Gauge your heart rate to track fitness progress

Health & fitness column

Now that the New Year has come and gone and you’re sticking to your resolutions, how do you know if your exercise is intense enough to gain the greatest benefits? The easiest way is to calculate your target heart rate zone. You’ll often see people in the gym stepping on the scale, or hear them talking about their body fat percentage, but how often do you see someone taking their pulse?

Your heart rate can be the most accurate predictor of your training results. If your heart rate is too low, you will rarely achieve the goals of losing body fat, and improving heart and lung capacity. If it is too high, you could risk burnout or overtraining.


You see these two terms on target heart rate charts and cardio equipment, but what do they mean? The premise behind the fat burning zone is to keep your heart rate within 50 to 65 percent of your maximum heart rate (low intensity), because this will utilize more fat for energy. The cardio zone, which is 70 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate (high intensity), provides greater cardio benefits, but uses more glycogen for energy.

If you want to lose fat, staying in the fat burning zone will not necessarily mean you will lose more body fat. Research findings suggest that the fuel source used during exercise has very little impact on changes to your body composition. Although high intensity exercise uses little fat as fuel during the training session, your body burns more overall calories both during high intensity exercise, and recovery. Strength training and high-intensity cardio exercise are the two best ways to drop fat and sculpt the perfect physique.

For beginners and people with orthopedic or other limitations, low and moderate intensity exercise is better. People with certain medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes, will need to ask their doctor if their training heart rate should be adjusted. Some medications may also affect your heart rate. In these cases, it is better to use what is known as your Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) to gauge your proper level of intensity.


Step 1: Find Your Heart Rate

Your heart rate is simply how many times your heart beats in one minute. You can find the strongest pulse, located at the carotid artery, by placing two fingers on one side of your neck, about two inches below your ear. Another approach is to place two fingers on the inside of your wrist. You can also wear a heart rate monitor to easily read your pulse. Most cardio machines have built in monitors that you can grip while exercising to read your pulse.

Step 2: Find Your Resting Heart Rate (RHR)

To find your resting heart rate, take your pulse for one minute just after waking up in the morning. For males, the RHR averages between 72 and 76 beats per minute (less if you have been exercising regularly). Females average from 76 to 80 beats per minute (less if you have been exercising regularly).

Step 3: Find Your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR)

Your maximum heart rate is the highest pulse rate your heart can sustain. The formula for predicting your MHR is 220 minus your age. (i.e. 220 - 40 (if you are 40 years old) = 180)

Step 4: Find the Heart Rate at Which You Should Exercise

To receive cardiovascular benefits, it is recommended that your target heart rate (THR) be between 50 percent and 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. Lower intensity exercise should maintain your heart rate at around 50 percent of your max. Higher intensity exercise will increase your target heart rate to 85 percent of its max. The easy formula to calculate your target heart rate zone is MHR x 50-85 percent. The Karvonen formula is a little more difficult, but a more accurate way to calculate your target heart rate zone. This formula is [(MHR - RHR) x 50-85 percent] + RHR.


Now that you know how to calculate your proper exercise intensity you can gauge your progress by monitoring your resting heart rate. As you get in better cardiovascular condition, you will have a lower resting heart rate. This indicates that your heart has a stronger beat and can pump blood through your body more efficiently.

Perry Buchanan, owner of PT Gym, is certified as Health Fitness Specialist through the American College of Sports Medicine and has been in the fitness industry for more than 30 years.


Sister_Ruby 2 years, 10 months ago

If I'm too damn fat to walk and too damn fat to find a pulse, can I stop by your office to get a handicapped parking sticker for my BMW?


Gollygee 2 years, 10 months ago

What is a FAT-BURBING ZONE? Shame on the AH for missing this grammatical error and letting it remain on your website for 4 days? Does anyone over there proof-read articles or prehaps have a spell-check program?


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