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Tracking Heart Rate During Exercise

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Woman taking her pulse to measure heart rate

Frequency, duration and intensity of your exercise all factor into the effectiveness of your workout program. While you can easily track frequency and duration, determining the intensity of your workout is more challenging, which is where heart rate tracking comes into play.

Heart rate provides an objective measurement of how hard your body is working. The higher the exercise intensity, the higher your heart rate will be. Cooper Fitness Center Professional Fitness Trainer Ryan Sheppard explains heart rate monitoring and how it relates to fitness performance.

What is heart rate monitoring?

Heart rate monitoring is a way of measuring how a particular exercise or workload is affecting heart rate. It can be measured using a wearable device or through sensors on a cardio machine, which provides the heart’s beats per minute (bpm). Heart rate can also be taken manually on your wrist or neck—simply count the number of beats in 15 seconds and multiply by four to give a beats per minute prediction. There are five heart rate zones, each corresponding to the intensity and benefit of performing work or exercise in that zone.

Heart Rate Zones

Heart rate indicates overall fitness

“Typically, a lower resting heart rate (60 bpm or lower) indicates a well-conditioned heart,” says Sheppard. “The more efficient a heart is, the less work it has to do for a given workload, so it beats fewer times per minute.” Additionally, the ability to recover and lower your heart rate quickly after an intense bout of exercise is a sign of great fitness. Tracking your heart rate over time and during various types of exercise can give you good indication on improvements you might be making in your overall fitness level.

What is the relationship between heart rate and exercise?

“Getting the heart rate up gives us cardiovascular benefit,” explains Sheppard. “We want to make sure our heart rate reaches a certain range for maximum benefit.” To find your maximum heart rate, adjusted for resting heart rate, follow this formula:

(220) – (age) – (resting heart rate) x (percent of maximum heart rate) + (resting heart rate)

For example, say James is 24 years old, has a resting heart rate of 65 bpm and wants to work out between 60 and 80 percent of maximum heart rate.

(220 – 24 – 65) x (.60) + 65 = 144
(220 – 24 – 65) x (.80) + 65 = 170

According to the formula, James should maintain a target heart rate between about 140 and 170 bpm to reach 60 to 80 percent of maximum heart rate while exercising.

Using heart rate monitoring during a workout

Sheppard notes it is important to stay within your determined heart rate ranges and build time within that range. Don’t be too aggressive and go outside of the range, or you will fatigue too quickly when trying to build aerobic endurance. Try to get 30-60 minutes of exercise in your recommended heart rate range.

“Heart rate monitoring is becoming increasingly popular in gyms and for everyday exercisers because it gives a more detailed approach to quantifying a workout,” explains Sheppard. “Knowing your heart rate during your workout can help you correlate how a certain exercise or series of exercises affects your heart rate and overall output.”

From a trainer or group exercise instructor’s perspective, using heart rate monitoring during a session can help determine when someone is ready for the next set of exercises, says Sheppard. “The actual exercises appropriate for each individual vary widely because of fitness levels and other limitations a person might have.” Heart rate monitoring during exercise provides real-time feedback on how hard you are working and if the activity needs to be increased or lowered for a safe, effective workout.

After you exercise it is important to safely lower your heart rate. “Monitoring a client's heart rate during exercise allows us know how the client’s heart is actually recovering instead of giving an arbitrary recovery time.” To safely lower heart rate, Sheppard recommends walking or performing any movement slowly. “It’s a good idea to keep moving at a slow rate in order for the heart to recover properly.”

Cooper Fitness Center offers heart rate tracking for members. For more information about personal training at Cooper Fitness Center, visit or call 972.233.4832.

Article provided by Cooper Aerobics Marketing and Communications.