Just like any other muscle, the heart strengthens and becomes more efficient the more you “exercise” it, especially if you keep training your heart towards its maximum limit. If you want to know how well and how effectively you are training your heart during your exercise, you need to monitor your heart rate.
The heart is your body’s blood pump. Despite its small size (just about the size of your clenched fist) relative to other organs of the human body, it is a very powerful organ composed of strong muscles called cardiac muscles.
The heart muscles work involuntarily—that is, you cannot control them at will. All day long, they expand and contract in regular rhythm as the heart pushes nutrient- and oxygen-rich blood to the rest of your body.
Your heart, therefore, plays a crucial part in the proper and normal functioning of your body. If oxygen and nutrients do not reach their destinations in the right amount and at the right time, your body will start to suffer.
You need to keep your heart strong, healthy, and fit through regular exercise. By exercising regularly and at the right intensity, you can either maintain your heart’s strength or improve it so that it can endure greater stress (e.g., as in the case of active people and those engaged in sports).
In this article, learn about two important types of heart rates that you need to be aware of as you strive for your fitness goals—maximum heart rate and target heart rate.
Maximum Heart Rate
When you are not doing anything physically stressful or strenuous, your heart beats at its normal, usual pace. This rate is called your Resting Heart Rate (HRrest or RHR). When you exercise or engage in strenuous activity, your heart beats faster to compensate for the oxygen and nutrient needs of the various parts of your body.
However, your heart has its limit. This upper limit is known as your maximum heart rate, often referred to as HRmax or Maximum HR (MHR). Expressed in bpm or beats per minute, it is the rate at which your heart beats and pumps blood fastest and hardest without showing erratic behavior (i.e., atrial fibrillation or ventricular fibrillation). Your maximal heart rate varies according to your age and gender.
Your maximum heart rate is also often associated with your maximal oxygen consumption. As your heart rate approaches its maximum, your oxygen consumption also approaches its peak. This maximal oxygen uptake rate is called your VO2max and signals your aerobic capacity and physical fitness.
Determining Your Maximum Heart Rate
If you want an accurate reading of your HRmax, go through a physician-supervised cardiac stress test. You will need specialized equipment for that and the cost is often expensive.
A simpler method, although never matching the precision of a laboratory-based cardiac stress test, is to compute your HRmax using your pulse. All it usually takes is counting your pulse rate and using a formula. There are several formulas for this and they vary in confidence levels and degrees of accuracy.
Fortunately, you can find some middle ground between the expensive cardiac diagnostic test and the do-it-yourself-with-a-formula method. This middle ground involves the use of heart rate monitors. Many people, both athletes and non-athletes, use heart rate monitors for keeping track of their heart rate and for determining their target heart rate.
Target Heart Rate and Its Benefits
In addition to HRmax, another type of heart rate you want to keep track of is the so-called target heart rate, which some call the training heart rate. This value is expressed as a percentage of your HRmax and refers to the heart rate you need to achieve when exercising in order to benefit from the exercise. An accurate calculation of your target heart rate takes account of your HRmax, your current physical condition, your current fitness level, and previous training or activity level.
The range of your target heart rate depends on your fitness goal. For instance, if you work out so that you can burn those love handles, you should target a heart rate that is 60 to 70 percent of your HRmax. At that range, your body enters the fat-burning zone.
Again, there are various methods and formulas for calculating your target heart rate. For general purposes, the simplest way is to multiply the intensity range with your HRmax. Thus, if you are targeting those love handles, find 60% and 70% of your HRmax and keep your heart rate within that range when you exercise.
A more specific calculation accounts for your resting heart rate (RHR or HRrest). This latter method uses the Karvonen formula. Another method uses the Zoladz formula, which involves subtracting “adjuster” values (based on the expected intensity zone or level) from the HRmax.
If you find manual computation of your heart rate cumbersome, you can always use electronic calculators online or invest in a reliable and accurate heart rate monitor watch so that you can keep track of your heart rate training and exercise progress.