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Last Updated: July 10, 2023
What do you use to determine a good workout? Is it how fast you’re running or how many miles you’re logging on your bike? Maybe it’s how many calories you’re burning or how much you’re sweating. But what about your heart rate?
How fast your heart beats during exercise not only tracks how intense your workout is, it can also be used as a tool to improve your fitness and cardiovascular system. If this is a goal of yours, you should try heart rate training.
What Is Heart Rate Training?
Heart rate training is where you measure your heart rate and keep it within certain ranges during your workout. These ranges or zones as they are more commonly called, make up percentages of your max heart rate. Your max heart rate (MHR) is the fastest your heart beats when under maximum stress, like when you’re doing sprints during a run.
Heart rate training has you vary how much effort you give during your workouts to help avoid overtraining and overstressing the body. It can help you recover faster and not only improve your cardio fitness but give you more stamina to push your pace during your next hard run.
Heart rate training isn’t limited to running, however. You can incorporate it into any cardio-based workout. Cycling and swimming are common activities that use heart rate training to build diverse training schedules.
Switching up the intensity of your workouts will let you train smarter rather than harder. Over time as you become fitter, you’ll find you can run faster or push harder while keeping your heart rate the same.
The Benefits Of Heart Rate Training
As mentioned above, if you train hard during every cardio session, your likelihood of burning out and overtraining increases. Heart rate training lets you avoid this by adding easier and lighter workouts to your schedule.
If you’re a runner, for example, you can improve your mile times by having the cardio capacity and recovered muscles to push your pace. Heart rate training also allows you to mix up your training sessions depending on factors like how you’re feeling or what the weather is like.
Let’s say you have an interval run where you’re going to incorporate speed but the weather is abnormally hot. You could swap in a slower recovery run instead and do the harder interval run the next day. This allows for flexibility without sabotaging progress.
Calculating Your Max Heart Rate
First, you must determine your maximum heart rate. This is the fastest your heart beats during physical activity. A common method is to subtract your age from 220. So, if you’re 40 years old, the highest your heart rate should go during exercise is roughly 180 beats per minute (BPM).
Another method is to gauge your MHR during your workout. Let’s say you’re on your treadmill or bike, warmed up, and already into your training session. Once you’re at this point, you will start by maintaining a consistent pace for about 2 minutes. This pace should be one that you can maintain for a long period of time.
Then, for the next 2 minutes, you will increase your pace so you can only maintain it for a short period of time. At the end of this, you’ll return to the original pace for another 2 minutes. Once you’ve done this, you’ll push at a fast pace for 60 to 90 seconds. At the end of this is when you will check your heart rate.
If you’re on a treadmill, you’ll use the heart rate monitor to see where your pulse is after doing this. Check out our best treadmills for home use recommendations to find the right treadmill for you to monitor your heart rate and boost your cardio goals.
Note: If you don’t have a monitor that tracks your heart rate, you can check your pulse (by feeling your neck or wrist.) for 10 seconds, counting how many times your heart beats in that time. Multiply this by 6 and you will have your MHR.
The 5 Target Heart Rate Training Zones
Zone 1 is very light activity where you can maintain 50-60% of your max heart rate. This zone is great for warming up and recovery. Your pace and intensity should be one that you can keep for hours without feeling exerted.
Zone 2 is light activity that raises your heart rate to 60-70% of your max. This zone is often referred to as the “fat-burning” range because it encourages your body to use fat for energy. You should be able to sustain in this range for long periods.
Zone 3, also referred to as the aerobic zone, is where your BPM is within 70-80% of your MHR while working at a moderate intensity level. This zone will improve your overall cardio fitness and where you’ll build lean muscle.
Zone 4 is a harder level where your heart rate is at 80-90% of your max. When you train in this zone, you’ll see progress in your performance. Your body will also improve its ability to use carbs for energy and increase its tolerance for lactate in the blood.
Zone 5 is meant to be sustained over short periods of time. This zone keeps you within 90-100% of your MHR and it’s where you can boost your speed. If you focus on training within each of these zones, you will gain all of these benefits while improving your overall performance and cardio fitness.
How To Use Heart Rate Training In Your Workouts
Now that you know your MHR and what each of the heart rate training zones mean you can use them to achieve your goals. To determine what your heart rate should be in each of the training zones, you’ll multiply your MHR by the lower percentage and higher percentage of each zone.
If your MHR is 180 BPM and you want to keep your heart rate in Zone 3, the formula will be:
180 X 0.7 = 126 BPM.
This is 70% of your MHR of 180 BPM. Then, multiply 180 by 80% and you’ll get 144 BPM.
So, when your heart rate is between 126 –144 BPM, you’re training in Zone 3 and working at a moderate intensity.
Heart rate training can be tailored to fit your goals and incorporated in many ways. One day you could exercise primarily in Zone 2 to boost fat loss, and the next you could raise and lower your heart rate during a high-intensity interval training session.
Either way, you’ll keep your workouts fresh and your heart in shape with heart rate training.
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