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Using Your Heart Rate Monitor

Most new treadmills and ellipticals come equipped with heart rate monitors. Most work from metal contacts on the hand grips. Also available are wireless monitors that wrap around your chest and transmit heart signals directly to the console of your machine. Nice, but what exactly are you supposed to do with this information?

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You may have seen the charts on the walls of gyms, or on some machines, that show your heart rate, or pulse, “training zone,” based on your age. This is also sometimes referred to as your “target heart rate. In this formula, 220 minus your age results in a maximum heart rate. Then the “cardio training zone” is set at about 50% of this. “Stress tests” given by doctors that also measure your breathing are refinements on this basic measurement.

The heart rate that results from this formula is a good, safe start for untrained individuals, but those who have trained for awhile know they can easily exceed their “maximum” heart rate. Fit people can safely increase their heart rate to where they feel more challenged. To do this, their “maximum” heart rate is still a good place to start. Then increasing the percentage of that from 50% to around 70% is a good improvement for general fitness, calorie burning, and weight loss. The American Heart Association recommends exercising between 60% and 80% of your maximum heart rate.

Interval Training with Your Heart Rate Monitor

A further refinement is to use the heart rate monitor in interval training. In interval training you can sprint for periods of 30 to 60 seconds, bringing your heart rate up to about 90% of your maximum, then resting at a slower pace of perhaps a couple of minutes, or until your heart rate reaches a more comfortable level. Some experts consider this level to be where you can breathe easily. One of the advantages of interval training is that you can measure your improvement not just by time spent “in the zone,” but also by how quickly your heart rate drops down to a lower rate after the intense interval. This recovery ability is a key measure of heart health and is an important factor in many sports, such as tennis, where short bursts of movement are required.

In any case, it is best to gradually warm up to your targeted heart rate and then “cool down” from it toward the end of your workout. Of course, you should consult your physician before beginning any exercise program.

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