You may of heard people talk about the importance of keeping your heart rate in a certain zone during exercise. This post will go through the basic details of this concept.
The heart is a muscle. And just like any muscle, it can be trained and strengthened. With other muscles, such as the biceps or quadriceps, we can tell how strong they are by how much tension they can produce and how much weight you can lift. With the heart, the way we can gauge its strength is how it responds to exercise through heart rate, measured in beats per minute (BPM).
All other things being equal, a strong heart does not need to beat as frequently as a weak heart. The reason is that the strong heart is able to pump more blood with each beat. A weak heart will flutter, needing more beats to pump the same amount of blood.
The next concept as related to age. As we age, the maximum beats per minute that are heart is able to do decreases. The way to figure out what your maximum heart rate is, is to take 220 and subtract your age. For example, if you are 50 years old, 220-50 is 170. 170 represents your maximum heart rate.
Now, let's get to the heart rate zones. If you Google "heart rate zones" you will find dozens, if not hundreds, of images like this one. This is my favorite one, because it simple and straightforward.
Don't get too tied to the exact numbers. Use this as a rough guide. Each person is a little different and needs to be able to customize this general chart to their own specific needs.
If you are looking to begin developing your cardiovascular strength and endurance, the way that I would approach it is to start from the lowest zone on the table, the 50% to 60% zone.
First, let's get a baseline of what you're resting heart rate is. Over time, as you get fitter, you're resting heart rate will most likely go down. Most people's resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 bpm. Endurance athletes typically will be between 40 and 60 bpm. For your resting heart rate, simply take your pulse on your wrist on your thumb side for 30 seconds and then double that number.
Now let's figure out what your heart rate should be in the "very light" zone. Start with your max heart rate, remember, 220 minus your age. So, again, if we have a 50-year-old person, their max heart rate is 170. 50% of 170 is 85. This number represents the low-end of the zone. 60% of 170 is 102. Therefore, in order to stay in the first zone, your heart rate should stay between 85 and 102 bpm.
My approach with all fitness endeavors, whether strength, flexibility, core, or cardio, is to start slow and gradually build up. After exercising in the above zone for several days to a week, begin to experiment with the next zone. Let your heart rate gets up to the zone between 60% and 70%.
Track your progress, including how you feel, how you perform, and any settings on the machine.
A note about variables and machine settings. Let's say you were going at the speed of 2.0 with an incline of 15%, for 20 minutes. Record this in your journal, along with your heart rate. Keep these numbers constant and notice what happens to your heart rate over the next couple of weeks. When you first start your heart rate might be at 110 bpm. After doing the same workout for a couple of weeks, you might have a heart rate of only 90. We can assume that your heart has gotten stronger, because it's able to pump more blood with less effort.
Eliminating all variables except one is a great strategy. In the above example, we turned every variable into a constant except for heart rate. You could also choose to keep heart rate as a constant and use another number as your variable. For example, maybe your variable is speed. In this case you would aim for a certain heart rate range, and see if you're able to stay in that range as you increase your speed. In this case you've progressed by doing more work with the same effort. Progress is the key with any fitness quest, whether cardio or lifting weights. Turn all your variables into constants except one, and track the progress of that variable over time.
One last thing. Always remember the importance of rest. The reason why fitness works is because of the rest time that you take after your workouts. Be sure to do some active recovery on your periodic rest days. Don't just sit on the couch watching TV.
Have fun with this. One very specific way to have fun is to realize that you don't need to push as hard as you think you do. This is not about "no pain no gain." It's not about Boot Camp's, the Navy SEALs, or "Hell Week" from high school. This is just you taking baby steps toward your fitness goals.
Best of luck in improving your cardiovascular endurance. If there's anything else I can do to help, let me know. Chris@mycorebalance.com.