Heart rate monitors offer active people of all fitness levels a helpful resource to track and improve their performance. Whether you’re a marathon runner looking to find your ideal running intensity, or a beginner aiming to stay healthy with exercise, a heart rate monitor can help maximize your workout and teach you about your body’s limits of safe exertion.
But where do you start? The volume of options and opinions about the use of heart rate monitors can be confusing and overwhelming. In this question and answer session, Aaron Mares, MD, of UPMC Sports Medicine answers some common questions about heart rate monitors, and offers tips how to use them.
What is a Heart Rate Monitor?
A heart rate monitor is a portable device typically worn either on the wrist, head, or across the chest. Finger sensors on certain fitness and cardio machines, such as treadmill or elliptical, can also measure your heart rate. These devices capture signals from your heart and display or record the rates.
How can I use a Heart Rate Monitor Before, During, And After My Workout?
Prior to the start of your workout, measure your resting heart rate. In order to effectively exercise, you must elevate your resting heart rate to your various zones: your target heart rate, maximum heart rate, and the levels in between.
Wear the heart rate monitor for the entirety of your workout. Notice how your heart rate fluctuates during different types and intensities of exercise. If possible, record your heart rates to use as a reference afterwards. If you have a smart phone, there are many apps available that can record your heart rate while you exercise.
Following your workout, take a look at your active heart rate and compare it with your resting heart rate. Make a plan for your next workout to alternate zones and intensities.
What Is the Standard Target Heart Rate?
The American Heart Association recommends the following heart rate zones based upon age:
Age Target HR Zone (50-85%) Average Maximum Heart Rate (100%)
20 years 100-170 beats per minute 200 beats per minute
30 Years 95-162 beats per minute 190 beats per minute
35 years 93-157 beats per minute 185 beats per minute
40 years 90-153 beats per minute 180 beats per minute
45 years 88-149 beats per minute 175 beats per minute
50 years 85-145 beats per minute 170 beats per minute
55 years 83-140 beats per minute 165 beats per minute
60 years 80-136 beats per minute 160 beats per minute
65 years 78-132 beats per minute 155 beats per minute
70 years 75-128 beats per minute 150 beats per minute
A basic rule of thumb for calculating your maximum heart rate suggests subtracting your age from 220.
What Are the Benefits of Using a Heart Rate Monitor?
Heart rate monitors can make calculating your heart rate simple and often do not disrupt your workout. These devices also can centralize your heart rate information on the device and reduce the need to keep a log or journal.
However, a heart rate monitor might not be ideal for everyone. Deciding to use one is a decision for you and your health care provider. A medical professional can offer individualized heart rate information based on your medical history and fitness goals.