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How To Improve Your Workouts With A Heart Rate Monitor

Regularly performing cardiovascular exercise is an important part of staying fit and healthy.

Cardio improves your endurance, increases lung capacity and improves the overall health of your cardiovascular system.

Monitoring your heart rate during a cardio session can help you ensure you get the most out of the workout.

You can keep the intensity of the workout at the most beneficial level and accurately perform high intensity intervals.

Your workouts will be more consistent and you will be able to track your progress easily.

This article contains all of the information you need to incorporate a heart monitor into your workouts.

Let’s get started!

What is cardiovascular exercise and why do we need it?

Cardiovascular exercise refers to any form of exercise that stimulates your cardiovascular system — your heart, lungs, blood vessels, kidneys, and brain.

When performing cardio, your respiratory rate increases, your heart rate increases, and blood is pushed rapidly throughout your body.

The most popular forms of cardiovascular exercise include rowing, running, aerobics, dancing, hiking, boxing, jumping rope, biking, swimming, and playing tennis.

The main advantages obtained from regularly performing cardio include:

Cardio is the best way to lose weight

Cardiovascular exercise is a fantastic way to consume calories and burn fat cells.

A solid one hour cardio workout can burn anywhere between 300 to 1,000 calories.

Your cardiovascular system will become stronger

The more cardio you perform, the stronger your cardiovascular system becomes!

Your lungs will perform better, your blood vessels will be able to transport nutrients more efficiently, and your heart will become stronger.

It will help you avoid some serious illnesses

Scientists have discovered that performing regular cardiovascular exercise reduces blood pressure and improves muscle strength.

It also reduces the risk of many health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis.

Cardio helps you think

Researchers have discovered that regular cardio can help the body supply the brain with oxygen-rich blood and nutrients.

You will be more mentally alert and able to think quickly.

Cardio makes you feel great

Cardio releases “feel good” chemicals in the brain, including serotonin and dopamine.

These chemicals are powerful neurotransmitters that make you feel great and reduce the risk of mental illnesses like depression.

Cardio is also a great way to relive stress.

You can train in your “sweet spot”

Once you understand what your heart rate zones are, you will be able to train at specific intensities.

You will be able to do longer sessions and find the perfect “sweet spot” where you can train at moderate intensity for a long period.

Understanding heart rate zones

Fitness experts have defined 5 heart rate “zones” which represent how quickly your heart is beating and how difficult it is to sustain that level of exertion.

You can create training sessions that spend certain amounts of time in each zone, dramatically increasing the effectiveness of your workouts.

The first step for determining your heart rate zones is to calculate your maximum heart rate.

The simplest technique is to subtract your age from 220.

So, if your age is 30, your maximum heart rate is 190 (220 – 30 = 190).

It is important to understand that this figure is only an estimate — your genetic makeup and overall health might result in a maximum heart rate that is well below or slightly above this figure.

You will obtain a sense of how accurate this figure is as you begin performing high-intensity workouts with a heart rate monitor.

You can also perform an exercise tolerance test under the supervision of a health professional.

These tests are usually performed in a clinical environment, with a heart rate monitor and periodic blood tests to determine your lactate levels.

Now that you have your maximum heart rate, you estimate how fast your heart will be beating in each heart rate zone.

Zone 1: Rest and recovery zone (65-70% of Maximum HR)

This zone is very low intensity for most people.

Most people can sustain this level of exertion for long periods and won’t become out of breath.

For a 30 year old, Zone 1 is between 123 and 133 beats per minute.

Zone 2: Endurance zone (70-80% of Maximum HR)

This is the zone where your aerobic capacity begins to be tested.

The rate of your breathing will increase and you may struggle to talk while exercising.

Exercising at this level will improve your aerobic capacity, strength and cardiovascular health.

For a 30 year old, Zone 2 is between 133 and 152 beats per minute.

Zone 3: Aerobic zone (80-90% of Maximum HR)

At this point you will be breathing heavily and may feel lactate developing in your muscles.

You will find it very difficult to talk at this point because you are breathing so rapidly.

You will find it difficult to sustain this pace for long periods.

For a 30 year old, Zone 3 is between 152 and 171 beats per minute.

Zone 4: Anaerobic threshold zone (90-98% of Maximum HR)

This is “race pace” zone, where you are close to maximum intensity.

You will be breathing so hard that you will struggle to get any worlds out and you will be driving your muscles at close to maximum capacity.

Most people can only sustain this level of exertion for one or two minutes.

For a 30 year old, Zone 4 is between 171 and 186 beats per minute.

Zone 5: Max aerobic threshold zone (98-100% of Maximum HR)

This is as fast as your heart can go!

Most people can only sustain this level of cardio for between 10 to 60 seconds.

It can only be achieved while exercising at extremely high intensities.

For a 30 year old, Zone 4 is between 186 and 190 beats per minute.

Workouts using heart rate zones

Here are some ways that you can use your heart rate monitor to improve your cardio workouts:

High intensity interval training

High intensity Intervals are an excellent way to push yourself to the next level and increase muscle/aerobic performance.

They also give you a lot of “bang for your buck” because you can perform HIIT sessions in less time.

After warming up, have short Zone 4 intervals (1-2 minutes), followed by slightly longer Zone 2 recovery sections (2-4 minutes).

You can also just use your heart rate monitor to time your intervals, waiting until your heart rate has declined before doing the next interval.

Aerobic builder

If you are interested in improving your aerobic capacity and endurance, spend a lot of time in Zone 3.

Pace yourself and find the level of effort you can sustain for 45-60 minutes.

Active recovery workout

An active recovery workout is performed the day after a high intensity workout.

Essentially, you workout at a slow pace to help your body remove waste and recover from the previous workout.

After warming up, do 30 minutes of Zone 1 exercise.

You will be amazed at how much it can speed up recovery time.

We hope you enjoyed reading How To Improve Your Workouts With A Heart Rate Monitor.

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author: Trevor McClintock

Trevor McClintock is one of London's most exciting personal trainers. Combining over 25 years of experience in the fitness sector with exceptional industry knowledge, Trevor is able to offer unequalled fitness services, including online coaching, bespoke plans and one-on-one sessions. Contact Trevor today and start your journey to becoming the very best version of yourself.