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Heart Rate: Everything You Need To Know  

Heart Rate, or HR, may be the single most important measurement to understand in order to lose weight and get in shape.

We've been recording weight and body fat results for years and, in our opinion, understanding heart rate is the difference between achieving fitness goals and just spending time at the gym. How many people have you seen at your club for months or years but they never get in shape?

What is Heart Rate?

Your heart is a muscle that pumps blood throughout your body. It is your body's engine. Your heart rate is a measurement of how many times it beats in a minute. The more your heart beats, the more it is working.

Like every muscle in your body, you want your heart muscle to be strong and healthy. It is your most important muscle and needs to be thought of in that way.

Why is Heart Rate so Important?

At rest, an average healthy heart beats 65-75 times per minute. The old adage Use It or Lose It definitely applies.

Your heart is like a car engine. Stopped at a red light, the engine is at rest. When the light turns green, you step on the gas. The engine revs and powers the car forward. Excellent, you're going somewhere! Your heart behaves the same way. If your heart is not strong enough, you "step on the gas" and there's nothing there. That's bad.

Believe it or not, the goal of a cardio workout is not to "lose weight" or "burn calories"... it should be to "exercise" your heart. Exercising your heart puts "rev in your engine." That is your new cardio workout goal! Forget burning calories because they will take care of themselves.

Don't confuse Heart Rate with Blood Pressure. Blood pressure is the amount of force, or pressure, being exerted on the walls of your arteries while your blood is circulating. It is very important, too, but different. For more info on blood pressure, click here.

How Much Should I Rev My Engine?

If your heart is an engine, then your heart rate is an RPM or speedometer gauge. Unlike your car's speedometer, the goal of your heart rate speedometer is to get that dial up there!

Everyone's dial is a little different, so we'll need to calculate your personal Target Heart Rate Zone.

Step 1: Measure Your Resting Heart Rate

The first step is to take your resting pulse rate. Click here if you don't know how to take your pulse. Count the number of pulses you feel for 15 seconds. Use the chart to determine your Resting Heart Rate.

For best results, measure your Resting Heart Rate just after waking while you are still in bed.

Otherwise, take your pulse rate after sitting calmly for at least five minutes and your mind is at ease.

  Write down your Resting Heart Rate (HRrest)

Step 2: Maximum Heart Rate

Next, use the chart below to find your Maximum Heart Rate (HRmax) based on your age.

  Write down your Maximum Heart Rate (HRmax)

Step 3: Heart Rate Reserve

Next, we'll calculate your Heart Rate Reserve. Take your Maximum Heart Rate and subtract your Resting Heart Rate.

HRmax - HRrest = Heart Rate Reserve

(example for a 30 year-old with a HRrest of 72)
185 - 72 = 113 HRreserve

  Write down your Heart Rate Reserve (HRreserve)

Step 4: Your Personal Heart Rate Training Zone

Almost finished... we're ready to calculate your target heart rate zone using the Karvonen Method.

Low-end Training-50% Intensity  (HRreserve x .50) + HRrest = Low-end Target HR

High-end Training-85% Intensity  (HRreserve x .85) + HRrest = High-end Target HR

Example: (using our 30 year-old above)

(113 x .50) + 72 = 128.5 (lower end)
(113 x .85) + 72 = 168 (upper end)
Example Target HR Training Zone: 128 - 168

  Write down your Heart Rate Training Zone

When counting "exercise minutes" the minutes that truly count are ones where your heart rate is in the zone, not how long you were at the gym! See our article How Much Should I Exercise Each Week?

And finally, the most beautiful thing about monitoring your HR as you exercise, instead of counting miles or calories burned, is that as your fitness level improves you will be able to exercise longer, harder and faster to stay in your training zone. That's how you really melt off the pounds!

Revving Your Heart

When you're working out, use this 10-second Heart Rate Chart to know when you're in the zone!

Do you need a heart rate monitor?

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