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The Importance of Heart Rate

Heart rate is the most essential component in monitoring fitness intensity and is a determinant of physical conditioning.  An individual’s heart rate at rest is anywhere from 50-100 beats per minute (bpm) and during maximal exercise can be raised as high as 180-200 bpm or even slightly higher.

In the world of fitness, a person’s calculated maximal heart rate is found as follows: 220 - Age (so if you’re 20, maximum heart rate is 200 bpm) because maximum heart rate decreases with age. It should be noted that highly trained individuals can manipulate their heart rate using various studied methods. The guidelines given below are for the greater populous and should not be construed as representative of elite physical performance.

Proper endurance exercise, according to the ACSM should sustain the person’s heart rate between 50% – 85% of their maximum (60%-80% is the most practical).  It has been proven that maximum cardiac and aerobic benefits are achieved between these ranges. Where do you fit?

Training Heart Rates

Age HRmax 50% 60% 70% 80% 85%
20 200 100 120 140 160 170
30 190 95 114 133 152 162
40 180 90 108 126 144 153
50 170 85 102 119 136 145
60 160 80 96 112 128 136
70 150 75 90 105 120 128
80 140 70 84 98 112 119

For those not adept at mathematics stick to the table above as a guideline. There is another way to find your training heart rate range (slightly more difficult), called the heart rate reserve method.  It produces roughly the same ranges and requires knowing your resting heart rate:

( [HRmax – HRrest] X 0.6 and 0.8) + HR rest.

Ex: Age= 20; HRrest = 60; 60% - 80% training range is 144 – 172

If you asked why there are two methods of determining a HR training range you asked a good question.  The heart rate reserve method attempts to incorporate resting heart rate into an equation.  This is because improved cardiovascular exercise capacity has been strongly correlated with a lower heart rate, meaning that fit people’s hearts beat slower when they aren’t doing much.  The second method tries to apply the research in a useful way.  Both methods of determining your training heart rate range are acceptable.

Determining Heart Rate:

Aside from being plugged into a screen at a hospital to monitor your heart rate, you can estimate you heart rate simply by finding your own pulse, counting the number of beats in 15 seconds (watching a clock/timing yourself) and then multiplying by 4.  This method is used in hospitals and outpatient clinics as a quick reliable way to estimate heart rate.  Your pulse can be felt in many places on your body; however your radial pulse, found on your wrist, is ideal.  If your right palm is facing up and you make a tight fist, place your index finger and your middle finger (of your other hand) parallel to the right of the all the stringy tendons on your wrist and then relax your fist.  You should feel a mild pulse from your radial artery. Practice makes perfect with this.  Many people find their pulse on their neck which is contraindicated during exercise because it can increase intracranial blood pressure.

Bottom Line:

If you never know what your heart rate is during exercise, then there is no way to pay attention to it and when you do, make sure it’s between the correct ranges when you do exercise. By doing this you can adequately moderate the intensity and the recovery of relevant physiological mechanisms to get the maximal effect from your training. That said, we recommended that individuals who want to get the most out of their exercise purchase and use a Polar Heart Rate Monitor*, the quickest, easiest way of always knowing your heart rate.