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Heart Rate Zones

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Knowing what intensity to work it can be difficult. For general health it is recommended that we should undertake physical activity at moderate intensity which means breathing a little bit harder, feeling warmer but still being able to hold a conversation. For those needing to monitor their fitness levels more closely some people might find it useful to monitor their heart rate whilst exercising

Heart rate training is a useful way in calculating exercise intensity based upon the correlation between heart rate and the body's ability to use oxygen during exercise, also known as VO2. Using this method of training can prevent yourself from over training and also enable an individual to maintain proper training zones during exercise. Heart rate training is relatively accurate and is measured using an individual's maximum heart rate and resting heart rate. Heart rate training can be undertaken by taking the pulse, but is most often monitored with a heart rate monitor.

There are two methods when calculating heart rate. The first method is most commonly used and involves exercising at a percentage of your maximum heart rate; your maximum heart rate can be calculated by subtracting your age from 220. i.e. a 40yr olds maximum heart rate would be approximately 180 beats per minute The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that individuals using this method should train at 77 percent to 90 percent of their maximum heart rate. If a 40yr olds maximum heart rate is 180 beats per minute then their arget heart rate training range would be approximately 126 to 153 beats per minute.

The second method is generally more accurate and is called the Karvonen method. With this method the RHR is subtracted from a persons maximum heart rate to obtain a heart rate reserve (HRR). For example if a person's RHR is 60 and their MHR is 180, then her HRR would be 120 beats per minute. Their HRR is then multiplied by the desired work rate percentage. ACSM recommends that a basic training programme will have target zones that are between 60 percent to 80 percent of her HRR. The RHR is then added back into both numbers found. If an individual's HRR is 120, then her target heart rate training zones would be 132 beats per minute at 60 percent and 156 beats per minute at 80% training intensity.

Aerobic Training

Heart rate training is most often used when developing the cardiovascular system. This is the body's ability to use oxygen and transport carbon dioxide away while working the muscles and allowing them to develop and grow stronger. To improve aerobic capacity, train at 70 percent to 80 percent of your HRR.

Anaerobic Training

Training at anaerobic levels means "without oxygen." In these zones, you are training and developing your anaerobic threshold and delaying the onset of lactic acid. Lactic acid is formed from incompletely burned carbohydrates, which cause the muscles to contract more slowly. By training at a higher intensity, 81 percent to 90 percent of HRR, an individual can help the body delay the build up of lactic acid, allowing the body to move faster and stronger for longer periods of time.

How to Improve

The best way to improve heart rate training is by slowly increasing your heart rate during short bouts of time. If your target zones are 132 to 156 beats per minute then focus increasing your lower threshold number in five to ten minute increments. Focus on continuous activities that use large muscles groups like running, cycling or swimming.

Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) Scale

Monitoring your heart rate during exercise is one of the most effective ways to ensure achieve your goals whether this is weight loss, general fitness or rehabilitation. Although the cost of heart monitors are now reasonably priced, not every has access to one. Fortunately, a perceived exertion scale was developed in 1998 that correlates to your training heart rate, percentage of VO2 max and breathing rate 

The Borg Scale is a method to measure perceived exertion that can be used to determine your intensity level. Research has shown that accurately using a Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale correlates to training heart rate, percentage of VO2 max (the maximum amount of oxygen that an individual can utilize during intense or maximal exercise)and breathing rate.

There are a number of RPE scales but the most common are the 15-point scale (6-20), and the 9-point scale (1-10).

No exertion at all
7        Extremely Light
9         Very Light
11       Light
12       60% Max HR
13       Somewhat hard
14       Training zone
15        Hard (Heavy)
16        85% Max HR
19         Extremely Hard
20        Maximal Exertion