A common question people ask when we discuss exercise is “ how do I know if I’m exercising hard enough?”. What should my heart rate be?
A reasonable question, it can be explained in a number of ways and may differ depending on the exercise goal. Most often we use heart rate as the measuring stick to determine the intensity of exercise, makes sense the harder you work the greater the need for your body tissues for oxygen and fuel, the faster your heart needs to beat to bring the oxygen and fuel around to the various tissues through the blood. We can also use breathing rate, more on that later. The intensity you exercise at is termed the training zone. This is merely a range of heart rate you should be working at to achieve a particular goal.
For example a person having a goal of increasing their cardiovascular endurance may have a different training zone than someone primarily interested in weight loss. Note that any exercise is beneficial for either population but there may be more bang for your buck at certain heart rates.
So how do you calculate your training zone? Typically we use a percentage of your maximal heart rate, well great but what is my maximum heart rate? We use a theoretical maximum of 220 beats per minute minus your age, so at 40 years old your maximum heart rate is 180 beats per minute.
Now that we know the maximum heart rate we need to be able to measure your heart rate, the easiest location is at the carotid artery at the side of the neck, to find this artery, slide your fingers backwards from the mid-line of the neck until you feel it, alternately you could use the radial pulse on the thumb side of the wrist just below the base of the thumb. The higher tech way would be to use a heart rate monitor which uses a sensor strap around the chest and wirelessly feeds the information to a watch. The advantage here is you can save this information to your computer and track your progress.
Now we know how to measure our heart rate, where should it be during exercise? To train your heart for endurance typically you want to work at a higher intensity of 70-90% of maximum , for more fat burning a lower intensity of 50-70% of maximum.
Another way to measure exercise intensity which is proven to be accurate, (actually a method developed by a University of Toronto professor I had) is the talk test. Simply to check if you’re exercising at a moderate intensity of 50%-70% you should be able to carry on a conversation without being breathless, if you are at a higher intensity you would be unable to carry on a conversation.
Put one of these methods to the test the next time you’re exercising and see if you’re at the right intensity for your particular fitness goal.
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