There are various reasons people use heart-rate monitors. With the rising popularity of reliable, wearable monitors integrated into technology such as blood pressure monitors, across-the-chest devices, or newer wristbands, it’s easier than ever to keep tabs on your heart rate throughout the day.
Serious athletes have long used heart rate monitoring to achieve, monitor, and document heart rate based on various workout regimens. The idea is to calculate what’s called the “maximum heart rate” and attempt to work toward a certain percentage of that during prescribed periods of intense effort. It’s a way to ensure that your assumptions about how hard you are working during a given workout are actually correct.
For example, distance runners typically expect their heart rates to attain and remain steady at about 70% of maximum during longer, relatively “easy” training and conditioning runs. In contrast, while running in a race, the same runner would typically run at up to 97% of his maximum heart rate, at least for a relatively “short” 5K (about 3.1-mile) race. Such an intense pace can be difficult to sustain over longer distances, so accomplished athletes might expect to get their hearts working at about 95% of maximum, on average, for a 10K (about 6.2-mile) race.
What’s Your Max?
So how does one estimate one’s maximum heart rate? There are three methods. The first two involve simple calculations based on your age. The final, perhaps most accurate, method involves field testing using a wearable heart-rate monitor. To do this, you would run, cycle, or perform a given aerobic activity at maximum possible effort, for 2 to 3 minutes, after a brief warmup or practice run.
Push as hard as you can until you can sustain the effort no longer. Allow your wearable heart-rate monitor to track your heart beats per minute. Your maximum heart rate will be the greatest number of beats per minute your heart can achieve. Please note that beginners should not attempt such an intense effort without some prior conditioning, or at least under a doctor’s supervision.
An easier method to arrive at your maximum heart rate (MHR) is to use one of the following equations:
- Maximum Heart Rate (for people under 40 years of age) = 208 – (.7 X your age)
- Maximum Heart Rate (for those over 40) = 205 – (.5 X your age)
Once you have established your MHR, you can use that number to calculate the relative intensity of your favorite exercise routines. For training, try to achieve and sustain a rate that falls within about 70% of your MHR. If you are an elite athlete training for a race, you may want to push harder, to about 90% of MHR.
What’s Your Base?
Monitoring the other end of your heart-rate range can also be of interest. The resting pulse, for instance, is a fundamental vital sign assessed by medical personnel as part of routine care and monitoring of health parameters. Athletes, who tend to have strong hearts and supple blood vessels, generally have relatively low and slow resting heart rates. Resting rate can also be influenced by factors such as emotional state. Anxiety, worry and anger are all emotional states that are likely to boost the resting rate.
Healthcare providers use established “reference ranges” to determine if your resting heart rate (pulse) is normal, but slower, rather than faster, is generally indicative of greater aerobic fitness. Go too low, though, and you could be experiencing another problem, namely a too-slow heart rate. The so-called normal range for most adults falls within 60-100 beats per minute (BPM). But elite athletes at rest might go as low as 40-45 BPM. If your resting heart rate tends to fall within the higher end of the scale, you may want to ask your doctor about your overall cardiovascular fitness.