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You’ve started a workout routine and things are going great. You’re hitting the gym 5-6 days a week, getting in your designated zone, and really working that heart rate.
But are you?
While zones are a huge topic in the fitness world, they’re vastly misunderstood by many. In fact, most athletes don’t know what their target heart rate is or what zone they should be exercising in to get there. Without properly figuring target heart rate zones, many athletes aren’t working at their maximum potential. Or worse, they’re spending too much time in high intensity zones, resulting in shorter sessions and overexertion.
Say “hello” to heart rate monitoring. Heart rate monitoring ensures you are working at the right intensity, helping you to reach your full potential – or slow down if needed.
Finding Your Target Heart Rate
Before you can truly “get in the zone,” you first need to identify your maximum heart rate (MHR) and resting heart rate (RHR). Your MHR is the highest your heart rate should be during any type of exercise. Your resting heart rate represents your rate in a relaxed state.
WARNING: math is involved.
This zone reaches 60% – 70% of your maximum heart rate. Using myself as an example, I’d be working towards 113 and 132 beats per minute. The low intensity zone is perfect for a warmup, or for beginners if you’re new to exercise. Try marching in place, dynamic stretching or light walking to hit this zone head on.
This zone kicks up the intensity a notch, reaching of 70% – 80% of your maximum heart rate. Right now I’d be at about 150 bpm. You should feel rather comfortable in this zone, while still feeling like you’re working. Exercising at moderate intensity is great for transporting oxygen to other parts of the body and improving endurance. While moderate intensity is suggested for athletes of all levels, it’s especially beneficial to those who are new to exercise and working towards a higher level of fitness. Slow jogging, brisk walking and walking uphill are all examples of a moderate intensity workout.
This is where it gets intense. This zone uses 80%- 90% of your maximum heart rate. For continuity’s sake, let’s use myself as another example. I would be working between 151 and 170 bpm. Now you’re exiting your comfort zone and burning some hardcore calories. Working in this zone increases your anaerobic threshold and conditions the heart. Reach this zone with a spin class, step aerobics, HIIT interval training or running.
This is it folks – the highest you can go. Working at this level means you’re working as hard as you can (think all out sprints or very high intensity circuit training). Most athletes can only maintain this zone for a short period of time – so we suggest this zone only to experienced exercisers. Once you notice your HRM hovering just below or just above your MHR, it’s time to slow it down. Or, allow yourself short breaks in-between exercises.
We all overdo it sometimes. While we’d love for you to “kill it” during your workouts, it’s important to listen to your body and know its limitations. If you’re short of breath, experiencing pain or have to cut your session short, chances are you’re working at a higher intensity than your fitness level allows. Set goals for yourself and build on these as time progresses. This is the safe and healthy way to reach fitness milestones.