Three factors determine your optimum exercise heart rate
by Sally Edwards
added to by Jamie Sarkisian

a) Your personal maximum heart rate ..b) Your current fitness level ..
c) Your fitness goals

Once you determine your maximum heart rate and current fitness level, achieving your goals is a matter exercising at the ideal heart rates, for the right amount minutes per day, and per week.

Determining   Maximum Heart Rate for more info
Max HR Test- Maximum heart rate is genetically determined and declines with age in only relatively sedentary individuals. Max HR cannot be accurately predicted by formula (such as 220 - age). A treadmill test with a cardiologist or exercise physiologist is ideal obtaining your Max HR.  Also the sport will have an effect on the maximum heart rate.

Sub Max HR Test- You don't have to push your self to peak capacity to find your Max HR. A close approximation of Max HR can be obtained by doing a "sub maximum test".  Add about 8-12 beats above 5K race pace heart rate or steady state heart rate when you are going hard for 3-4 minutes.  A certified exercise professional can help you with the "sub Max test" or you could read page 8 in Heart Zone Training by Sally Edwards.

Remember- consult your physician to make sure you can take these tests safely.

How to use a Heart Rate Monitor effectively

Train Effectively - Use the Zones
If you are a beginner with the goal of improving overall fitness, losing weight or reducing stress, exercise in the healthy heart zone which is 50-60 percent of your maximum heart rate.

  1. If you already exercise regularly but are aiming to lose body fat, exercise in the weight management zone which is 60-70 percent of maximum heart rate. Build up to a work out of an hours continuous exercise.
  2. If your goal is to improve aerobic capacity or athletic performance, exercise in the aerobic zone which is 70-80 percent of maximum heart rate.
  3. Competitive athletes may need to add interval training sessions during the week in the anaerobic threshold heart rate zone, which is 80-90 percent of maximum. This high intensity exercise helps train muscles to handle lactic acid.   Make sure only 10-15 percent of your time is in this zone.  If you spend more time you are likely to get injured and the quality of the workout will suffer.  It will also take you longer to recover.   If you do overtrain, take a week of easy training with no zone 4 or zone 5 workouts.

Train sparingly at these upper limits. Exercising regularly at a heart rate intensity that is too high does not produce additional aerobic benefits and increases the possibility of an athletic injury. Interval training and anaerobic threshold workouts require a high degree of fitness, and is not necessary for general fitness training.

Once you determine your individual training zones, you can easily program them into your Cardiosport or Polar heart rate monitor. Your heart monitor will notify you with a beep if you are exercising above or below the pre-programmed zones. Many Cardiosport models record heart rate at selectable intervals. You can then evaluate your exercise after each session and adjust your intensity if needed. Recording heart rate also allows you to monitor your fitness improvements over time.

Tips on Effective Training:

- Warm up & cool down. Always do a slow warm up of 5-10 minutes, followed by some gentle stretching. Then gradually climb into the target range you have set. End every workout with a 5-10 minute cool down, again followed by some gentle stretching. The importance of this can not be over emphasised. Studies have shown that people who warm up and cool down adequately have fewer athletic injuries.

- Type of Exercise. Choose activities that use large muscle groups and which are continuous in nature. Some good examples are walking, swimming, running, aerobic dance, stair climbing machines, ski machines, treadmills, cycling or exercise bikes. Feel free to include more than one activity - cycle one day, swim the next, and do aerobics on the third. This is called Cross Training and helps exercise all muscle groups, reduces boredom and keeps motivation high.

- Frequency of exercise. Exercise in the target range that you have set at least 3-5 times per week, with no more than 48 hours between sessions. Even on 'rest days' gentle exercise such as a leisurely walk can be beneficial.

- Intensity of exercise. Select an exercise intensity zone that is both within your capability and in which you can achieve consistency. Studies show that people who exercise at too high an intensity, especially in the initial stages of their programme, drop out sooner, have more injuries, and tend to develop a negative impression towards exercise in general. If necessary start in a low exercise intensity zone and build up.

- Time exercising. Aim for 20-60 minutes of continuous exercise in your target zone each session. If you are unable to exercise for 20 minutes initially, slow down and gradually build up to this.

Before you begin your exercise program, get an assessment of your overall fitness level. You must get clearance from your doctor that it is safe for you to exercise.