Why You Should be Monitoring Your Heart Rate

 If you don’t track your workout, did it even happen? Wearable fitness technology is everywhere these days. You know we love stats at aSweatLife, and we’re always trying to get the most out of our workouts. 

Tracking metrics like steps, sleep, and calories burned is pretty straightforward. Most devices also include a way to track your heart rate.

Sounds great, right? But why should you track your heart rate (HR), and how can you ensure you’re getting the most out of your workout?

heart rate monitoring

Heart rate basics

It turns out, understanding your resting and working heart rate can help you train harder and smarter.

“Heart rate, the number of heartbeats per minute, is a real-time snapshot of how your heart muscle is functioning,” says Dr. Anuj Shah, an Interventional Cardiologist & Endovascular Specialist, and the Founder of Apex Heart and Vascular Care. “A normal heart rate is usually between 60 and 100 beats per minute; which means with each beat, the heart pumps approximately 70-75 ml of blood.”

Your heart rate can vary throughout the day depending on exercise, diet, caffeine intake, and overall fitness level. To get a better understanding of your heart rate, it’s important to know your resting and maximum heart rates. 

Resting HR = your heart at rest. If you have a smartwatch or device, there should be an option to find out your resting heart rate. Otherwise, take your pulse right when you wake up in the morning before you get out of bed. Take it a few days in a row to find your average resting heart rate. Typically, the lower your resting heart rate, the more physically fit you are. 

To find your Heart Rate Max, subtract your age from 220. (So, 220-Age.) According to Active, your Max HR “is the upper limit of what your cardiovascular system can handle during physical activity.” Note, this is an estimate, and shouldn’t be used as an absolute guide.

Get in the zone

Once you know your HR Max, you can determine what zones you should aim for during a workout. There are a TON of online resources for this. (Polar and Active both have great online calculators.)

Dr. Shah recommends exercising between 60 and 70 percent of your HR Max for at least 15-20 minutes, four times/week to improve your overall cardiovascular health.

Why you should monitor your heart rate during a workout

Emily Sopo is a Master Trainer at Myzone, an industry leader in heart rate monitoring technology for fitness clubs and individual consumers. She says regularly monitoring your heart rate is a key to keeping you accountable and on track.

“Monitoring your heart rate during a workout is a very effective way to accurately measure your personal effort,” Sopo says. “It allows you to gauge where your cardiovascular fitness is now, then set goals to improve and monitor your progress. You’re able to hold yourself accountable to the effort zones you set out to achieve, and stay motivated using the live feedback.”

Check your heart rate throughout your workout and ensure that you’re staying within your desired zone. If your HR is too low, it’s time to amp it up a bit! If it’s too high, consider taking a break, or toning it down a little bit.

Monitoring your heart rate post-workout

 It’s also important to monitor your heart rate after your workout.

“Heart rate recovery is the speed at which our heart rate decreases after a bout of exercise, usually measured in the minute following exercise,” Sopo says. “It reflects how quickly our nervous system shifts from sympathetic to parasympathetic and has important ramifications for our cardiovascular health and fitness.” 

Essentially, the faster your heart rate decreases after a workout, the more efficient it is. 

“You can think of it like this – a ‘healthy’ and ‘fit’ heart is very efficient, so it doesn’t do extra work that isn’t needed. When you stop exercising, an efficient heart will quickly respond by slowing its heart rate down toward its resting rate,” Sopo says. 

You can monitor your recovery heart rate after workouts to see how long it takes you to recover. Ideally, your recovery time will decrease as your overall fitness levels increase.

Choosing the right HR monitor

There are typically two different types of wearable heart rate monitors: chest straps and wrist-based devices. 

Research shows that chest straps, which measure the electrical activity of the heart, tend to be more accurate than wrist-based devices, which use optical sensing to measure blood flow at the wrist – a less direct measure,” Sopo says. She also points out that wrist devices can be even less accurate when performing high-intensity exercises.

When choosing a heart rate monitor, look for a device that fits your lifestyle and will help you meet your health and fitness goals. I had one for years and never understood why it beeped at me for not being in the right zone. Happy monitoring! 

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About Rachel LaBud

Rachel graduated from the University of Illinois with a BS in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in English Literature. Originally from the Chicago suburbs, she’s an Air Force wife which means “home” is now wherever the military sends her. She was lucky enough to spend three years in Italy where she fell in love with hiking, the outdoors, and Italian coffee. Stress and frequent deployments led her to strength training and group fitness classes, which she credits with keeping her healthy, fit, and sane. She played soccer and swam competitively growing up and thanks sports for giving her a competitive streak, lifelong best friends, and chlorine-damaged hair.