More than just a Number…

Good news! It doesn’t need to be so complicated..

I’ll be the first to admit… It was always much easier to ignore the talk about max heart rate, heart rate zones, optimal heart rate etc etc etc and just focus on distance and time when exercising.

But it’s actually pretty simple for each of us to work this all out and know what our own personal max heart is and hence, how we can use this number to determine whether we are exercising at the correct intensities for our fitness levels.

Before we dive into this, I must mention that these are globally accepted GENERAL guidelines and not everyone will fit into the same box. This post is targeted at the “novice” athlete who needs a starting point. Thereafter it often becomes a case of each of us starting to understand our bodies and hence are able to adapt our exercise intensities to suit our comfort/fitness levels and abilities..

Now, do the following sum to work out your Max Heart Rate.. I’ve used myself as an example:

220 – (your age)

220 – 29

= 191

Now that we know the number, we need to understand what to do with it. Your max Heart Rate is:

..the maximum beats per minute that you should allow your heart to achieve.

But we are not quite there yet, so bear with me.. Using your max heart rate, calculate 55-80% of that max heart rate:

191 x 55 % = 105

191 x 80 % = 153

So, my target heart rate during exercise would be 105 – 153 beats per minute.

Knowing your target zone means that you can now keep an eye on your heart rate during exercise and adjust your intensity accordingly.. Basically, if your heart rate is lower than your target zone, push harder, if it’s pushing above your target zone, you’re straining so pull back on the intensity.

When starting to exercise keep your heart rate at the lower end of your target zone and as you get stronger gradually work your way up to the higher end of your target zone. You’ll start to notice you can train more comfortably at the higher end of your target zone, the fitter you get.

Elite athletes or those that exercise more regularly might not necessarily follow these same guidelines. Advanced training programmes may be adapted for these athletes and hence heart rate zones and targets might be adjusted by qualified trainers according each athlete’s specific needs / goals. But for those starting out, the above guidelines are a pretty good place to start.