There are two painful days of the year when you make that New Year’s Resolution to lose weight, get in shape, and start feeling like you can take on the world again. The first painful day is the day you go to the gym, sign up for a monthly or yearly membership and start your first workout. Not only are you parting with some hard-earned cash (ouch!), but you’re probably nice and sore later that day or the following day (double ouch!). Then comes the second painful day. This is the day a month down the road when you look in the mirror or step on the scale and you see no change. It is painful indeed thinking that you’ve spent hours and dollars to not see anything change!
Avoid the Pain: Getting the Right Equipment
If we’re honest with ourselves, many times we go to the gym and expecting to see instant effects. It might even be that we think just going to the gym is enough (like sleeping on a textbook the night before an exam!). The reality is, losing weight, getting in shape and consistently exercising out is hard work. And it should be!
Fitness experts and scientists agree that one of the main components of cardiovascular health–and therefore overall fitness and weight loss–has to do with raising your heart rate to a level of intensity that can maximize fitness results. Whether your desired results are fat loss, muscle gain or cardiovascular health, heart rate plays an integral part in the outcome of all three. You’ll want to continually track your heart rate during your exercises, and a heart rate monitor is probably the most hands off and accurate way to do this (of course, you can definitely take your pulse, but in stopping to do so, you stop your workout and immediately lower your heart rate, giving you an inaccurate indication of which heart rate zone you’re in).
Getting in the Zone: How Fast Should Your Heart Beat?
There are three numbers that you want to be cognizant of when you are thinking about monitoring your heart rate. These numbers are in beats per minute (BPM) and are simple to remember :
- Resting heart rate
- Maximum heart rate
- Target heart rate
Your resting heart rate is exactly what it sounds like: the BPM of your heart when you’re not doing any activity. You can easily measure this with any heart rate monitor or you can find your pulse and count your BPMs yourself. Again, the most acurate reading you’ll get is by using a heart rate monitor.
Your maximum heart rate is even easier to calclulate. This number is typically considered to be two hundred twenty BPMs minus your age (e.g. the maximum heart rate for a thirty year old is 220 – 30 = 190).
Your target heart rate is dependent on your goals fitness goals. Target heart rate is a percentage of your maximum heart rate used to determine you exercise zone. There are five major heart rate zones:
- Resting Zone (your resting heart rate)
- Moderate Activity Zone (+/- 50% of your maximum heart rate)
- Fat Burning Zone (+/- 65% of your maximum heart rate)
- Aerobic Zone (+/- 75% of your maximum heart rate)
- Anaerobic Zone (+/- 85% of your maximum heart rate)
- VO2 Zone (+/- 95% of your maximum heart rate)
This table is quite helpful in determining your target heart rate depending on your fitness goals:
Using the above table, it is easy to determine which zone you should remain in to enhance your particular fitness goals. If you want to burn fat, make sure you’re maintaining a heart rate that is around 65% of your maximum heart rate (e.g. a thirty year old will want to maintain a heart rate of about 123.5 BPM in order to begin burning fat).
Give it Time: How Long Does This Take!?
The enduring question: how long?!?! In short, the answer is “as long as it takes”. However, there are two different questions to address here.
First, how long should you be working out in these given heart rate zones, taking into account your fitness goals? Good question! This is contingent upon your fitness level to begin with as well as the target heart rate zone you’re going for. Referring to the chart above, the higher up you move along the y-axis, the less sustained workout you need to achieve your fitness goals according to zone. For example, if you’re working out in the Anaerobic zone, you will probably not be able to maintain a long workout in this zone, and 5-7 minutes is probably a good rule of thumb. Similarly, if you are gardening or strolling a long the Thames, you can sustain the Moderate Activity heart rate for a long time (an hour or two) with little in the way of rest. You should spend 15-20 minutes in the Weight Control and Aerobic zones (or as you are physically able).
Second, how long before you see the results you’re looking for? This is also a good question, and one for another post!:-) However, I can say that the change doesn’t happen overnight, and there are more factors than just heart rate to consider.
The Bottom Line:
Heart rate monitoring is an integral part of working out. The percentage of your maximum heart rate that you can achieve while working out is directly correlated to your fitness goals and the types of results you will see. A heart rate monitor is an excellent way to make sure you are maintaining the correct heart rate zone without having to constantly stop what you’re doing to take your pulse. It can also keep you safe and healthy by ensuring your don’t over-train.
Just as importantly, a heart rate monitor can make sure you’re not under-training either. If you are going to the gym and under-training, you are wasting your time and money, you will not see the results you’re hoping for. Keep that heart rate in mind, but focus on your workout and let the heart rate monitor be your guide.
Check out this video from Polar, and let them tell you why you should use a heart rate monitor while working out.