Heart rate is measured by how many times the heart beats per minute (bpm). When you are resting low bpm is actually better and is a sign of fitness. This is because the stronger your heart is the more blood it can pump around your system in one beat, therefore in less bpm.
People often forget that the heart is in fact a muscle and therefore becomes stronger with exercise. When you do aerobic workouts your body’s muscles are being used for an extended period of time in a consistent and rhythmic manner. Naturally, with the increased demands you put on your muscles when you do this kind of workout they need more and more oxygen to function efficiently. To keep up with the demands of your muscles the heart then begins to pump faster.
The high bpm that your heart goes through during an exercise is also great for the fitness of your heart. So by using a heart rate monitor to keep track of your bpm when you workout is important for determining how effective your workout actually is. It is also important for being aware of when you are pushing your body too hard or when you need to push harder to get to the level of fitness you aspire to.
But, to really get results from using a heart rate monitor is is extremely important to understand the different types of heart rate.
Resting Heart Rate
This refers to your hearts bpm during the day when you are most relaxed. The best time to accurately measure your resting heart rate is in the morning when you are still lying in bed. This can also be achieved by measuring your heart rate at various relaxation times throughout the day over a week; you can then calculate the average.
Heart rates are highly variable for individuals. The average resting heart rate for men is between 60 and 80 bpm, whilst for women it is between 70 and 90. A resting heart rate in the low 60’s means that you are pretty fit, else if you resting heart rate is as high as 100 you should probably be worried about your health. Some professional athletes can have heart rates as low as 40.
Maximum Heart Rate
Your maximum heart rate is the peak bpm that your heart can potentially reach. You will reach your peak when you pushed yourself, or your heart, as far as it can go during a workout. It is quite difficult to measure you maximum bpm and it usually requires the use of an ECG, however scientists have a rule of thumb formula that allows anyone to calculate their max heart rate.
To determine your maximum bpm subtract your age from 220. For example, if you are 21 your max heart rate would be 199 bpm. Bear in mind that this formula is not exact nor completely accurate, and attempting to measure your maximum heart rate can be dangerous as your could do some seriously bad damage to your body if you push it too hard.
Training Heart Rate
Your training heart rate is your optimal bpm to maximise the effectiveness of the workout that you are doing. When you are using a heart rate monitor for exercise it is important that you work at a consistent and rhythmic pace. This allows the readings you take to be consistent.
It is still argued what the most effective rate is to maximise fitness but this also depends on the goals you have for fitness. For general fitness it can range from 50 percent to 70 percent of your maximum bpm. If you are just staring out its recommended that you go for about 50 percent of your max. Moderate exercise such as walking will get you between 50 and 60 percent. Jogging should take your bpm up to and between 60 and 70 percent, and running at a fast pace for an extended period of time between 70 and 80 percent. Experienced athletes can be above 70 and 80 percent of your heart rate.
Recovery Heart Rate
You need to give your body rest after a workout. Your recovering heart rate is the bpm that you should go down to after a workout. Generally a good bpm to go for is within 20 beats of your pre-workout heart rate.
How Heart Rate Monitors Work
Heart rate monitors are pretty simple to use. Effective heart rate monitors use a transmitter placed over your heart and kept in place by an adjustable strap wrapped around your torso. Heart rate monitors are similar to an ECG as the transmitter detects electrical activity. The activity can be transmitted via a cord or wireless to a wrist watch with a graphic display or smartphone.
There is a large variety of heart rate monitors models on the market. Monitors can range from basic, where they simply display your bpm, or advanced models which have features such as alarms that go-off when your bpm has gone above or below a pre-programmed rate. Other features that you might expect to see in more advanced models are pre-programmed workouts, countdown timers, or calories burned.
If you would like to see some more information checkout How Your Heart Rate is Related to Fitness and Longevity, and if you are looking for a great, quick aerobic workout you might like The 7 Minute Workout or the 7 Minute Alternate Workout.