Heart Rate – A Summary
What you will learn in this article…
How measuring your heart rate helps you to:
- Gain competitive advantage.
- Monitor your general health and understand your body.
- Measure improvements in your performance and the benefits of your exercise practices.
How to measure your heart rate.
Five key heart rate measures, including:
- Resting Heart Rate (RestHR).
- Maximum Heart Rate (MHR).
- Training Heart Rate (THR).
- Recovery Heart Rate (RecHR).
- Heart Rate Reserve (HRR).
What the “average” or “normal” heart rate is for adults (men and women).
What bradycardia is.
What tachycardia is.
The various types of heart rate monitor available to you.
Why is it important to monitor your heart rate?
Understanding your old tickin’ rate is a useful for:
- Gaining competitive advantage.
- Monitoring your general health and understanding your body.
- Measuring improvements in your performance and the benefits of your exercise practices.
Well let’s not hang around, some of us haven’t got may ticks left…
1. Gaining competitive advantage
Rickson Gracie monitored his heart rate to evaluate the leverage he had over his opponent.
Rickson understood that when your heart rate is high your:
- Adrenalin increases
- Cardiovascular system strains
- Cognitive ability decreases
- Motor skills functionality diminishes
This is the sympathetic nervous system or “fight-flight-freeze” response in action – the system that shuts down enjoyable bodily functions like reproducing and pooping to focus on more intense survival reactions, like fighting, running or looking like a tree!
Reproducing and pooping is also known as the “rest-digest” response, aka the parasympathetic nervous system.
Although having intense raw power may seem beneficial when running or fighting a predator, it is not good for manoeuvring a skilful, calm opponent like Rickson!
He will wear you down until you are nothing but a mere baby antelope in the clutches of an unforgiving lion.
When Rickson faced an opponent, he would use breathing techniques to keep his heart rate at around 80 to 90 beats per minute (bpm), whilst his opponents would be around 100 to 110 bpm, just from nerves!
Rickson would then drive up the intensity early in a fight, taking his opponents heart rate significantly above what would be considered comfortable, hindering his ability to think and move effectively and almost certainly inhibiting his ability to recover.
Rickson would dominate position and utilise his knowledge of breathing to lower his heart rate to around 120 bpm.
His recovery time would literally be around 30 seconds, whilst his opponent would still be struggling with the intensity of his own nervous system!
Once in that position, the lion’s jaws would sink softly into the weary antelope – nature can be a cruel beast!
The same is true of other sports – no, not the gory appetite of a bloodthirsty carnivore – although, you do see that sometimes – “ahem, Mike Tyson, ahem” – but how calm, skilled, focussed individuals make true greats!
Roger Federer, Lionel Messi, Stephen Hendry, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Michael Phelps, Bruce Lee, the list goes on!
Yes, adrenaline can help in pure, raw athletic events, but it is the balanced, composed and self-aware athlete (although still extremely fit) that often comes out on top.
2. Monitoring your general health and understanding your body.
It is pretty logical really – a stronger heart requires less bpm than a weaker heart to pump blood around your body.
Think of it like this… Who’s going to push more air out of a bagpipe? A bodybuilder or a child?
Measuring your current heart rate and comparing it to certain benchmarks (see types of heart rate below) will give you an idea of your general health and help you become more self-aware.
This is important because your internal physiology doesn’t lie.
It doesn’t have an egotistical agenda like your brain that is quite happy to tell you that you’re not stressed or anxious or drinking too much coffee. It tells you that you can handle it because you’re a big strong Black Country “mon,” or “wench” but this is not always true.
Noticing that your heart rate is unusually high or unusually low gives you a clear insight into your physiology, whether that be minor stress or potentially serious medical problems.
When you are aware, you can react.
Don’t be too concerned with minor irregularities or Heart Rate Variability (HRV). In fact, HRV is actually desirable because it shows that your sympathetic and parasympathetic systems are both functioning appropriately!
3. Measuring improvements in your performance and the benefits of your exercise practices
Again, this is pretty logical – your heart is a muscle. It becomes stronger and more efficient with exercise.
During a workout, your muscles demand oxygen, which is transported from your lungs through the blood stream.
Believe it or not, it is your heart that is responsible for pumping this oxygenated blood to your muscles – incredible, I know.
The harder your muscles work, the more oxygen they require and therefore the more your heart pumps (to deliver oxygen to the muscles faster and for other biological reasons).
Measuring your heart rate over a period of time, allows you to gauge the effectiveness of your workouts – the stronger your heart, the less it needs to beat to pump blood around your body – Simples.
Measuring different types of heart rate; for example, during exercise, during recovery and at rest, can help you determine if you’re pushing your body too hard or if you need to push harder in order to achieve your desired goals.
How to measure your heart rate
As long as you have a neck or wrist and a couple of fingers, it is easy to check your heart rate:
- Lightly press your index and middle fingers onto the opposite wrist, just below the base of your thumb (if you are using your neck, lightly press to the side of your Adam’s apple, just below your jawbone).
- Count the number of beats in one minute (or in 15 seconds and multiply by four if you need speed, or you’re lazy).
That’s it… That’s your bpm.
You can also use heart rate monitors (explained in the section below).
Types of heart rate
- Resting Heart Rate (RestHR)
- Maximum Heart Rate (MHR)
- Training Heart Rate (THR)
- Recovery Heart Rate (RecHR)
- Heart Rate Reserve (HRR)
Resting heart rate (RestHR)
Your resting heart rate (RestHR) measures how many times your heart beats per minute during periods of the day when you are most relaxed, like after sleep or sitting comfortably.
For an accurate RestHR measurement, make sure you:
- Calculate the average value of measurements taken during different rested periods throughout the day and week.
- Do not measure your heart rate within two hours of exercise, guzzling caffeine, emotional craziness, hot or cold exposure, medication or stressful events.
- Do not take measurements after long periods of sitting or standing.
Your resting heart rate is a baseline used to analyse your general health and improvements in performance.
It also helps calculate other types of heart rate explained in this article.
What is an average or a “normal” resting heart rate?
As always in life, “normal” is contextual.
What is normal to a 60-year-old Inuit woman may not be for a 20-year-old Brazilian.
However, as we like to give you what you want, the below classifications seem reasonable, for “normal” people, based on the research we have conducted.
- The average resting heart rate for an adult is between 60 and 90 bpm.
- The average resting heart rate for a man is between 60 to 80 bpm.
- The average resting heart rate for a woman is between 70 to 90 bpm.
- A heart rate that is slower than 60 bpm is considered bradycardia (see section below).
- A heart rate that is faster than 100 bpm is considered tachycardia (see section below).
In light of these classifications, a well-conditioned athlete can have a RestHR between 40 and 60 bpm and there are some experts who believe an ideal RestHR is 50 to 70 bpm.
Regardless of what is deemed normal, it’s important that you recognise the context of your heart rate.
As we will see below, an untrained person with an unusually slow heart rate may be more concerned than a trained athlete.
Furthermore, a higher heart rate can be a result of specific circumstances like a stint of intense exercise or a session on the old caffeine.
Without context, there is no meaning.
Maximum Heart Rate (MHR)
Do I really need to explain this one?
Your maximum heart rate (MHR) is the number of beats that your heart has the potential to reach – the MAXIMUM!
You’ll reach your MHR when you’ve pushed your heart as far as it will go during exercise.
It’s extremely difficult to measure because:
- Without technological equipment (usually an electrocardiogram or ECG) you won’t get an accurate reading, and
- Pushing your heart rate to bursting point isn’t really a great idea.
But, because they’re so giving, scientists have developed formulas that you can use to estimate yours:
Maximum Heart Rate formula 1:
MHR = 220 – YOUR AGE
Maximum Heart Rate formula 2:
MHR = 207 – (Age x 0.7)
It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to determine that these formulas won’t give you exact scientific accuracy, but they do provide a benchmark which you can use to determine your Heart Rate Reserve and Training Heart Rate (see below).
Don’t go trying to measure your maximum heart rate without the advice of a professional! No one wants a burst heart on their hands!
Training Heart Rate (THR)
Your training heart rate (THR) is the rate that you maintain during exercise in an effort to improve fitness.
It is simply a percentage of your MHR that is used to plot the intensity of a workout.
This allows you to plan the intensity of a workout or monitor the intensity of a workout.
THR formula 1:
THR = MHR x intensity %
THR formula 2:
THR = ((MHR – RestHR) x intensity %) + RestHR
Formula 2 is known as the Karvonen Formula explained in the Heart Rate Reserve (HRR) section below.
You often see formula 1 online, in training advice that gives you a target “training zone” for certain performance improvements but, again, I know this is getting boring now, the right THR (and therefore training intensity) for you DEPENDS ON THE CONTEXT!
It depends on your ability, your goals, the term in which you want to reach your goals, your blood pressure, any ailments and a myriad of other factors!
The following “average” levels may help you understand THR but it’s always worth asking an expert before you begin planning and monitoring your workouts:
- A brisk walk will be around 50% to 60% of your MHR.
- A steady jog will be around 60% to 70% of your MHR.
- A quick run for an extended period will be around 70% to 80% of your MHR.
According to Wesson et al. “Karvonen (using his formula) suggests a training intensity of between 60% and 75% of maximal heart rate reserve (HRR) for the average athlete, although this can obviously be adapted to account for individual differences.”
These are just baselines and this is all theory so my advice would be monitor how you feel.
Unless you are doing this for some sort of elite performance training, where you are striving for results rather than general health, I would focus on progressing in how you feel over time, rather than numbers and science.
Drop the ego and don’t worry about competing with the Jones’s.
If you are competing and want to monitor your THR seriously, it’s worth discussing intensity levels with a professional coach and adapting your body over time, starting at lower but slightly uncomfortable intensities, until your body feels comfortable to increase the load.
It may also be worth looking into heart rate monitors (explained below) which you can wear whilst working out at a steady, rhythmic pace. At least then you can monitor the numbers alongside how you feel.
Recovery Heart Rate (RecHR)
Your Recovery Heart Rate (RecHR) unsurprisingly measures how quickly you recover after exercise.
There are a couple of ways to measure this:
- Measure how long it takes for your heart rate to return to your resting rate (RestHR) immediately after exercise – measure 10 or 15 seconds at a time and multiply by 6 or 4 to get your bpm (explained in “how to measure your heart rate” above).
- Measure your heart rate at a set time after you work out to see how much your heart rate drops from your training heart rate (THR) – i.e. your training heart rate vs. your heart rate 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 minutes after exercise.
Both measures are useful to determine your recovery and therefore overall fitness.
The quicker your heart rate falls back to normal levels, the better you are at recovering and the fitter you are (generally).
Heart Rate Reserve (HRR)
Your Heart Rate Reserve (HRR) is the difference between your maximum heart rate and another measured heart rate (usually your RestHR).
Measuring your MHR against your resting heart rate often helps to measure your cardiovascular fitness because as you get fitter, your Resting heart rate will fall and therefore your HRR will increase.
It can also help measure workout intensity by deducting your THR from your MHR. The lower the buffer between your maximum heart rate and your training heart rate, the higher the intensity of the exercise.
A so called “founding father of cardiovascular disease epidemiology and prevention” from Finland, Martti Karvonen, came up with a formula that uses your HRR (MHR – RHR) to calculate what your THR should be, based on your goals…
The Karvonen Formula:
THR = ((MHR – RestHR) x intensity %) + RestHR
Example: 42-year-old man with a resting heart rate of 63 bpm wants to train at 70% of his maximum heart rate:
THR = (((220 – 42) – 63) x 70%) + 63
Which simplifies to:
THR = ((178 – 63) x 70%) + 63
Which simplifies to:
THR = (115 x 70%) + 63:
Which simplifies to:
THR = 80.5 + 63:
THR = 143.5
Compare this to the simple THR calculation explained in the section above…
(220 – 42) x 70% = 124.6
…and you find that the bpm is considerably higher when estimated by the Karvonen formula.
My advice would be, leave the science to the scientists, enjoy your training and use whatever measure feels right for you!
If Karvonen formula spits out a bpm that is too intense, adjust it down slightly by using the simple THR calculation and increase the intensity as you become more able.
Again… Consult an expert.
What is bradycardia?
Bradycardia (“slow heart”) is considered a heart rate slower than 60 bpm.
Here it comes again… You need to analyse the context of your heart rate to determine whether bradycardia is an issue for you.
Your age, physical condition and propensity to drug misuse are just a few things that will be relevant when assessing the risks of bradycardia.
A slower heart rate can be a sign that you are physically fit (stronger heart as explained above), whilst it can also be due to health threats like:
- Heart conditions
- Infections and viruses
- High blood potassium levels
- A lethargic thyroid
- Side effects of medication
- Poor sleeping patterns or sleep apnoea
It becomes a real issue when your brain and other organs stop getting the oxygen they so vitally need, causing possible symptoms like:
- Fainting or near fainting
- Dizziness or light-headedness
- Fatigue (during rest and exercise)
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pains
- Memory issues or confusion
What is tachycardia?
A RestHR more than 100 bpm is considered tachycardia (“fast heart”).
At this level, the heart may struggle to pump oxygenated blood effectively, causing fatigue, shortness of breath and possible dizziness.
Again with the context…
Remember that tachycardia is measured whilst resting (see above). Heart rates above 100 bpm can easily be achieved due to:
- Ingesting a stimulant
This is relatively normal but, as Gaz mentions in Good Stress, Bad Stress, you don’t want to stay in these frenzied states for extended periods of time (excluding pregnancy), that’s when chronic issues emerge.
It’s also important to note that any form of ill health that strains or damages your heart or impacts on your breathing can increase your risk of developing tachycardia.
Causes and risks of tachycardia include:
- Heart or artery problems, disease or failure
- High blood pressure
- Sleep apnoea
- Smoking and chronic lung disease
- Heavy alcohol, caffeine or drug use
- An overactive thyroid (or too much thyroid medication)
- Infection or fever
- Low levels of potassium in the blood
- Asthma or improper breathing
How Heart Rate Monitors Work
Heart rate monitors do the work for you.
You can get simple ones that just give you a basic bpm reading, or you can get the all singing, all dancing versions that include pre-programmed targets, alarms, workouts, timers, microwave ovens, live orchestras and go-go gadget arms.
The most effective monitors work by detecting electrical activity (just like an electrocardiogram or ECG) through a transmitter that is secured over the heart by an adjustable body strap.
The results are then shown on a graphic display, usually a wristwatch.
There are other sensors but their accuracy is sometimes questionable:
- Wristwatches that have sensors directly on the back to determine your heart rate by measuring your blood flow through your skin – clever!
- Smartphone apps that check your heart rate by detecting colour changes in your finger each time your heart beats (you put your finger on the camera lens) – clever!
- Metal grips that you find on treadmills, elliptical machines, and other exercise equipment that use trace amounts of sweat from your palms to detect electric signals of your heartbeat – clever but notoriously inaccurate!
Get in touch!
I hoped that helped you understand your heart rate.
Share this with your friends and family to keep them well informed and if you have any questions, please drop a comment in the box below.
For recommended experts or resources, get in contact – I’ll be more than happy to point you in the right direction.
With all my heart.