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Heart Rate & Exercise

Following my most recent blog post (Calories and Exercise), I thought now was a great time to discuss heart rate (HR) before, during and after exercise. You don’t necessarily need any fancy equipment to measure HR (we’ll discuss pulse rates below) although most fitness watches can measure heart rates for us too nowadays.

HR is measured in beats per minute (bpm) and is the number of contractions of the heart within one minute. An average resting heart rate (RHR) is between 60-100bpm, and the lower the number of that range means the heart pumps blood around the body more efficiently and that the person has better cardiovascular fitness, than that of a higher RHR. Well trained athletes may have a RHR of even lower than 60bpm.

When exercising it can be useful for consider maximum heart rates (MHR) and training zones. To find your MHR complete the sum (220 – your age); for me at age 24 as I write this, my MHR would be 196bpm (220-24). On average, you then use between 60-80% of your MHR to train during sessions in order for adaptions to occur and depending on the goal of the training session. 60% of my MHR is 118bpm (196 x 0.6), whilst 80% of my MHR is 157bpm (196 x 0.8). By “adaptions” I am talking about improvements in efficiency of the heart – how well it pumps blood round the body, and also for metabolism of energy (carbs, fats, sugars etc that are used during exercise or stored for everyday energy use such as climbing stairs and brain power during work!). However, this can’t be taken as a concept of “one session at 80% MHR is going to instantly make my heart stronger”… it does need to be done regularly. If you’re looking for more weight loss then you want to work at a higher rate than if you are just wanting to maintain fitness levels – over time you’ll be able to work within higher heart rates than when you started.

To look even more deeply into this concept of training zones, it’s important to consider if you are a beginner to exercise, intermediate gym-goer, or advanced professional athlete. It’s fairly simple to understand that it’s not possible to put a beginner into a training HR zone of 90% for example… it would be dangerous for long periods of time. This being said, they may hit 90% MHR for a 30 second block for example if the exercise is particularly intense and their heart isn’t used to this capacity… I wouldn’t recommend it, but technically it could happen.

Beginners should aim for 60-75% of MHR for training sessions. Intermediate athletes should aim for 76-85% of MHR, whilst advanced athletes could train between 86-95% of MHR. To put this in comparison to exercise types, long slow endurance (power walk or light jog) would be the first training zone; an exercise class might be training zone two, whilst sprints and heavy lifting could push the heart rate up to zone 3. You would only really consider 100% MHR training for very short bursts of exercise (5 seconds or so) with longer periods of rest between sets.

New to the training game? Don’t worry about splashing out on a new fitness watch just yet… you can find your HR at two pulse points. Either by placing your index and middle fingers on the side of your neck, about an inch under the chin, or the same two fingers on the inside of your wrist about two inches down from the bottom of the hand – see photos below. For a quick reading, count the amount of times you feel the pulse for 15 seconds, and times this reading by four to find your BPM.

This should be done after 10 minutes of rest if looking to find your resting heart rate or can be done immediately after exercise if trying to work out your training heart rate. For a more detailed reading, count bpm for 60 seconds, or use a heart rate tracker/ fitness watch. I use the Apple Watch Series 1 and find it pretty easy to understand. Other watches can give you a reading during your sessions to tell you how long you were in your “fat burning zone” during your session if this is your goal… research which one is best for you before you buy.

For some people, they may not be worried about training zones, especially if their goal is more about lifting a certain weight for example… I’m simply saying that this method of recording your training is useful for some people, and if you ask me fairly interesting too. It’s important to have good cardiovascular fitness in order to lessen your risk of chronic diseases, but again keep in mind that anyone with an existing heart condition should seek professional medical advice before partaking in any training, especially when looking at heart rate training zones. You may find over time with regular exercise and a good diet that your average resting heart rate will decrease, as will the time that it takes you to recover from a session. Enquire today if you would like more information on training zones, I’d be more than happy to help! See more info regarding joining online Zoom workouts with me during July and August 2020! Get that heart rate up!

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