Most people hop on their cardio machine of choice and rarely think twice to look at the heart rate monitor. Well, I've got news for you, start paying attention to it to get the most out of your work out! While the machines are not always super accurate, based on my observations in comparing the machine heart rate to my Polar Watch, it is usually only a few beats off! So if you don't have a heart rate monitor or feel like purchasing one, the machines are your best option! Watching your heart rate while working out enables you to get the most effective work out possible, based on your goals!
There is a BIT of math to figuring all of this out, BUT, don't be intimated if math is not your thing! I am not a math person AT ALL, but I was able to understand the formulas given and figure out the numbers with the use of paper and pencil. I double checked with a calculator of course though...
Before you can even begin to look at a heart rate monitor, you must first know you Estimated Maximum Heart Rate (MHR). There are two methods to doing this depending on your age.
If you are under forty years old, use this method:
1. 220 - your age in years
My maximum heart rate would be: 220-22 which equals 198 beats per minute (bpm)
Older than forty, use this more accurate formula:
2. Multiply your age by 0.7 and subtract that number from 208
A 56 year old's maximum heart rate would be: (208 - 56 x .7) which equals 168.8 --> 169
(This formula was published in the early 2000s by Tanaka in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. A summarized version of the study and article that doesn't have too many scientific terms can be found here)
So you have your maximum heart rate, also known as MHR, now what?
NOW, you use this information and calculate your target heart rate zone. Your target heart rate zone is a percentage of your maximum heart rate zone based on your fitness goals. If you are looking for moderate physical activity, aim for 50-70 percent of your MHR. If you are looking for intense physical activity, such as HIIT, then aim for 70-80 (or even up to 90, if you are already ) percent of your MHR. Watch the heart rate monitor while working out to make sure you are getting the most out of your time spent at the gym!
I used the above formula and my Polar Watch to figure out my own personal target heart rate zones. The photos at the top of this post show my 65% - 86% target heart rate zone. I would have done 65-85, but I wanted an even number of beats per minute for my upper level target heart rate. I know, I am a bit anal, what can I say, I like things to look neat and organized!
Anyway, my point is that you can tweak the numbers a bit, for what works best for you and your goals!
The main reason I pay attention to MHR is because my cardio fix is HIIT, high intensity interval training. Click that link for a detailed explanation, for now I will give a brief non scientific summary for those of you who are not familiar with HIIT. When doing HIIT, the main premise is to raise your heart rate up by going as hard as you possibly can for a short period of time followed by a longer duration of allowing your heart rate to come back down, usually in the 50-70 percent zone of your MHR. The intense intervals allow you to burn more fat and calories while working out for a shorter period of time! Basically, HIIT is much more effective than long periods of cardio for improving over all fitness, tone, and fat loss. Unless of course, you are training for a specific type of activity that requires you to be able to perform long bouts of cardio, such as a marathon.