While everyone’s fitness routine is different, most of us tend to focus on strengthening different parts of our bodies—legs, abs, arms, glutes…but what about your heart? In this article, we’ll focus on how to calculate your heart rate, and why it’s essential to work out in the right heart rate zone.
In Chronicles of the Heart, Part 1: Why Heart Health Matters, we discussed the many benefits of taking care of your heart. Changes in your diet, reducing stress, and exercising were all factors that we mentioned to improve our overall health. If you missed it, read it here.
Now, to bring some much-needed attention to heart health, here is how you can calculate your heart rate and understand the zones in order to maximize your fitness routine!
Calculate your heart rate
There are some fitness wearables that can automatically calculate your heart rate zones for you, but you can also do it yourself! All you need is a calculator, a timer, and a piece of paper.
Resting Heart Rate (RHR)
While laying in bed, count your heart beats for 1 minute. Do this over 3 days and then use the average.
Maximum Heart Rate (MHR)
Either perform a HR max test or simply calculate your estimated HR max with an age calculation.
Heart Rate Reserve (HRR)
This is the difference between your resting and your max heart rate.
Understand the zones
Here’s where your health benefits start to kick in. For newbies and the elderly, Zone 1 is a cool place to be. While you won’t experience serious cardio benefits quite yet, some research has shown that Zone 1 activities decrease disease rates and increase overall health. It’s a great intensity level for recovery days, as well.
Duration: < 90 minutes
If weight management is your goal, then Zone 2 is a fantastic place to begin. This workload is maintainable for up to 90 minutes, and it’s the lowest intensity level where your cardiovascular system can still see improvements. For long endurance training (half marathon or longer), aim for up to 80% of your training time to come from this zone.
Duration: 30–45 minutes
Zone 3 is where your body gets the most cardiovascular benefits, and it’s sometimes referred to as the aerobic zone. When it comes to developing stamina and increasing aerobic capacity, Zone 3 is the magic spot. It’s shown to be the most effective training zone for developing strength in weight training, as well. For general fitness goals, Zone 3 is the perfect place to be.
Duration: 10–20 minutes
Between Zones 3 and 4 is where most people switch from an aerobic (with oxygen) to an anaerobic (without oxygen) energy system. This is where the level of exertion is no longer sustainable, since the body becomes less efficient at producing energy from fuel sources. When it comes to boosting your performance and increasing your lactate threshold, training in Zone 4 is a must.
Zone 5 should not be left to just elite athletes, but it should be used with caution. For the elderly, the beginners, and the inexperienced, there’s no reason to train at such a high intensity. If you’re fit and in good health, then it’s okay to challenge your body during high-intensity workouts. It can be just what you need to see a big increase in your performance. Use Zone 5 for short sprints and during competitions.
Reap the benefits
Heart rate training is just about as personalized as it gets when it comes to working out. Heart rate training means that you are listening to your physiological responses during your workout and making adjustments along the way. Keep in mind—you don’t have to run or push yourself to intense limits. With heart rate training, there are no rules. You can hike at a high incline, cycle, row, or even do a full heart rate training workout of just burpees (if you really wanted to…ouch!). Also, heart rate training helps you avoid overtraining, but it will naturally force you to progress as your fitness level gradually increases.
Try out heart rate training and let us know how it went in the comments below!