach your target heart rate.
What are the exercise zones and how is heart rate involved?
Here is a helpful chart.
As you can see the higher your heart rate the more intense your exercise routine will be. In between 60 and 70 % of your maximum heart rate, this is considered the fat burning zone.
However, it is possible to shed fat just by maintaining a caloric deficit. That means that you are burning more calories than you are taking in. Thus, it’s more useful to think of this chart as purely an exercise intensity guide.
Where this guide really becomes useful is when you want to see if you are going beyond your target heart rateor over 85% of your maximum heart rate. (A common test called a stress test is used by doctors to determine at what intensity a person reaches there maximum heart rate. The test is also used to challenge the heart and ascertain if there are any problems with it). Professional athletes also use these numbers to consistently perform at their peak.
The reason you want to stay within your target heart rate goes back to the concept of under-training and over-training.
When you over-train by exceeding your target heart rate on an ongoing basis, you run the risk of dehydration, dizziness, and potentially fainting. Plus, you are putting yourself at greater risk for infection and chronic pain.
When you under-train, by not reaching your target heart rate, you lose the benefits of exercise such as weight loss, overall strength, and cardiac endurance.
Armed with this information, perhaps you want to join the modernized gadgetized culture and get yourself a nifty heart rate monitor. For people who have these, they seem to be a motivator of sorts.
Answering questions like, will my exercise routine lower my rhr or can I shorten the time it takes to get my heart rate to return to normal after a workout, becomes a goal setting game.
Technology based companies have embraced the idea that people want these fashionable devices and that there’s a market for it. Exploring this market, I found a number of cool heart rate monitors. Some are electrode studded chest straps, some are wristwatch like, and others are sleek trackers. Some are even built into wireless headphones with other cool features. Here is a list you might want to check out.
Chest Straps (most accurate) – MyZone mz3, Wahoo Tickr X, Garmin hrm Tri, Suunto Smart Sensor
Running Watches with Built-In hrm – TomTom Spark, Garmin Forerunner 235, Mio Alpha 2, Fitbit Surge
Fitness Trackers with hrm – Garmin Vivosmart hr, Fitbit Blaze, Jawbone Up3 and Up4
Headphones – Jabra Sport Pulse, Bragi Dash (my personal fav!)
These devices tend to be much easier to use as you are exercising. It’s very difficult to find your pulse while you are in motion. Plus it’s near impossible to get data points for tracking your entire routine by using the old pulse count technique.
Now that you know the what and why…
How Do You Get Into Your Target Heart Zone?
Well the answer is fairly simple. It depends on your current fitness level.
Some people can get into their target heart rate zone just by briskly walking. Others need to hop onto an elliptical or stair master. Some need to really push hard by sprinting or squat jumping.
A good indicator, other than checking your heart rate, is to pay attention to the amount of verbalizing you are able to do while you work-out. If you are huffing air, and unable to carry on a conversation; then you are probably in the zone.
How long you stay in the zone is also important. Exercising at least 30 minutes a day in your target heart rate zone can have a significant positive impact on your overall health.
In summary, your target heart rate is really a range in which you can safely and effectively work-out.
Keeping track of your heart rate while you exercise can help you plan your routines, gauge the success of your routines, and ensure that you are not under or over-training. Modern technological advancements have created devices that make tracking your heart rate convenient and even enjoyable.