Measuring your heart rate can be a useful and quantifiable measure of your improvement in fitness. However, everyone’s heart rate varies, and each workout will be different in its intensity and duration. Therefore it is not a very reliable method of comparing your fitness level with others.
Measuring your heart rate is relevant if you:
- Want to use it as a quantifiable measure of your improvement in fitness.
- If you have concerns about your cardiovascular health.
- Want to keep your heart rate within a specific percentage range of the guides for maximum heart rate.
RECOVERY HEART RATE
‘Recovery heart rate’ is how quickly your heart rate drops to normal levels after you stop exercising. There are several ways claimed to measure this. However, the standard measure is how much your heart rate drops over the first minute of recovery. Your heart rate will drop more quickly as your fitness improves.
MEASURING HEART RATE
Using a heart rate monitor is an easy way to measure your heart rate. The old school way is to press your fingers against one of your arteries.
To measure radial pulse, located on your inner wrist:
Place the first two or three fingers (not your thumb) of one hand against the inner wrist of the other hand. Lightly press your fingers into the hollow next to the tendon on the thumb side. The artery lies just beneath the skin. Using a watch, count your pulse for 10 seconds and multiply this by 6, or count your pulse for 15 seconds and multiply this by 4. These methods give your beats per minute.
Another common place to measure your pulse is one of your carotid arteries on your neck. The pulse here is usually quite strong and easy to find. To measure your pulse here press your fingers (not your thumb) lightly either side of your windpipe on your neck.
MAXIMUM HEART RATE
The guidelines commonly state that 220 minus your age is your maximum heart rate. However, certain situations can alter your heart rate. If you want a more detailed analysis of your maximum heart rate, you will need to see a specialist.
A very slow heart rate recovery or pulse irregularity are two signs that you may have a problem. Seek medical advice if you have concerns. The American Heart Association recommends keeping your heart rate below 85% of your maximum heart rate while exercising.
If you have no desire to measure your heart rate while exercising, then many recommend that you listen to your body. Most of the time, you should be able to tell when pain is a concern. If you can’t determine the difference between good pain (effort) and bad pain (illness or injury), then err on the side of caution and ease off by lowering the intensity, stop exercising and give yourself more recovery time.
Factors other than exercise that may affect your heart rate:
- Hot weather.
- Caffeine intake.
- Time of day.
- Hormone fluctuations.
- Stress or anxiety.
ME/CFS AND FMS
Cardiovascular impairments, such as reduced maximum heart rate, are typical of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/ Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) and Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS). For this reason, I haven’t found the guidelines of as much use.