Hearts, we’ve all got one. They all beat (hopefully) and the rate at which they beat goes up and down depending on whether we’re performing an energetic dance routine or slobbing on the sofa. Basic science that innit. But can monitoring the rate at which your heart beats help you get fitter? What exactly is this heart rate training business and should we all be doing it?
It’s a great way of ensuring you’re working at the right intensity to get the results you’re looking for
“A lot of people think heart rate training is complicated, but once you start doing it you’ll find it’s really not,” says Tommy Wanless, a head trainer at Speedflex – group training studios which focus on heart rate training. “Most professional athletes use heart rate monitoring as part of their training as it’s a great way of ensuring you’re working at the right intensity to get the results you’re looking for.
“Monitoring you heart rate will also show you how quickly you recover from exercise – a good indicator of fitness – track how many calories you burn in a session, and can even detect any undiagnosed heart problems or irregularities.”
How to find our your max heart rate
Before you start heart rate training you will need to do a bit of quick maths to find out your maximum heart rate. “Your max heart rate can vary depending on your age, fitness, genetics and a number of other factors,” says Tommy.
To get a rough idea of your max heart rate, minus your age from the number 220
“One of the most accurate ways to discover yours is is to take a VO2 Max test. But to get a rough idea, you can minus your age from the number 220. So if you’re 35, for example, your max heart rate would be around 185 beats per minute.”
Obviously it’s very hard to measure your own pulse when you’re working out so invest in a device to monitor your heart rate for you.
So I’ve got the monitor I know my max heart rate, what next?
“With heart rate training there are five heart rate zones you need to be aware of,” says Tommy.
The five heart rate training zones
1. 50% of max heart rate and below – this is your resting heart rate when you’re sitting or lying down and not really moving.
2. 60-69% of max heart rate – think of this as walking around going about your daily activities.
3. 70-79% of max heart rate – this is the warm up zone, so when you’re jogging before a run for example.
4. 80-89% of max heart rate – this is a pretty intense training zone and where most of your work out is usually done. You should be able to just about hold a conversation. This is basically aerobic training.
5. 90% of max heart rate and above – this is the anaerobic zone where you’re training very hard and can only keep the effort up for a short amount of time, think sprinting flat out.
How to use the heart rate training zones
“Heart rate training isn’t too useful if you’re lifting weights,” says Tommy, “but for any cardiovascular training, from a steady state run to interval training, using the zones is a great way of ensuring you’re working as hard or as easy as you need to be. Challenging yourself to reach certain zones can add variety to your training too.
“If you’re training for an endurance event, for example, and you go on a long run, you don’t want to burn out too quickly so aim for a heart rate around the high 70s, early 80s so you can keep your effort up for the duration.
If you’re looking to burn calories and work hard, you should aim for 80-95% of your max heart rate
“If you’re looking to burn calories and work hard, you should aim for 80-95% of your max heart rate. This is a high-intensity workout, it burns more calories, it’s fun, challenging, and a time-efficient way of working out.
“Heart rate training is particularly great for interval training. HIIT (high-intensity interval training) is very popular nowadays but a lot of people just don’t work hard enough to see results. When you’re in the training zone you want to try and work to over 85% of your max heart rate. You may be surprised to see that you just weren’t pushing yourself hard enough.”
Why should I monitor how quickly my heart rate goes back to normal?
How quickly you recover from intense exercise – ie how quickly your heart rate goes back to normal – is generally a good indicator of fitness. “When you’re interval training you should see peaks and troughs with your heart rate,” says Tommy.
As you get fitter your heart rate should become lower and it’ll take you less time to recover
“As you get fitter your heart rate should become lower and it’ll take you less time to recover – think of a boxer doing two-three minutes in the ring and then having a minute to recover before doing it again. It gets addictive monitoring how much you’re progressing.”
4 of the best heart rate monitors to try
The long-standing way to monitor your heart rate is via a chest strap, worn under your clothes. This strap will sync all your heart rate data to any number of fitness apps and Polar fitness watches, and can also be used with compatible gym equipment. This strap can even be worn when swimming.
If you’re not a fan of chest straps, this GPS running watch has an inbuilt heart rate sensor and allows you to select heart-rate training zones to work in – it’ll alert you if your heart rate is too high or low for that zone. Clever, eh?
As well as displaying texts and emails, tracking your sleep, guiding you through workouts, and making you endless cups of tea*, this activity tracker has a built-in heart rate monitor, which means you can see readings on your wrist whenever you fancy.
* The tea bit might not be true.
Dame Kelly Holmes is a fan of these sweat and waterproof headphones powered by Intel, which have an inbuilt sensor to monitor your heart rate as you work out. Data is synced with the fitness app RunKeeper, so you can store your stats on your phone.
Speedflex has studios in Newcastle, London, Leeds, Surrey, Aberdeenshire, Dubai and Dallas. To find out more visit speedflex.com