Part I – Why use a heart rate monitor?
Ok, very simply put…. measuring your heart rate is the most accurate way to determine what level of intensity your body is working at while exercising. And the only way to accurately gauge your heart rate is to use a heart rate monitor. Now, it is true, you could stop and check your pulse throughout your workout. But seriously, by the time you find an artery and get finished counting – say for 15 seconds – and then multiply by 4 to get your beats per minute, you have already changed the level of intensity and lost any hope of getting an accurate gauge regarding your level of physical exertion.
Also, the neat thing about a heart rate monitor is that it gives you a continuous and accurate reading at any given moment during your workout. If you use a heart rate monitor with a chest strap sending unit you will get an even more accurate reading because the unit is actually counting your heart beats, not your pulse. As a spinning instructor, I like this method best because then I can attach the display unit (the wrist watch part of the monitor) to my handle bars and watch it all the time. That way I can be sure that every second of my training is performed within or at the exact intensity level or energy zone planned for the workout.
Who should use a heart rate monitor?
Well, I would like to say everyone, but the real answer to this question is a bit more complicated. Just about everyone can benefit from using a heart rate monitor during exercise, but really anyone can get a good workout without one.
People have been training for centuries without the use of heart rate monitors. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the first Olympians probably were aware of how hard they were working (or their level of perceived exertion), but never related that to a count of their heart beats per minute and I’m pretty sure they never broke their exertion levels out into energy training zones. So go ahead… workout without a heart rate monitor. You probably have a pretty good sense of your perceived exertion….. You know when you’re working hard and when you’re taking it easy. And let’s face it, any kind of exercise – no matter how unstructured – is better than sitting on the couch and eating doughnuts.
Ok, so who should be using a hart rate monitor? I’m going to say, since you’re reading this – probably you. Anyone who is interested in getting the most out of their workout time should be spending that valuable time monitoring their hart rate. Time is precious! So why waste any of it with an unfocused effort. You simply can’t get the most out of your workout without tracking your heart rate. A heart rate monitor is a small expense, with a gigantic payoff that will give you the tools to take your fitness to a higher level – period.
The Energy Training Zones
In spinning we use 5 zones to gauge energy exertion during a workout. The table below breaks out the zones with percentages of maximum heart rate along with the physiological benefits of each. A well designed spinning program will focus on one or a combination of these defined zones as a fitness objective for the class.
The energy zone chart above represents the core elements of a well designed training program.
In my next entry (part II of “Using a Heart Rate Monitor”), we’ll discuss how these zones are incorporated into a typical workout, how to determine your heart rates and how to determine your individual energy zones.
If you would like to purchase a hart rate monitor you can go to the links below and get one on line or you can check with your local bike shop or outdoor outfitter to get one locally.
Part II – Using your Heart Rate Monitor
Caution: Prior to engaging in any vigorous physical activity or exercise test, consult your physician for clearance. If you have any questions or concerns about your exercise regimen, including your target heart rate, consult your doctor.
Ok, now that you have decided to use a heart rate monitor, and you can see how fast your heart is beating with every peddle stroke, flutter kick and fartlek, let’s figure out some practical applications for this useful bit of information.
Above is the Spinning Energy Zone chart complete with names for each zone level, percentages of maximum heart rate for each intensity level and some of the benefits for each training zone. When we workout within these training zones we can target specific fitness goals, and ensure that we are not training too hard or not hard enough. All pretty neat – but completely meaningless unless you know how you and your heart rate fit into each zones.
First, we need to figure out your maximum heart rate. An easy way to do this is to work with the standard theoretical maximum heart rate formula based on your age.
Men: 220 – Age = Max Heart Rate
Women: 225 – Age = Max Heart Rate
In my case as a 48 year old man, my theoretical max would be 172 beats per minute.
220 -48 = 172
If we break that down into percentages and apply them to the training zones shown above we get the following heart rate ranges:
Recovery Zone (50% – 65%) = 88 – 114 bpm
Endurance Zone (65% – 75%) = 114 – 129 bpm
Strength Zone (75% – 85%) = 129 – 146 bpm
Interval Zone (65% – 92%) = 114 – 158 bpm
Race Day Zone (80% – 92%) = 138 – 158 bpm
Practically speaking, after mapping this out, I would now know that when the spinning instructor says “let’s take it up to 75% during this interval” I should try to keep my heart rate right around 129 beats per minute.
If you are interested in the simplest and easiest way to put your heart rate monitor to use – then the above calculations are the way to go.
Let’s take this to the next level and get more accurate
First of all, the formulas above are only general guidelines. So your actual max heart rate may be higher or lower then what you get using 220 or 225 minus your age formula.
If we continue using me as the example, my actual max is about 195, not 172. (I know this because I have seen it in the lab and in the field.) If I were to simply use the general 220 minus my age formula, I would be way under estimating my levels of exertion when training. In addition, my resting heart rate, an important fitness level indicator is not taken into account when using the simple age based formula.
A final note on Max Heart Rate – your maximum heart rate does not change with increased fitness. Sure it goes down a little each year as you get older – but no amount of training and becoming more physically fit is going to increase your maximum heart rate. It is what it is and we can certainly base some intensity percentages on that number but the picture is not quite complete yet.
Resting Heart Rate
The typical adult has a resting heart rate of about 72 beats per minute (bpm) whereas highly trained runners may have readings of 40 bpm or lower. Unlike your max heart rate, your resting heart rate does change as you increase your fitness level. It goes down. Also important when considering resting heart rate is that the percentages above figure in a heart rate range that starts at zero and we all know as long as we are alive, our heart rate is never zero. And that’s where heart rate reserve comes into play.
Heart Rate Reserve
Heart Rate Reserve is a more accurate way to figure training ranges incorporating our resting hear rate and our maximum heart rate. A simple way to think about it is that it adjusts the scale to where zero should be. Below is a simple formula for this.
Calculating Heart Rate Reserve (The Karvonan Formula)
Max Heart Rate – Resting Heart Rate = Heat Rate Reserve
In my case: a MHR of 195 – a RHR of 50 = a HHR of 145
As you can see from the formula, 145 represents what I like to think of as the active range in which my heart operates. By taking into account that my resting heart rate is 50 we can now adjust any target zone percentages for my max heart rate and resting heart rate. Let’s use the bottom of the strength zone; 75% as an example. Here is how we do it:
Heart Rate Reserve X Training Zone % + Resting Heart Rate = Target Heart Rate.
In my case: a HRR of 145 X .75 + a RHR of 50 = a THR of 159 bbm
If you look at the table above which used the straight age based formula and did not take into account my resting heart rate; 75% is 129. That’s 30 bbm less than when we figure in my observed max heart rate and account for my fitness level by incorporating my resting heart rate.
Putting it all together
Let’s compare our two methods continuing to use me as our example.
Age Based Observed W/HRR
Recovery Zone (50% – 65%) = 88 – 114 bpm 123 – 144 bpm
Endurance Zone (65% – 75%) = 114 – 129 bpm 144 – 159 bpm
Strength Zone (75% – 85%) = 129 – 146 bpm 159 – 173 bpm
Interval Zone (65% – 92%) = 114 – 158 bpm 144 – 183 bpm
Race Day Zone (80% – 92%) = 138 – 158 bpm 166 – 183 bpm
Notice how much higher the Target Zones are in the column on the right using my observed Max and Resting Heart Rates and utilizing the formula for Heart Rate Reserve. Given my unique inherited physiology and fitness level, these are much more realistic target heart Rates for me to work with when training. This is also evident in the field. When training within the age based zones, I can barley keep my heart rate low enough to mach my targets. And when I do keep my heart rate down to stay within the zones, I am hardly challenged and come away feeling as though I have not had much of a work out.
Ok, so where should you the new heart rate monitor user start? A good place for anyone to begin is with the simple Age Based formula. It will give you a safe starting place and once you have mapped out your Target Heart Rates you begin training you will have a good bench mark with which to base any adjustments you make to your Target Heart Rates.
Click here to open a new window containing a table listing multiple Age Based Target Zones. Calculate your max heart rate using 220 or 225 minus your age and then locate the line that best matches your MHR. Or go ahead and do the math and figure your zones to the exact beat.
Click here to open a new window containing a template for a Target Zone Workout Card. The top table shows the card with the values I use and is the actual card that I have with me whenever I train. Having this quick and easy reference card makes it simple for me to keep track of where my heart rate is through out my training and tailor my workout intensity to whatever my goals are for that day. The lower table is on this page is blank. You can print it out and fill in the values for your zones.
Getting More Accurate by using you real Resting and Max Heart Rates
Figuring your Resting Heart Rate
First off, Resting Heart Rate is not the rate at which you heart beats during restful times throughout the day. Resting Heart Rate is the rate at which your heart beats when you first wake up in the morning. I think a more accurate way to describe it is not as your resting heart rate, but as your “waking heart rate”. An easy way to determine your “waking heart rate” is to take your pulse when you first wake up in the morning, BEFORE you sit up and get out of bed. Check it on three different mornings over a week or so of time, take an average, and you have your Resting Heart Rate. Be aware, if you are at all sick, even just nursing a cold; if you have to urinate; or are suffering from a lack of rest; your heat rate will be elevated. That’s why it’s a good idea to take it over a few days and figure an average.
Figuring Your True Maximum Heart Rate
Ok, this gets a bit trickier because you actually have to get out there and push your heart to its upper limits. The best and most accurate way to determine this is to observe it in a lab under controlled conditions with an exercise physiologist or cardiologist. If you can’t do that, there are several ways to determine your maximum heart rate in the field. My favorite method and the one I always come back to for its ease, availability and accuracy is The Biggest Number Test. Sally Edwards author of “The Heart Rate Monitor Book” and a pioneer in the field of heart rate based training describes it this way.
“.. This is one of those that is simply obvious. Given that you’ve worn your heart rate monitor a while, especially during hard workouts, your Max HR is the biggest number you have ever seen on your heart rate monitor (the biggest reasonable number, not 300 bpm, say–you don’t want to take one that’s influenced by interference).”
I love this method because it is right in front of your face as you do your regular workouts. For other good methods I suggest reading; How to Determine Your Maximum Heart Rate by Sally Edwards.
Mapping Your Zones
Now that you have your Max and Resting Heart Rates, it’s time to put them to work for you in your regular workout routine.
Click here open a window with a table listing the Spinning Training Zones broken down by heart rate. This chart takes into account both Maximum and Resting heart rate by using Heart Rate Reserve to determine each zone. You can use this table with the age based formula for Max Heart Rate, but you must know your Resting (or Waking) Heart Rate to use it accurately.
After you have found the line that matches your heart rate on the chart you can print and fill out this Training Zone Card and keep it with you for reference when training. I have a copy of this exact card with my heart rate zones mapped out in every spinning class teach or take.
Finally, for a more detailed description of the Spinning Energy Zones*; click here. I strongly recommend becoming familiar with the detailed benefits of each zone. It will aid you in understanding what your spinning or fitness instructor is shooting for when they ask you to train at any given level. In addition, understanding these zones and how they benefit you can help you to set your own fitness goals.
*Detailed descriptions provided by Jennifer Ward, Master Spinning Instructor, Madd Dog Athletics.