Heart rates - what does it indicate ?

I’ve never had a heart monitor gadget although I would love one as I’m obsessive over stats, but I’m totally ignorant of the benefits of knowing your heart rate. Does it help with your running? I’ve got a short term membership to a gym at the local hotel which is great for the month of December. I never enjoy running in cold wet weather. My question is why does all the aerobic equipment that I use keep flashing heart rate too high !!

What are you supposed to do ?

Option 1 is to continue and push harder to get a PB for heart rate.

Option 2 is to carry on regardless and think so what.

Option 3 is OMG – slow down quick before you have a heart attack.

Surely aerobic exercise is all about increasing your heart rate.

If you can’t handle the pace of the exercise either your body or mind or both lets you know and your body naturally slows. You don’t need a machine to tell you.

What is the purpose of the heart rate alert ? Is it a health warning ?

What heart rates have people managed ?


Featured Content

Join the NHS Couch to 5K community

Couch to 5K has been designed to get you off the couch and running 5km in just 9 weeks

Start today!

Featured by HealthUnlocked

21 Replies

  • My simple understanding of this is :

    The machines are simply programmed to show an alert at a particular HR. Do you have to enter your age somewhere into the machine before using it? If so , it would be programmed according to an old formula Max Hr= 220-age. This formula simply represents an "average" and your individual max HR could be way outside (over or under) that average - hence the warning that the machine is giving is not worth the paper it is written on!! :) -- as it just does not know what your maximum HR is and probably neither do you!! :)

    BUT - we all do have a Max HR which is dependent solely on genetics and age -- it does not and cannot be increased by exercising or improved fitness. What can be done by exercising is lower your resting heart rate - this gives your more "beats" to do things between the two extremes of lying down and running flat out!! We can also train our bodies to use less oxygen and hence less heart beats at a particular pace by training aerobically .

    Believe it or not - aerobic exercise is carried out at low heart rate numbers -- exercising by pushing hard and fast is called anaerobic exercise and is something that you can only do for a quite limited time as your are basically burning blood sugars then which are limited. Slower Aerobic exercise is done to teach your body how to consume fat for energy and is the foundation of good fitness - speed is the result of anaerobic exercise , but if you do not have a good aerobic foundation , you have nothing to build speed upon.

    I am 68 - and the old formula says that my Max HR is 152 -- but observation of my actual Heart rates while doing different things leads me to believe that it is somewhere between 160-165.

  • Thanks for that Bazza. I guess that is what the machines are doing. I think my heart rate is recorded probably around 158 when the message appears which is 220 less my age.

    Seems a bit pointless really because if you choose a programme where you don't need to enter your age then you wont get the warning.

    Watching your heart rate is quite interesting though as i have found that when you are exercising hard but maintaining your form it is very high but when you are struggling and slowing down the heart rate comes down. I would of thought the relationship would be on how you feel and not on speed.

  • Not sure what you are saying in your last paragraph -- but all the heart is doing is pumping oxygen enriched blood to those parts of the body that need it . The more oxygen is needed , the faster the heart must pump. But the fitter we are , the more oxygen can be transported via our blood and the heart does not need to pump so fast.

  • Some of the programmes tend to have hard cycles followed by a recovery easy cycle. My heart rate tends to increase during the recovery cycle. A treadmill example which replicates farklek training is running at alternate speeds. For my age, weight and the level that i enter the speeds are 17.3 and 11.5. My heart rate tends to be higher on the recovery speed of 11.5 rather than the exertion speed of 17.3.

  • OK - understand now! :) I have a similar experience running on the road. I often run until my HR reaches 130 and then walk until it goes back down to 120 and then repeat that many times. I have noticed that as soon as I stop running and start walking , my HR will instantaneously go up to say 135 . When it gets to 120 I start to run again - and it instantaneously DROPS down to 115 before starting to increase slowly again.

  • I have no idea. I know lots of people train with heart rate stuff. I've always gone with the view that if I feel awful then I'd better back off but that's probably not sensible or scientific! Let us know how it goes....

  • Not necessarily scientific, but excellent advice. I firmly believe that the adage of, 'listen to your body', is excellent advice.

    Millions of people have managed to run very successfully for many, many years without these gizmos that the manufacturers have told us we need, and they have run very well. That is all they are, gizmos that we DON'T need.

    We could run very well naked....I'm not suggesting it for lots of reasons, but we could. YUK in my case!!

  • hahaha! Juicy, I really like that! It is probably sensible enough though.

  • I think there are three different bands for HR training, one will help aerobic fitness, one will burn fat, and the other does something else that I can't remember...fat lot of help I am sorry!

  • In my not so vast experience of gym equipment, I don't think the heart rate monitors on those machines are very accurate - either that or I have a sky high heart rate!

  • For some people it is the range or window you can safely be in to maximize the benefits of the cardio exercise. Or the window in which you actually function most efficiently, like burning calories, steady blood pressure and constant oxygen level. Above and below this window will change the benefit of the session. An exercise Physiologist can help you determine it with one workout session. I use one at the hospital wellness center here.

  • Bazza has left the most sensible answer here it seems to me..

    Heart rate IS a very ' blunt instrument' ( typical resting values generally between 60 and 100 beats per minute which is quite a broad spectrum for most people) - athletes tend to have lower heart rates but it CAN be used to determine ' optimum' or ideal' training rates whilst exercising.. there are a few formulas for calculating PEAK or MAX heart rate.. ( as was said the simplest - if not the most accurate being 220-age , American sports scientists have modified the basic formula to allow for gender: 214-(0.8 x age) for men, and 209-(0.9 x age) for women. However, this still gives only a generalised result (and genetics do play a part).

    The generally accepted levels of training are

    Moderate exercise intensity: 50 to 70 percent of your 'maximum' heart rate

    Vigorous exercise intensity: 70 to 85 percent of your 'maximum' heart rate

    If your target heart rate is too high, you’re straining. So slow down. If it’s too low, and the intensity feels “light” or “moderate/brisk,” push yourself to exercise a little harder. During the first few weeks of working out, aim for the lowest part of your target zone (50 percent) and gradually build up to the higher range (85 percent). After six months or more, you may be able to exercise comfortably at up to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. But listen to YOUR body more than be a slave to any ' heart rate figures'

    Oh and don't BOTHER if you see / get told stuff about ' fat burning' zones, it is based on outdated and badly interpreted information..

    LISTEN to your body.. you know better than anyone else ( or ask a qualified professional)

    The major factor about heart rate that is genuinely useful is, the more you exercise/ get fitter ( and this will take time!! ) is that your resting heart rate is likely to get lower ( as your heart and circulatory systems become more efficient with exercise, the heart needs to BEAT less frequently to be able to circulate enough blood around your body) but it will take time..

    Hope some of this helps?

  • Really helpful reply. I stopped looking at the HRM after a session where it shot up to 217 and then fell to 70. Thought the old ticker was going to pack up altogether, which was enough in itself to cause a minor cardiac moment, but it was a wonky monitor, not a wonky heart. Phew!

    You are so right about it taking time. It has taken 5 months after starting c25k for my heart rate to have settled at about 135 while I am running (it was averaging 160-70 to start with) and last week at rest (horizontal, very rested) was 44bpm so has dropped about 12 since starting running.

    The heart is, I suppose, just(!) a muscle which needs to be got fit properly like any other.

  • That's reassuring. I have forced my heart rate up to the 190's which i thought was abnormal. Your resting heart rate at 44 is phenomenal if you have no health issues..

  • I didn't know it was unusual? Mine is high compared to husbands which seems to beat about once a year (exaggeration - but it was measured in his yoof in the low 20s when he was asleep).

    Think recovery time is important for measuring fitness but not sure what is optimum. Sallycycle is probably right - gizmos - and as Anaverageman says, we just need to listen to our bodies. But it is interesting to clock the changes as we go along.

  • Glad you enjoyed.. I really think there need to be a place where we can ' debunk' these 'myths' that exist out there - DO hope to start up a regular blog ( as in here ) in the new year - for ' normal ' people ( using my nickname here) - where people can 'share' tips and tricks that WORK.. with regard to losing weight/ eating more healthily and exercising more.. in a PRACTICAL way..

  • Just gizmo that we are being told we need. You don't need one, nor does any social runner. If you are a top-notch athlete, then maybe, just maybe, but not for us lesser mortals.

    Save your money and spend it on the only 'necessary' piece of kit, decent shoes.

  • Totally agree. Its a gadget which is nice to have but not necessary. If any are going for nothing send them my way - but the kit is more important.....................although i love my garmin.

  • I paid $20 for my HRM from ALDI . It seems to work quite well. I use it mostly as a guide - but as I said further up this thread, I often use it as a sort of "intervals counter" - I can either run for time eg 2 mins run/ 1 min walk - or use the HRM to run between two set Heart rate numbers. This is for when I do run/walk on long runs - for shorter non-stop "easy" runs , I just make sure I run continuously at the lowest HR I can maintain.

    Problem with simply listening to your body - is that the heart in particular doesn't really talk to you :) - you can't hear what it is saying. Your lungs and your legs may be saying that everything is fine - but your heart is having a hard time keeping up with them!! - and without a HRM you don't know that -- but you eventually will, when you bonk out further down the track :)

    But - at the end of the day - it is just another "tool" to use. Certainly not totally necessary for an amateur runner like me - but it has taught me how to run "easy" and how to avoid going out too fast at the beginning of a 5k race :) -- simply listening to my body , usually means that I finally get the message at around the 4K mark when I "bonk" ! :)

  • I have an oximeter. My heart rate went up on the static bike to 130. I prefered to have it a bit lower to 120, so I ease off a bit.

    If you feel alright at a fairly high rate like 130, keep it that way, but remember to slow down and carry on with the machine at the end until HR comes down.

  • I'm sorry but there is some rather ignorant, borderline dangerous nonsense being bandied around here. Heart rate training is not a myth or a blunt tool. It may not be a method everyone chooses to follow, but it it can be extremely effective if you understand how it works. Almost all the ultra-distance runners I know, and many marathoners rely heavily on HRM training to improve their cardiovascular endurance for distance running. Most of the more seriosu cyclists I know do the same to push their aerobic capacity. When I was starting out running earlier this year zone training took me from gasping for breath halfway through C25k to running Half marathons.

    The trick is to understand what the science of it is, do the calculations correctly for your own body and observe closely while exercising. If you are able to tell 'by feel' the difference between your heart beating at 145 and 147bpm, then you could do this without 'gizmos'. For the rest of us mortals, the monitor is a very useful aid. To be honest I find it more useful than my sports watch itself. I know the distances I am running and can easily work out my average pace by the time I start and finish. My heart rate relative to perceived effort I can't tell. The speed with which my pulse returns to normal in recovery I can't judge very accurately.

    I would recommend the book Heart Rate Training for the Compleat Idiot by John L Parker for anyone interested

You may also like...