Are You Doing Cardio Right?

Tracking your heart rate can help

Are You Doing Cardio Right?

“Get your heart rate up to ‘X’ beats per minute to really burn fat/calories/carbs.” This may be what you’ve heard from friends, fitness instructors and even health care practitioners. But what is ‘X’ for you, really?

Taking your pulse

When you take your pulse, you are finding out how many times per minute your heart beats (your heart rate).

Place your index finger and middle finger along the side of your wrist under your thumb. Press down gently but with pressure until you feel your pulse. Never use your thumb, as it has its own pulse. You can also use a heart rate monitor or fitness tracker.

Resting heart rate

Before you start exercising, take your pulse. A typical resting heart rate can be anywhere from 40 to 100 beats per minute, with women’s being faster than men’s. The lower your heart rate, generally the fitter you are.

Exercise heart rate

To measure your exercise heart rate, stop moving for the duration of the timing period. If you’re on a bike, stop pedaling; if you’re on a treadmill, place your feet on either side of the machine. Take your pulse again.

Recovery heart rate

During your workout, your heart rate will be faster than when you were at rest. The speed at which your heart rate comes back down after exercise is a great indicator of your fitness. This is called your recovery heart rate.

Your heart rate should drop by 20 beats within a minute of stopping cardiovascular exercise.

Target heart rate

Not to be confused with your maximum heart rate (MHR), which is the highest your heart rate can go on a stress test and found by taking 220 minus your age, your target heart rate (THR) is calculated by this simple equation: 220 minus your age (MHR), multiplied by a lower zone (60 percent) and a higher zone (85 percent).

You should be able to get to your THR and stay there for the duration of your workout (after warm-up and before cool-down).

If you can’t reach your THR or it stays too low over a period of time, you should check with your health care practitioner. Reasons for reaching your THR too fast or slow include being out of shape or taking certain medications. And remember: as you get fitter, it takes longer to reach your THR.

Working out hard aerobically is not for everyone. If you fit any of the following descriptions, you should seek medical advice before training at your target heart rate:

  • people on beta blockers or calcium channel blockers
  • people taking respiratory medication
  • people with diabetes
  • pregnant women with complications

Heart rate training

Working out your cardiovascular system results in better lung capacity, a stronger heart, more endurance and possibly weight loss. To get the best health benefits of aerobic training, exercise at an intensity that stimulates the aerobic system for 20 to 60 minutes per session. For beginners, start with even five to 10 minutes.

Qualities of the aerobic zone include

  • exercising at 70 to 80 percent of your MHR
  • being able to speak briefly
  • starting to sweat