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3 Common Questions About Training with a Heart Rate Monitor

3 Common Questions About Training with a Heart Rate Monitor

A heart rate monitor is an effective way to determine the intensity of a workout. It can be a helpful tool for training. And, clients often have a variety of questions about to how to use them for training. So, review these three common questions about training with a heart rate monitor to ensure you’re ready to help guide your clients with the proper information. 

1. What Do I Need to Know to Start Using My Heart Rate Monitor for Training?

Before your client begins exercising with their heart rate monitor, first help them determine their fitness goals. Once you have a grasp on what they want to achieve, you’ll calculate their max heart rate and ensure they have a basic understanding of heart rate zones. This information is the foundation for understanding where their heart rate needs to be to help them reach their goals.

Identify Goals

Does your client want to burn fat, improve endurance, or train for a marathon? Is their goal to obtain a personal record in their next 5K? Or do they just like the idea of having data to review after their workout? 

Understanding what your client is trying to accomplish will play a role in how you train them and where their heart rate to be. So, make sure to identify goals first. Review this ISSA blog article on goal setting for tips on building effective goals for long-term results. 

Determine Max Heart Rate

Your client’s max heart rate (MHR) is the maximum number of times their heart will beat in 60 seconds. There are a handful of ways to calculate MHR, but the most common formula is as follows:

220 - age = Maximum Heart Rate (MHR)

So, if your client is 35 years old, their max heart rate is 185 beats per minute (bpm). 

Though this formula tends to be the most common way to calculate max heart rate, it has shown to have gaps that may cause inaccuracies. There are a variety of factors to consider when calculating MHR for an individual:

  • Age
  • Body size
  • Fitness level
  • Altitude
  • Gender
  • Medications

Understanding Heart Rate Training Zones

Once your client has figured out their max heart rate, ensure they a basic understanding of the different heart rate zones. Generally, the heart rate zones are as follows:

  • Zone 1: 50-60% of MHR (very light, recovery zone, “fat burning zone”)
  • Zone 2: 60-70% of MHR (aerobic zone, “fat burning zone”)
  • Zone 3: 70-80% of MHR (threshold zone, moving out of the aerobic “fat burning” zone)
  • Zone 4: 80-90% of MHR (lactate threshold, workouts get hard)
  • Zone 5: 90-100% of MHR (max anaerobic zone, typically lasts for a few seconds or minutes)

So, using the example above of your 35-year-old client, their zones would look like this:

  • Zone 1: 93-111 bpm
  • Zone 2: 111-130 bpm
  • Zone 3: 130- 148 bpm
  • Zone 4: 148- 167 bpm
  • Zone 5: 167- 185 bpm

Once your client understands this information, they can start to navigate which zones you need them to train in to reach their goals. Many people will use several or all of the zones at different times to help reach their goals. 

2. How Can I Use a Heart Rate Monitor to Burn More Fat?

This can be a somewhat complicated answer for some clients, so start with the basics. It is true that the body uses different types of fuel at different intensities. For example:

  • Zones 1 and 2: Primarily use fat as fuel
  • Zones 3-5: Primarily burn carbohydrates (sugar from the muscles and liver) for fuel

So, when looking at this, one might think that if the goal was to lose body fat then they would want to train at a low intensity (Zone 1 and Zone 2). Keep in mind, however, that the body is always burning a combination of both fat and carbohydrates. The proportion of fat and carbohydrates used for fuel changes as the intensity increases. The zone that you are training in determines the primary source of fuel that you use for that activity. But, ultimately, the number of calories burned is more important. 

Example: 

Let’s say a 150-pound woman works out and uses her heart rate monitor to ensure she stays in Zone 1 (aerobic zone that is typically considered the fat burning zone) for one hour. And during that time, she burns 200 calories. For the sake of example, let’s say her body used 60% fat calories and 40% from carbohydrates. This means that she would have burned 120 fat calories and 80 calories from carbohydrates

Now, let’s say the same woman had kicked up the intensity into Zone 3 for a one-hour workout and burns 300 calories. Because of the level of intensity, let’s say her body burns 50% fat and 50% carbohydrates during the workout. This would mean that she burned 150 fat calories and 150 carbohydrate calories

As you can see, 150 fat calories at a higher intensity verses 120 fat calories in the “fat burning zone” is more fat burned overall. Depending on her fitness level, she can increase the intensity even more and shorten the duration of the workout and still burn more calories. 

High intensity workouts also help the body continue to burn more calories throughout the rest of the day as well. This results in more fat calories burned. So, those higher intensity workouts are typically more effective in burning fat because the number of calories burned is more important than the type of calories burned. 

3. How Can I Use a Heart Rate Monitor for Rest and Recovery?

For bodies to grow and heal, they need time to rest and slow things down a bit. Regardless of the fitness goal, doing high intensity workouts every day is not the way for your client to reach their goals. The overtraining will likely burn them out and create a perfect breeding ground for injury. There needs to be some variance in the intensity of workouts and intentional recovery periods

Active recovery is a very low intensity workout and may help reduce soreness and help promote recovery. Common examples include swimming, walking, biking, yoga, and sometimes light running. But, it’s not just the type of exercise, it’s the intensity. This is where the heart rate monitor becomes a valuable tool. Active recovery is typically 50-65% of MHR. But again, this may vary a bit based on your client’s fitness level and type of training. 

Wearing the heart rate monitor during active recovery provides a way to monitor exertion. Your client can then ensure they’re not pushing too hard and truly allowing their body and mind the chance to recover. But, keep in mind, this doesn’t mean they should skip days of complete rest—those are valuable as well. Encourage clients to listen to their body and be open to taking a full rest day. 

Finding the Zone and Finding Balance

Heart rate monitors can be an effective tool. It’s important that your client first understand the goals of their training program and the proper heart rate zones so they know where their heart rate should be to achieve those goals. 

Help your clients find balance and remind them it’s not always the “fat burning zone” that helps them burn the most fat. The “fat burning zone” just might be the right spot to help them recover. 

Do you love fitness and have a passion for helping people reach their goals? Get certified with ISSA and start changing lives today.

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