Professional athletes have been practicing heart rate training for years. In order to condition their bodies for fast-paced shifts on-ice or sprints down the field, their workouts focus on maintaining a constant heart rate, which allows them to be keenly attuned to their fitness goals — to make sure they’re not over-or under-doing it.
This kind of training used to be a fairly laborious process, often involving a personal trainer and at least enough rudimentary first-aid knowledge to accurately take a pulse. But now that everyone you know wears a Fitbit or tracks steps and vital metrics on an Apple Watch, heart rate training has become something of a fad.
If you’re going to try it yourself, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Heart rate monitoring provides instant feedback on your intensity and allows you to easily measure progress. With improved fitness you will complete what you currently do at a lower heart rate: your perceived exertion will be lower and the workout will feel easier.
Your heart rate also indicates how recovered and hydrated — or overly exhausted and dehydrated — your body is. If you are dehydrated or under-recovered, your heart rate will be higher than normal at a given level of intensity.
Don’t Overestimate Results
This is a reminder that most of us don’t want to hear. Reaching any health goal is multifactorial; nutrition, sleep, methods of recovery, and one’s weight training routine are all key components. If your goal is weight loss, you can train daily within your perfect heart rate zone and actually gain weight by eating badly, not sleeping, and/or drinking unneeded calories. You will never reach your goal performance no matter how many targeted heart rate workouts you do if you are undernourished, not functionally strong, or under-recovered.
Being dehydrated puts extra strain on the heart, lungs, and circulatory system. When you are dehydrated, your perceived level of exertion will be greater — which means exercise will feel harder and your performance will decrease.
Know Your Heart Rate Zones
Heart rate training uses “zones” to categorize a range of heart rate and your relative fitness level and exercise intensity. As you work out, you should be aiming to hit the appropriate zone. Here’s what to look for:
Try This Workout
This can be done on any cardio machine with a built-in heart rate monitor. Or do it outside — walking, running, or biking — if you have a tracking device.
- 5 minutes in Zone 1.
- 10 minutes in Zone 2.
- 3 sets of 1 minute mid Zone 2, 1 minute high Zone 2, 1 minute Zone 3.
- 2-5 minutes mid Zone 2.
- 5 sets of 30 seconds Zone 4 followed by 30 seconds Zone 3.
- 5 minutes Zone 2.
- Optional: 1 minute Zone 4.
- 2 minutes Zone 2.
- 5 minutes low Zone 2 and Zone 1.