Why should you know your own heart rate before, during and after exercise? Why monitor your heart rate, and does working out at specific heart rates work better than at specific speeds?
This is the first in a series of posts on understanding your own heart rate and how to use that information to better tailor your exercise programs. Understanding your own heart rate, your maximum hr, your anaerobic thresholds, and your resting rate is pretty much fundamental for beginning any sort of serious exercise program.
In a later posts I will look at working out your maximum heart rate, understanding the different thresholds, and exercise programs based on working out at specific heart rates, such as the much discussed Maffetone Method. But today we start at the beginning: your resting heart rate.
Your heart rate, as might be very obvious, is the speed at which your heart is pumping. When your muscles require more blood, your heart pumps faster, when you are at rest your heart pumps slower. However, a higher heart rate doesn't always mean you are doing good things to your body. Your heart also pumps faster when it is stressed or sick, or if it is working very inefficiently.
So, do you want a high resting heart rate or a low one?
One of the biggest aims of fitness is to have your body able to do more with less effort. You want to be able to run faster with your heart pumping slower, because this means its not as stressed. Generally speaking, as you get fitter, your resting heart rate will go down. Your heart will be able to pump more blood with less effort.
Therefore, it is important to work out at the beginning of a program what your current resting heart rate is, which lets you know how fit you are now, and gives you a basis to see if you are improving later.
Working out your resting heart rate is super easy and needs only a clock that counts seconds.
It's best to take your resting heart rate just after waking up, but any time you have been lying still and not moving for a period of time will work (this is one of the few times I'm going to recommend watching TV, so enjoy it.)
Find your pulse either at your radial artery on your wrist just below your thumb or at your carotid artery in your neck. Make sure you are using just your index and middle finger to find the pulse, as your thumb has a slight pulse of its own and can confuse the counting.
Now, time yourself and count how many times it pulses in ten seconds. Then times this by 6 and you have your resting heart rate in beats per minutes. (You can also count for 30 seconds and times it by 2, if you feel this is more accurate, or count for the full 60 seconds, as with only 10 seconds miss-counting by one can have a much larger effect.)
It is suggested that:
60 or below beats per minute: = a fit athlete.
60- 80 bpm = average.
81-100 bpm = is high, but ok.
101 + bpm = not so good.
It is best to record your heart rate every morning for a week to try and get an average as its quite easy to have an unusual reading, such as waking up after a scary dream.
If you are serious about a new exercise program, particularly if you are an athlete, it is highly recommended that you take your resting heart rate every single morning. The major reason for this is that your resting heart rate will generally go up 10 bpm if your body is starting to fight an illness, and is a good indicator that you should cut down on your training until it returns to normal. This is an excellent way to try and avoid over-training.
Now that you know your resting heart rate, in the next post we will look at your maximum heart rate.