Many fitness novices ‒ and perhaps even some folks at the intermediate level ‒ find it difficult to determine how intensely they should perform their cardiovascular exercises. They wonder if it's better to walk, run, or pedal as fast as they can for as long as they can (which typically results in a very short workout) or if they should go at a slower pace that can be sustained for a much longer duration. The answer often lies somewhere in the middle of the two extremes, and can be determined with the help of a heart rate monitor.
What does a heart rate monitor do?
When used in a fitness context, heart rate monitors measure workout intensity by indicating how fast the heart is beating at any given point. The runner (or walker or cyclist) can then control heart rate and intensity by speeding up or slowing down to stay within a target heart rate zone for the duration of the workout.
What are the five heart rate zones?
Heart rate zones, which are determined by factors such as age and resting heart rate, are generally classified into five zones based on a percentage of an individual's maximum heart rate (MHR). The five zones, their approximate percentages, and their training purposes are as follows:
- Zone 1 (50-60% of MHR) ‒ Exercise in this range on easy or recovery days
- Zone 2 (60-70% of MHR) ‒ Exercise in this range to build aerobic endurance
- Zone 3 (70-80% of MHR) ‒ Exercise in this range to increase stamina (Note: In some heart rate classification tables, Zone 2 and Zone 3 are combined)
- Zone 4 (80-90% of MHR) ‒ Exercise in this range to increase anaerobic threshold
- Zone 5 (90-100% of MHR) ‒ Exercise in this range to increase speed (Note: Training in this zone cannot be sustained for long periods and should only be attempted by very fit individuals/athletes)
What kinds of heart rate monitors are available?
Consumers have two basic types of heart rate monitors from which to choose. One kind is wearable, and typically takes the form of a wristwatch or bracelet ‒ like the Polar FT1 heart rate monitor. When worn in conjunction with a chest strap, the portable device offers real-time heart rate data to keep the user tuned in to his or her exertion level.
The second kind is offered as a built-in feature on home and commercial fitness equipment such as treadmills, ellipticals, and stationary bikes. These machines either have contact handles that the user grips whenever a heart rate reading is desired or use wireless telemetry to work with the exerciser's own wearable device to present the same data. Examples of this kind of equipment include the Spirit Fitness XE295 Elliptical and the True TM50 Treadmill, both available at Push Pedal Pull.
What does it all mean?
Using a heart rate monitor and exercising within certain target heart zones allows you to improve fitness without overexerting yourself or leaving too much in the tank. Try it during your next workout and let us know what kind of impact it has on your performance!