By Joli Guenther, MSSW, NASM
National Heart Health month may be over, but there's no reason to lose focus of conditioning your ticker. Most Horizon Fitness equipment models include a heart rate monitor to make keeping track of heart rate during your workouts quick and convenient, but are you really getting the most from this feature on your treadmill, elliptical, or exercise bike? Whether you’re a well conditioned runner or a beginning exerciser, keep reading for a few tips on getting started with heart rate training.
Know your Max: The first step to using your heart rate for a more effective workout is getting a good estimate of your maximum heart rate, since any targeted heart rates for your workout will be based on a percentage of this number. Estimating your max heart rate can be done in one of three ways, depending on your fitness level.
If you're new to exercise or would like a conservative estimate, the standard formula of 220 minus your age is a good way of determining your max heart rate.
For those who have been exercising for a year or more, the formula given above may be too conservative, leaving you with a lower heart rate than is accurate for your fitness. A new formula of 205 - (.5 x your age) tends to produce a more accurate maximum heart rate for relatively fit individuals.
These two formulas are great starting points for heart rate training, though the most accurate maximum heart rate predictor involves a running stress test. Learn how to complete the test and get more comprehensive information on heart rate training on the Runner's World website.
Determine Your Target: Effective heart rate training means deciding on a target heart rate for your workout based on your training goals. After establishing a base fitness that allows you to work out at 50-60 percent of your max heart rate, beginning exercisers will want to stick to 65-70 percent of your maximum heart rate for most workouts. This level is sufficient for some serious calorie burn and heart health benefits, but is moderate enough to let you to workout daily for long periods of time.
Intermediate to advanced exercisers may want to introduce interval training to your workouts to maximize fat burning and fitness benefits. A simple approach to intervals is to aim to bring your heart rate into 85-95 percent of your maximum effort, maintaining that peak for between 45 seconds and 3 minutes. Between intervals, reduce your effort until your heart rate returns to 75-80 percent of your max. Using intervals as little as once a week (and not more often than three times per week) can lead to serious pay offs in performance and post workout calorie burn.
One final way of using your heart rate monitor, is to monitor the pace of "recovery" workouts for serious runners and athletes. During these workouts, your heart rate should stay below 75 percent of your maximum effort, allowing you to maintain the pace of your workout for an hour or more while allowing your body and mind to recover from your more difficult workouts. You'll find that learning to maintain this lower effort ultimately pays off by boosting your performance at the upper end.
Learn More: The article mentioned above also provides some great resources for books and web pages on heart rate training, including the SportsMed site of Mark A. Jenkins, providing a beginner's guide to heart rate training.
Weigh In: Tell us how you are using the heart rate training features on your home fitness equipment and what you've gained from this approach.