Training woman checking heart rate

Published on March 22nd, 2014 | by Joe Starks


Athletic Science: Heart Rate

When exercising without a lot of equipment and tests, measuring our heart rate is the easiest way to determine whether we work out hard enough or not. Our heart rate is an excellent indication of our health and our levels of exertion. It is the reason you see many athletes monitor their heart rate with special gadgets called heart rate monitors.

In this article we’ll talk about exactly what a heart rate is, how to use it to measure your fitness levels and how to calculate if you are working out hard enough.

What is your Heart Rate?

Our heart is a big muscle. It does contain other tissues as well, but muscle is what most of your heart is made of. The muscle fibers of our heart are unique, to enable them to keep working for all of your life without rest. These fibers need no rest from the moment your heart begins to beat as a fetus, to the moment you die.

The heart beats a certain amount of times every minute and we call this a heart rate. Not all hearts have the same heart rate. Here are some of the things that can affect your heart rate:

  • Exertion. When you work very hard your heart rate rises. It can more than double if you are exercising hard enough.
  • Age. We have different heart rates at various ages. It has to do with our size, our hormones and our health.
  • Size. Your heart rate can be determined by your height and overall size.
  • Altitude. Living in high altitude areas can increase your heart rate by 20%.
  • Heat. When it is very hot you will have a significant rise of your heart rate.
  • Fitness. Fitter people have a lower heart rate than average, because their heart is more efficient at pumping blood. This comes as no surprise, since the heart is a muscle that can be trained.

How to Calculate your Heart Rate

Your pulse equals the amount of times your heart beats in a minute. Your pulse is actually the pressure each heart beat causes to the walls of your arteries when it pushes blood through them. Placing your fingers at the side of your neck, the back of your knee or your wrist can help you feel your pulse.

Don’t be alarmed if you can’t feel your pulse. You might not have found the correct spot.

When trying to determine if you heart rate is high or low, you need to find a basic value to compare it to. This basic value is the resting heart rate, which is quite literally your heart rate when you are relaxed.

Calculate your heart rate as soon as you wake up in the morning, while still lying in bed. Anything between 60 to 100 beats is a normal human’s resting heart rate. Having a higher resting heart rate is almost always pathological, unless you woke up abruptly and stressed. If yours is lower than 60 you should visit your GP as you might have bradycardia.

Knowing your resting heart rate helps you determine whether your heart rate during your training is high or low. Owning a heart rate monitor can make this task very easy.

The Significance of Calculating your Heart Rate

Calculating your heart rate isn’t just for show. Your heart rate can warn you about many things that might be going wrong in your body and it can also show you how well your training is working.

Here are some ways in which calculating your heart rate can help you:

  • You can learn if you have brady- or tachy-cardia. If your heart has a problem and it beats too fast or too slow compared to the average human, you probably need medical treatment and your heart rate can tell you that.
  • You can see if you work out too hard. If you want to train aerobically you should never surpass 80% of your maximum healthy heart rate. Trainign at 80 to 90% should never be done for too long and training at 90 to 100% is far too much.
  • You can determine if you work out too gently. If your heart rate doesn’t rise enough, then you know that you are probably taking it too easy.
  •  You can see if you are getting fitter. The fitter you become the stronger your heart gets. If you see that your resting heart rate is getting lower, then you know you have trained your heart well.
  • If you are getting out of breath easily and you feel dizzy when your heart rate rises, you should check yourself for high blood pressure and other illnesses.

Your heart rate is an important indicator of your overall health. It is imperative that everyone learns how to calculate it. Ask your GP or get your coach to show you how to calculate your heart rate. You can also get yourself a heart rate monitor to do it for you.

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