Training Effectively with Heart Rate Monitoring

Why Monitor Your Heart?

Imagine yourself at your local gym, on your daily run, or performing your typical workout routine. You're breathing heavy, sweating, and feeling pretty good about the last 30 minutes you just spent exerting all of your energy. But was this really the most beneficial workout for your body? To answer this, you must take a look at your heart.

In order to gage the effectiveness of your workout, you must determine the intensity. When you exercise your heart beats faster to pump more blood and oxygen to the muscles. The more intense the activity, the faster your heart will beat, therefore, you can determine your workout intensity by monitoring your heart rate.

Determining Maximum Heart Rate

Determining your max heart rate is vital for anyone starting a workout regiment or training program. Knowing your maximum heart rate will help keep your body safe from injury while allowing you to personalize your workout to successfully reach your fitness goals.

There are two ways to define your maximum heart rate:
  1. Have it measured in an exercise test
  1. Use the age-predicted maximum heart rate formula

Measured Max HR

The most accurate way of determining your individual maximum heart rate is to have it clinically tested (usually by a tredmill stress test) by a cardiologist or exercise physiologist. You can also measure it in field conditions supervised by an experienced coach. If you are over the age of 35, overweight, have been sedentary for several years, or have a history of heart disease in your family clinical testing is recommended.

Predicted Maximum HR

There is a mathematical formula that allows you to predict your Max HR with some accuracy known as the "age-adjusted formula".

WOMEN: 226 - Your Age = Your Max HR (Example: 226 - 30-years-old = 196 bpm)

MEN: 220 - Your Age = Your Max HR (Example: 220 - 30-years-old = 190 bpm)

These formulas apply to adults only. The generally accepted error in the age-predicted formula is plus or minus 10-15 beats per minutes, which is due to different inherited characteristics and exercise training. You should remember that there may be some discrepancy when using the age-adjusted formula, experically for people who have been fit for many years or people of older age. The formula will give you a ballpark estimate to work from, but if you want to exercise or train at your most effective levels you should have your max heart rate measured.

Train More Effectively with the Target Heart Rate Zones

If you are a beginner with the goal of improving your overall fitness, losing weight or reducing stress exercise in the Healthy Heart Zone (50%-60% of your max heart rate).

If you already exercise regularly but are aiming to lose body fat, exercise in the Fitness Zone (60-70% of your max heart rate).

If your goal is to improve aerobic capacity or athletic performance exercise in the Aerobic Zone (70-80% of max heart rate).

Competitive athletes may need to add interval training sessions in the Anaerobic Zone (80-90% of max heart rate). This high intensity zone helps train muscles to handle lactic acid.

Only those cleared by a physician and in very good shape should train (sparingly) in the Red Line Zone (90-100% of max heart rate).

Exercising regularly at a heart rate intensity that is too high for you can slow or decrease your fitness results and possibly increase your risk for injury. Make sure to know your fitness goals and follow your Target Heart Rate Zones appropriately.

Tips on Effective Training

Warm up and Cool down

Always do a slow warm up of 5-10 minutes followed by some gentle stretching. Gradually climb into the target heart rate you have set, and end every workout with a 5-10 minute cool down, again followed by some mild stretching. Studies have shown that people who warm up and cool down adequately have few athletic injuries.


Choose activities that use large muscle groups and are continuous in nature. Some good examples are walking, swimming, running, aerobic dance, stair climbing machines, ski machines, treadmills, cyclng and stationary bikes. Include more than one activity: cycling one day, swimming the next, aerobics on the third. This is called Cross Training and helps exercise all muscles groups.

Frequency of Exercise

Exercise in your target heart rate zone at least 3-5 times per week with no more than 48 hours between sessions. Even on rest days gentle exercise such as a leisurely walk can be beneficial. 

Length of Exercise

Aim for 30-60 minutes of continuous exercise in your target heart rate zone each session. If you are unable to exceed 30 minutes, slowly build up to 60 minutes by increasing your time in 5 minute intervals.