Heart-rate monitoring is a time-tested method to make sure you’re getting the maximum cardio-respiratory benefits from your fitness center workouts. The main objective is to stay within your pre-determined target heart rate zone for the duration of your chosen activity. If you’ve never used this method to gauge the intensity of your workouts, there’s no better time to start than now. Here’s what you’ll need to get started.

How to Properly Read Your Own Heart-Rate

If you don’t have a fancy heart-rate monitor or fitness tracker, don’t worry – you can do it the old-fashioned way, at least at first. First, you’ll need to learn how to find and measure your own pulse. Choose either the radial artery (the underside of the wrist), or the carotid artery (the side of the neck, under the chin) and press your index and middle finder over it (don’t use the thumb – it has a strong pulse of its own that may interfere with your reading). When you can feel a strong pulsing motion, you’ve found the right spot. To determine your bpm (beats per minute), count your heart rate for 10 seconds and then multiply it by 6.

Determining Your Target Heart Rate Zone

If you’re at rest, this rate is known as your heart rate reserve. Maximum heart rate (MHR) stands for the maximum bpm that’s safe for you. Finding the sweet spot between these two –65-90% of your maximum –is as simple as using the following formula:

  • Subtract your age from 220. This is your MHR (for the most accuracy, you can undergo an exercise stress test at a doctor’s office, but this formula should be fairly close).
  • Multiply the result by .65 and .90 to find the range known as your target heart rate zone.
    Another way to calculate target heart rate is to find the difference between your maximum and reserve heart rates. There are also heart-rate charts you can use to compare your results with, and devices that will calculate a more precise number when you enter your age, gender, height, weight, etc. Once you’ve determined your target heart rate, it’s important to make sure you’re not falling below or spiking above this range during your health club workouts.

    Using Heart Rate Monitors

    If you plan on using your target heart rate to monitor the intensity of your workouts on a regular basis, you may want to leave this task to a piece of tech rather than trying to take your own pulse. If you’re a member at a fitness gym, keep in mind that many pieces of equipment have heart rate monitors built into them, usually in the handles. If you’re doing a lot of floor or weight-room work, or activity outside, you’ll want a wearable chest/wrist or wrist-only monitor. Most popular fitness trackers include heart rate monitors, and can provide a host of useful information, such as:

  • A target heart rate calculation
  • Time spent in your target heart rate zone
  • Highest and lowest heart rate during a particular session
  • Average heart rate
  • Estimated calories burned
    Whether you choose to stick with the old-fashioned method or go the way of technology, heart rate monitoring is a proven method for maximizing your workouts to see the greatest improvements in cardiovascular endurance and weight loss.