How to Use a Heart Rate Monitor to Improve Fitness

Maximum Heart Rate

Your maximum heart rate (MHR) is the peak amount of beats that your heart has the potential to reach. You'll reach your MHR when you've pushed your heart as far as it can go during an aerobic workout.

It's difficult to accurately measure your MHR. Experienced endurance athletes do so at fitness laboratories using an electrocardiogram (ECG). Because this measurement is so sophisticated, scientists have developed a formula that everyone can use.

To get an idea of your maximum heart rate subtract your age from the number 220. With this formula, if you're 35, your MHR would be 185 (220 - 35 = 185). This formula is not an exact science and doesn't insure complete accuracy, but it's important to understand that it can be dangerous to attempt to measure your maximum heart rate, as you can cause serious damage to your body if you push it too hard.

More: Fitness Tips: Measuring Your Target Heart Rate

Training Heart Rate

Your training heart rate is the rate that you maintain during aerobic workouts in an effort to improve fitness. In order to properly train with a heart rate monitor, you should work out at a steady, rhythmic pace. This will allow you to capture consistent measurements.

The right number to train at depends on your fitness goals and is widely debated among professionals. To promote general fitness, you can train as low as 50 percent or as high as 70 percent of your maximum heart rate.

For more experienced athletes it's argued that this number can be above 70 percent and as high as 80 percent of your MHR. The lower numbers are recommended for beginners. You'll likely reach the 50 to 60 range while briskly walking, and the 60 to 70 range while running for a steady period of time. At 70 to 80, you're likely running at a quick pace for an extended period of time.

Recovery Heart Rate

It's important to give your body proper rest after a workout. Your recovering heart rate is the rate that you should bring your heart down to after a workout. A good number to go by is 20 beats within your pre-workout resting heart rate.

More: Target Heart Rate Calculator

How Heart Rate Monitors Work

The most effective monitors measure your heart rate with a transmitter placed over the heart and held in place by an adjustable strap that wraps around your chest. Just like an electrocardiogram (ECG), the transmitter detects electrical activity. This activity is relayed by a cord connected to a wristwatch with a graphic display.

There are a variety of heart rate monitor models on the market. The most basic monitors simply display your heart rate. More advanced models have features that include alarms that sound when you've gone above or below your pre-programmed number. Other features can include pre-programmed workouts, countdown timer, calories burned and more.

More: Wearables vs. Chest Straps: Which One is Better?

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