The heart rate monitor is an important tool. It helps to give important data to determine the efficiency or lack of efficiency of the cardiovascular system. It monitors the number of times the heart beats per minute and then you can use that data to determine things like – how long it takes for the heart to return to its resting heart rate: how long you are in your target heart rate zone: and how many calories are burned during a cardio session. Why is this information important?
- Monitoring resting heart rates daily can provide a window into external stressors such as overtraining, prolonged stress (over triggering of sympathetic system), sleep deprivation, dehydration and illness. According to the American Heart Association the greatest stressors on the heart are high blood pressure, cholesterol levels, smoking, physical inactivity and overeating.
- Monitoring target heart rates gives the user an idea of the cardiovascular exertion of their exercise protocols.
- Using a blended average of the heart rate during a work session can give a general idea of how many calories are burned supporting weight loss goals.
1. Resting Heart Rate
A good resting heart rate is an indicator of good heart health and fitness and typically falls between 60-80 bpm for the average person. According to the American Heart Association a healthy resting heart rate ranges from 60-100 bpm and a resting heart rate above 100 bpm is dangerous and defined as tachycardia (See AMA article).
By taking daily reads of the resting heart rate using a heart rate monitor it gives the user a powerful tool. Diligent tracking of spikes in the resting heart rate can be a helpful diagnostic. When spikes occur in a healthy resting heart rate then the user can review activity leading up to the spike to discover what caused it. Some typical causes of a spike could be excessive coffee, lack of sleep, overtraining, psychological stress or the onset of illness.
Here are 3 strategies to consider to reduce your resting heart rate. The quicker the heart returns to its resting rate the greater the efficiency and health of the heart.
- Consider modifying your diet moving away from refined carbohydrates and sugar. (link within link to intermittent fasting).
- Consider establishing a good sleep pattern tapping into the body’s circadian rhythms. When the sleep cycle is disrupted or inconsistent it makes it difficult for the body to function efficiently. See NIH article on Circadian Rhythms.
- Consider learning how to utilize meditative breathing. The breath is a powerful tool that can be harnessed to bring down the heart rate preventing a huge cortisol jump from the adrenals that sets a negative chain reaction off in the body.
2. Target Heart Rate
Your target heart rate gives you a guideline for the intensity of your exercise on the cardiovascular system. A good, simple way to determine your maximum target heart rate for your training efforts is to subtract your age from 220. The number identified becomes the maximum target heart rate and is considered the heart’s 100% effort. See sample table below.
Working within different heart rate ranges provides different health benefits. There are two kinds of cardio activity – aerobic and anaerobic. Aerobic activity indicates that oxygen is involved as a fuel for the activity. Anaerobic activity indicates that oxygen is NOT involved as a fuel for the activity.
- 50%-60% Range – This is the range in which the body begins to use oxygen and fatty acid as primary energy sources for the activity.
- 60%-80% Range – In this range the body begins to utilize glucose for energy in addition to oxygen and fatty acids. In the 60%-70% range you are in the fat burning zone. When you reach the 70%-80% range you are in a cardiovascular conditioning zone.
- 80%-90% Range – In this range the body taps into stores of glucose called glycogen to fuel activity. This range is good for interval training using burst cardio and then returning to the lower target heart rate range.
The 60%-80% range is the prime range for cardiovascular training. The 50%-60% range is a good initial start point for those who are completely untrained or coming off sickness. Both ranges are aerobic. The 80%-90% range is utilized by athletes who achieve higher intensity, shorter duration muscular contractions using more intense conditioning protocols. This range is considered anaerobic and is used for interval or burst cardio sessions. For more information on burst cardio see Cardiovascular Training Plan.
Working within the prime range is where an average trainee will gain the greatest benefit. In our work with obese folks we found that the 60%-80% range was easily achieved when they walked at a normal pace. They didn’t need to run or beat themselves up. Just moving their mass by walking was enough to trigger a sufficient elevated heart rate to assist them in their conditioning and weight loss goals.
3. Blended Average Heart Rate
Heart rate monitors only indirectly estimate calories expended during certain types of exercise. For greatest calorie counting accuracy you must be able to include VO2 max along with HR max, VO2 max, gender, age weight and HR rest. The VO2 max measures the maximum amount of oxygen the body utilizes during intense or maximal exercise. It is measured as milliliters of oxygen used in one minute per kilogram of body weight.
Does that mean that the estimate of calories expended is not useful unless you know your VO2 max? This is not necessarily true. If you are consistent in monitoring your activity using a heart rate monitor the calorie data gathered is accurate unto itself. Combine this information with a structured nutrition plan to manage weight loss goals. Typically it takes 3,500 calories burned in a week through exercise to lose a pound of fat. It is important to know generally how many calories you are taking in so you can find the tipping point where your metabolism works for you and starts to burn bodyfat stores.
Which Heart Rate Monitor is Best for You?
The heart rate monitor market is flooded with a myriad of options these days. In terms of technology there are two ways to go - chest strap monitoring and optical sensor monitoring. Overall optical sensor monitoring is primarily preferred because of its incorporation into fitness trackers. Prior to your purchase here are some things to consider:
1. What is your spending limit?
Generally, most heart rate monitor/fitness trackers cost between $75-$250. If you pay less than $75 you will find mediocre accuracy which defeats the purpose of tracking. More expensive options with a GPS feature are tailored toward athletes and exercise enthusiasts and may not be necessary.
2. What type of activity are you monitoring?
What sport do you participate in? Swimmers will want a waterproof tracker, but keep in mind that not all water-safe trackers actually track swimming. Runners will probably want a watch that shows time, distance, pace, and lap time, at the very least. Cyclists have even more considerations. There's a difference between tracking how many miles you pedal and calories you burn versus monitoring your power and cadence.
3. What style of monitor fits your goals?
Chest Strap Monitoring
Chest strap heart rate monitors measure electrical signals generated by your heart when it contracts. Because of its direct contact over the heart a chest strap tends to be more accurate. The downside of the chest strap is ease of use and comfort. If not wrapped tightly around the chest it can easily slip out of place and is difficult to reposition while moving. The chest strap is primarily used by runners and cyclists, but is not practical for long-term monitoring of resting heart rate.
Optical Sensor Monitoring
Optical wrist sensor monitors are the most common pulse sensors. Heart rate data is measured using photoplethysmography. This is a process of using small LED lights to refract off of blood flow to determine pulse readings. There can be periodic connectivity issues with the watch that cause a slight lag in measuring spikes in heart rates. Overall, this is a far more comfortable way to monitor heart rate especially for long-term monitoring of resting heart rate.
Where are you at in your fitness goals?
Consider adding a heart rate monitor to your gym bag or your life. Whether you are an active athlete or an average person trying to shed body fat this is an essential tool for physical transformation and overall health.
Would you lift weights without knowing the poundage? Why do cardio without knowing your intensity?
Which chest strap gives you the best bang for your buck?
These two options ranked the highest on PC magazines list for 2019 and 2018.
Built in memory stores heart rate data from one training session that can be transferred to Polar Flow or Polar Beat App.
Enhanced battery life of 400 hours of operation time on a user replaceable battery.
Water resistance up to 30M makes this band suitable for swimming.
Built in memory stores 16 hours worth of workout data. If you record more than that without syncing then the unit will start deleting the oldest workouts first to free up memory.
Battery life: The CR2032 ion batter has a life up to 12 months.
Water resistance up to 5M which makes this product marginal for swimming.
Which optical wrist sensor gives you the best bang for your buck?
The Apple watch leads the way in optical wrist sensor technology and has two affordable options that not only include heart rate data, but also sleep data.
Improved algorithm: Better measure of calorie burn and resting heart rate with 24/7 heart rate tracking.
Training versatility: Choose from 15+ exercise modes like run, bike, swim, yoga, etc. This watch helps you set goals and get real time stats during your workouts.
Battery life: Up to 7 days (varies with use)
Swim proof and water resistance: Up to 50 M. This allows you track swims and even wear in the shower. Connecting to smartphone GPS gives real-time pace and distance.
Improved algorithm: Get 24/7 continuous heart rate tracking in this slim design. Easy reboot solves syncing problems without deleting data.
Workout zones: Use zones to find the right workout intensity for your goals these include: Fat Burn, Cardio, and Peak.
Battery life: Up to 7 days (varies with use)
Syncing: Syncs stats wirelessly & automatically to computers and 200+ leading iOS, Android and Windows devices