Thursday, June 5, 2008

Using a Heart Rate Monitor

In my recent post "Younger Next Year", Crowley and Lodge recommend, among other things, that we all need to exercise 6 days a week for the rest of our life and, for at least four of those six days, we need to serious aerobic exercise. But, how does one do "serious" aerobic exercise and how does one discern the difference between serious exercise and something less than that? The authors of this wonderful book suggest that "serious" aerobic exercise consists of exercise in the "aerobic" zone for 45 minutes or more for each of those days. They recommend the use of a heart rate monitor to make sure that you stay in the "aerobic zone" for all, or most, of that 45 minute period.

Having exercised for many years, and having recently taken up their advice (again) and started using a heart rate monitor, I have some comments on this approach that I think are important observations for anyone who is serious about this aspect of their life.

When I am exercising without a monitor, I tend to use the "perceived exertion" scale. This is outlined as follows:

Healthy Heart Zone 50%-60% 2-5 (perceived exertion)

Temperate Zone 60%-70% 4-5 (perceived exertion)

Aerobic Zone 70%-80% 5-7 (perceived exertion)

Threshold Zone 80%-90% 7-9 (perceived exertion)

Redline Zone 90%-100% 9-10 (perceived exertion)

Since the goal is to stay in the "aerobic zone", I seek the perceived exertion scale of 5 to 7, which is described as moderately difficult, but not painful, able to continue to carry on a conversation but you know that you are working.

What most people who don't wear a heart monitor don't realize is that there is a significant difference in what you think your heart rate may be and what it actually is when you have a heart rate monitor on. Generally, I find that I need to "pick it up" frequently during my workouts to maintain my target rate of 130 beats per minute (this puts me in the 80% of maximum heart rate range). If I don't have a heart rate monitor on, I tend to think I'm exerting myself at a higher rate than I actually am. This is human nature at its best, the tendency to fantasize, dream, imagine, or wish that you are stronger, better, faster, or more fit than you really are.

But, having a heart rate monitor on allows you to make almost constant, subtle adjustments, whatever your exercise type, in order to keep your workout at a high quality level.

Make no mistake, without a heart rate monitor, and just using the perceived exertion method, you can get and stay close to your target and will be healthier for doing it. But, if you want to get "younger next year", you must stay after it, maximize your efforts to get and stay fit and, for that, you need a heart rate monitor.

Your comments are always appreciated.


Anonymous said...

I completely agree. I find that if I have something there to measure me (heart rate monitor, bicycle computer, etc) - I think I am working harder than I really am. I also take more breaks - or rest periods when I depend on myself. Great point.

Anonymous said...

I use a Polar F6 heart rate monitor for my workout. It has got this cool feature which shows the percentage of calories used up due to fat burnt. I often run for an hour on a treadmill at around 60% of my supposed maximum heart rate. It feels quite easy but doing so helps me lose weight.