Why Heart Rate Monitoring Matters

Every week, I train folks and teach classes, and the question pops up about heart rate. What is the proper heart rate range, and what does it mean? It can be confusing to try to understand the ins and outs of heart rate monitoring, and why it matters to your exercise routine.

Where to Start Heart Rate Monitoring

One of the best places to get a gauge on heart rate monitoring and range is in a cycling class. Many participants have heart rate monitors, and for those that don’t, we take manual heart rates several times throughout class. One of the reasons that indoor cycling is so great for heart rate monitoring, is because we are just riding a stationary bike, so you can keep the legs moving, and take a manual heart rate without endangering yourself. It’s also a cardio based class, so we are focused on getting the heart and lungs working, we are just using the legs and the bike as the mode to get there. It’s also one of the few classes where we plan out a month of workouts to maximize the different heart rate ranges: base building, hills, HIIT are just a few of the options.

Heart Rate Exercise Zones

The chart below shows the various zones, and some examples of how the heart rates will change with age. The basic formula (yes we are going to use math!) is 220 – Age = Maximal heart rate. Then we can extrapolate the percentages from there.

Heat Rate Zones
via Wikimedia Commons

This chart is a good example, but all of this is just a basis from which to work. As we have discussed over the last few weeks, everyone is an individual. We can apply this template, but there may be differences or deviations from this chart, when you are calculating your own ranges.

Heart Rate + Perceived Exertion

How you FEEL is important, too. In fitness circles, we call that “perceived exertion”. There are a couple of perceived exertion charts that can help you determine the proper numbers for you, in combination with the chart above. I personally prefer the PE 1-10 chart, as I think it’s a bit simpler for most people to use.

Perceived Exertion Chart

In classes that are cardio based, I will often use this to illustrate how a participant should feel during a particular exercise. It’s especially useful when you are utilizing High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). If you aren’t working into the hard zones, you aren’t actually doing HIIT, so it’s important to have a gauge to measure your effort.

Why is it important?

  1. It helps to prevent under or over training. When you quantify your workout, you can make sure you are working appropriately, so that you get the results you are after.
  2. Guidelines give you a better understanding of how to exercise safely. I can’t tell you the number of people over the years that are working way too hard, each and every workout. This can actually have the reverse effect—making you weaker, rather than stronger.
  3. Understanding the ranges can help you to periodize your workout, maximizing your results.
  4. Heart or health issues: When you come to exercise with initial problems, it’s important for your safety to at least have a rudimentary understanding of heart rate range, especially if those health issues are cardiac or pulmonary related.

Start to look over the heart rate zone chart above, figure out your ranges, and keep the perceived exertion scale in mind as you do your next few workouts. See if you are working up to your potential, or taking it too easy or too hard. Quantifying your heart rate information can be a very useful fitness tool.

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Written by Melissa Abramovich, ACE CPT, NASM CGT, AAHFRP Medical Exercise Specialist at Elite Sports Club-River Glen

Melissa Abramovich went into Personal Training and Group Exercise instruction after successfully losing 140 pounds through healthy diet and exercise. Her desire to help others drove her forward into a career helping others to make healthier choices. She is an ACE certified personal trainer and now also a Medical Exercise Specialist (AAHFRP), helping clients with a myriad of health issues at Elite Sports Clubs. She holds a Bachelor’s degree, and many group exercise related certifications as well.



This information is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease. All material in this article is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise, or other health program.

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