Heart Rate Training, Zones and Monitors

Heart Rate Training, Zones and Monitors


Why track your heart rate?

Your heart rate changes depending on your activity level; it is lower while you are asleep and at rest and higher while you exercise, to supply your muscles with enough freshly oxygenated blood to keep them functioning at a high level.

Your heart is also a muscle, exercise, in turn, helps keep it healthy. A heart rate monitor (HRM) is a personal monitoring device that allows you to measure/display heart rate in real time or record the heart rate for later study. We use it to gather heart rate data while performing various types of cardiovascular exercise. With a heart rate monitor you’ll be safer during your workouts because you can see how hard you are working. Plus, you will easily see the intensity you should be working at for the type of training gains you are looking at achieving.

An optimal exercise prescription is a balance between:

  • Frequency of exercise
  • Intensity of exercise
  • Duration of exercise
  • Mode of exercise

Heart rate is a useful indicator of the intensity of effort and body’s physiological adaptation.

Heart rate monitoring is an important component especially in cardiovascular fitness assessment and training programmes.

The idea is to train your aerobic system without over-stressing your skeletal and muscular systems. It is a different way to be healthy and fit. It doesn’t have to be ‘no pain, no gain,’ or going as hard as you possibly can, and it allows for continued improvements over time.

What are heart rate zones?

 A ‘heart rate zone’ is essentially a range within which your heart’s beats per minute sit. So you might train in a zone where you’re working at 70% of your top effort level, known as your ‘maximum heart rate’.

The benefit of training in a certain heart rate zone is that you are optimising your body’s ability to take in oxygen to help fuel the production of energy. You’re also increasing the efficiency of burning fat as another source of energy.


 Five Heart Rate Zones

You can get different fitness benefits by exercising in different heart rate (HR) zones. These five exercise zones are based on the percentage ranges of maximum heart rate. In each zone, you will feel a different level of exertion and your body will be burning a different percentage of carbohydrate, protein, and fat.

When we put the 5 Pillars over the 5 HR zones where do they fit?

Pillar Heart Rate Zone
Pillar 1 Movement Zone 1-3
Pillar 2 Core Zone 1-3
Pillar 3 Strength Zone 3-4
Pillar 4 Power Zone 3-5
Pillar 5 Cardio Zone 1-5

*Please note – this is a general application using one type of fitness measurement (your cardiovascular fitness, so how your heart, lungs and body are affected when your HR changes. To affect positive fitness gains through 4 of the 5 pillars would rely on other aspects of fitness.

For example, Movement – to see improvements in this pillar we would firstly look at the mobility of your joints and how well your muscles interact with them. Then after a period, has this mobility and interaction improved, can I rotate my shoulders in a bigger movement?

How Accurate Are They?

 The problem with having a ‘General Rule’ that everyone should follow is that we are all very different. Even when people are perceived as being of the same fitness level, some people have high maximal heart rates compared to others who have a low resting heart rate.

 More accurate formulas to work out maximum HR:

  • If you’re over 30: 207 minus 70 percent of your age worked better
  • If you’re female and over 35: try 206 minus 88 percent of your age.
  • 211 minus 64 percent of your age works well for older healthy adults, and for women.

Even if you pick the best formula for you (and I know, it’s not necessarily clear which one that is) the number you get will have a pretty big margin of error: it could be 10-20 beats off.

There’s a simple way to find out your actual max heart rate

Exercise really hard and see how high the meter goes. Here are the protocols that will crank your heart up to its true maximum.

Standard disclaimer: if you have a health condition where all-out exercise might be dangerous (or if you’re not sure), get a doctor’s approval before trying the following.

  • Run as fast as you can – stand for three minutes. Rest for three minutes, then repeat the hard run again, and note the highest reading from that second trial.
  • Another simple running test: Run a mile at tempo pace (hard, but not all out), then a fifth lap that’s faster, and a sixth that’s as fast as you can go, accelerating as much as you can toward the end. The highest number you see is your max.
  • Some runners also swear by 5k races. If you race that distance (about 3 miles) with every ounce of effort you’ve got, your highest reading toward the end of the race should be your max.

You’ll get the most accurate (highest) results if you come to the workout fresh (so don’t plan the test for the day after a hard workout), and make sure to do a long warmup that, even if it starts out easy, gets you working at moderate intensity as a ramp-up to the test.

Your max heart rate for running may be different from your max heart rate for other sports, like cycling and, most notoriously, swimming. Your heart has to work harder to pump blood around when you’re upright versus horizontal.

What is the best way of getting the most out of using this information?

 We have signed up with a company called Polar who supply the Polar Club template for us to use as a Gym. The orange monitors you may have used already sync to Polar Club which is then mirrored onto the screen from our iPad. There are different ways of reading the information supplied through Polar.

The simplest approach is to use the monitors at the gym within sessions which are specifically aiming at improving your cardiovascular fitness. The coaches, and you, will see live heart rate information to see if you are working with the correct ranges for optimal performance improvements. At the end of each session the coach will go through your HR summary to explain what it shows and what we need to look at tweaking for next time and show you where you did really well.

The second approach to helping you move your health and fitness forwards is to use Polar Beat. The Polar Beat App is for our clients to use with their own sensors or ours. The app is free to download and works if you are paired with a sensor.

If you use one of our sensors, and you pair it to your app each session, it will supply you with all the information you will need to track your training activity in the gym.

The third option is to purchase your own sensor which will record all of the training activity you do and is more accurate because it takes into consideration your weight, height and age metrics. It tells you what zones you’ve trained in, your calories burnt, your average and maximum heart rate and the amount of time you were training in the fat burning zone versus the higher intensity anaerobic zone. This information will really help our coaches help you when you have your accountability sessions. With the information provided from the Polar Beat App we can give you really sound advice on where we need to move your training in the future. Having a bigger picture on your day-to-day routines and structure will help us help you achieve your goals faster and more accurately.

Polar HR monitors available for purchase from us as an arm strap or chest strap. The price to purchase one of the sensors is £79.50 (we would recommend you do buy one if you are physically active outside of the gym and to pair with Polar Club whilst at BCHQ) .


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