A heart rate monitor can help you maximize your workouts by giving you a good idea of where your "sweet spot" is for various routines, and it can help prevent overtraining as well. Using a heart rate monitor, a runner can determine the best pace for maximizing their endurance, and a HIIT (high intensity interval training) addict can discover the best output of effort needed to maximize their fat-burning efficiency.
No matter what particular type of exercise you enjoy, a heart rate monitor can provide you with immediate feedback to help you determine the best level of intensity for you. So are you ready to maximize your workouts? Below are some simple tips on how to use a heart rate monitor to get your best workout yet.
Determine Your Maximum Heart Rate
Before a heart rate monitor will be of any real use to you, you're going to have to determine your maximum heart rate (MHR). Keep in mind that gaining an accurate estimate of your MHR is not an exact science; everyone's body responds differently to exercise, so even the general age range estimates are just that--estimates. In other words, you'll need to allow for a margin of error, so don't get too bogged down with trying to obtain an exact number. One of the most common formulas in use today is to subtract your age from 220, but there are others out there as well. If you want to explore another method, try the Max Heart Rate Calculator found here.
Be Mindful of Your Target Zones
Your heart rate is directly tied to your effort level; in other words, the harder you work, the higher your heart rate will be. As you're working out--whether running, doing aerobics, spinning or jamming in Zumba class--your goal will be to get your heart rate to a certain level, known as your target heart rate (THR).
Your THR is typically calculated as a percentage of your MHR. There are several generally accepted THR zones that you can use as a guide to help keep you on track as far as your calorie and fat-burning goals are concerned. While the details can vary based on which type of scale you're using, here are some of the most commonly used THR zones in the fitness world:
- Zone 1 (50 to 65 percent of MHR) - This is what you would call the "easy zone," and is where your heart rate should be during warm-up and cool-down periods. At this pace, you're basically comfortable, and can hold a conversation without sounding winded.
- Zone 2 (65 to 75 percent of MHR) - This is perhaps the most popular zone, and is considered to be the "go-to" zone for most workouts, because it tends to burn a higher percentage of fat calories. Not only that, but working out at this pace will increase the capacity of your muscles to store glycogen, the fuel that they burn during exercise, which in turn allows you to work harder and zap more calories overall.
- Zone 3 (80 to 90 percent of MHR) - Now you're cranking. Working out at this level will ultimately enable your body to go longer and harder at a greater level of intensity. Although initial sessions at this pace and intensity will be quite challenging, they'll begin to feel easier as you continue working out in this range.
- Zone 4 (90 to 95 percent of MHR) - This is the all-out level of intensity, the zone where you're giving your all and pushing as hard as you can. While this will obviously be challenging, adding these types of workouts into your overall exercise mix will boost your body's ability to burn fat by a significant margin. Of course, not all workouts should be this intense, but you should be able to incorporate Zone 4-level exercises into at least one or two workouts a week in order to kick your metabolism into a higher gear.
Overdoing It Will Be Counterproductive
It's important to include Zone 1-level exercises into the mix in order to help you balance out your fitness regimen and promote recovery. The best approach is to choose a specific zone for each day, and try not to make any one workout the same as another. For example, here's a week's worth of workouts where you can put your heart rate monitor to use to help you shred fat and zap calories:
- Monday - Maintain a Zone 2 THR for 40 minutes.
- Tuesday - Interval training: Alternate 90 seconds of Zone 4 THR with 90 seconds of Zone 1 THR. Repeat 3 to 5 times.
- Wednesday: Rest day
- Thursday: Maintain a Zone 2 THR for 50 minutes.
- Friday: Maintain a Zone 2 THR for 60 minutes.
- Saturday: Interval training: Alternate 3 minutes of Zone 3 THR with 1 minute of Zone 1 THR. Repeat 3 to 5 times.
- Sunday: Rest day
A heart rate monitor is an excellent tool to help you develop a methodology to your workouts, so that you can maximize the results of your efforts. Use the information above to help you create workouts that will be both challenging and productive, and move you further towards achieving your fitness goals.