Heart-rate training 101

Technological gadgets impact many facets of our lives, including our health and wellness.

Many fitness tracking devices now incorporate heart-rate monitoring into their systems. As a kinesiologist, I’m often asked whether monitoring heart rate during exercise is important, and which device is most reliable.

The answer depends on why you want to measure your heart rate and what you’re hoping to achieve through heart-rate training.

What is heart-rate training?

Your heart rate is the number of times your heart beats (or contracts) per minute. Heart-rate training uses your heart rate as a guide for intensity during your workouts.

For example, instead of running at a specific pace or time, you use a heart-rate monitor to train your cardiorespiratory system to work at a specific effort for a period of time. You can train at a certain heart rate in beats per minute or at a percentage of your maximum heart rate.

Is heart-rate training right for you?

Monitoring your heart rate during exercise is a great way to track intensity and fitness improvements, but it’s not necessary for everyone. There are, however, a few different scenarios when it can be most beneficial.

Maximum target heart rate – Under certain circumstances, we will provide a client with a maximum target heart rate that they should not exceed when exercising. This is typically done for medical reasons, such as certain hypertensive responses to exercise. For instance, blood pressure increases with exercise, but with some conditions it should not go higher than specific cutoff points.

Training at specific intensity zones – Training at specific intensity zones can help people increase their general fitness level and make training more efficient. For example, your kinesiologist can build different training plans based on your heart-rate zones to improve your intensity and speed for a 10-km race or to improve your efficiency and endurance for a marathon.

How can you measure your heart rate?

Currently, there are two types of devices on the market that can monitor your heart rate during exercise. The most accurate device is the chest-strap monitor. It works by measuring the heart’s electrical conductivity and wirelessly relaying it to a watch, phone or tablet.

The second, and increasingly popular, option is one of the various wrist-based monitoring devices. These instruments employ technology called photoplethysmography that uses green light to measure heart rate. Because blood is red, it absorbs green light, so the more green light that it absorbs, the faster your heart is beating. This is why the back of Apple Watches and Fitbits have a green light.

Choosing a device depends on how closely you need to monitor your heart rate during exercise.

At Copeman Healthcare, we use chest-based monitoring because it offers the most accurate and consistent data. If you’re measuring your heart rate to ensure it doesn’t go above your maximum target heart rate or if you’re trying to stay as close to your heart-rate training zones as possible, we highly recommend going with a chest-strap monitor. If you’re measuring your heart rate for general interest, a wrist monitor may be a better option, as it’s more comfortable and convenient than a chest monitor.

Thinking about starting heart-rate training? Contact your Copeman Healthcare kinesiologist for more information.