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Heart Rate: What Is It And What Can I Learn From It?

Your heart rate tells you how your training is going when you might be pushing yourself too hard, or not doing enough. Here is how to calculate it.

Published: 5/14/18

We go to the gym for myriad reasons. Some of you may be trying to tone your muscles, others want to bulk up, or maybe you want to lose some weight, or simply challenge Father Time’s attack on your metabolism to maintain your current physique. No matter your reason, we all have the same overarching goal when we exercise: Fitness.

Choosing your exercise intensity depends on your ultimate fitness goals (or your mood and drive that day in the gym). One huge factor in assessing the quality of your workout is your heart rate. Your heart rate can tell you how effective your training is going when you might be pushing yourself too hard, or not doing enough.

How “Hard” Should You Exercise?

Most anyone would agree that an active lifestyle is good for you. Experts would suggest a combination of aerobic activity and strength training at a moderate or vigorous level is ideal for the maximum benefit of exercise. But what does that really mean?

If you get 2-3 hours of moderate aerobic activity each week—like power walking or swimming—or 1-2 hours a week of vigorous aerobic activity—such as running or a kickboxing class, you’re in good shape, and your heart rate is in the correct range. You should strength train at least twice a week with free weights, weight machines, or activities that use your body weight.

But, what is the correct heart rate for you while partaking in these activities?

What is My Ideal Heart Rate?

A basic way to measure your maximum heart rate is to subtract your age from 220. So, if you’re 35 years old, subtract 35 from 220 to get a maximum heart rate of 185. This is the maximum number of times your heart should beat per minute during exercise.

Most people are obsessed with doing cardio in their “fat-burning” zone. This is the range that is 60% to 70% of your maximum heart rate. Using a fitness app like My Fitness Pal or RunKeeper can help you calculate where you are in your five heart rate zones from resting to high intensity working out.

How Do I Calculate My Heart Rate?

Most cardio machines at the gym will calculate your heart rate for you. But if you’re on a hike, riding your bike, or partaking in some other extracurricular activity where you work up a sweat, those red or green LED numbers may not be available to you.

You can use these simple steps to check your heart rate:

Stop any activity you may be doing and take your pulse for 15 seconds. Check your pulse over your carotid artery by placing your index and third fingers on your neck to the side of your windpipe or check your pulse on your wrist by placing two fingers between the bone and the tendon over your radial artery (located on the thumb side of your wrist). Count how many beats you have felt in 15 seconds and multiply this number by 4 to calculate your beats per minute. If you’re under or over your target heart rate zone, you can adjust your exercise intensity accordingly.

Bottom Line: Be aware of heart rate for more effective workouts!

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