When exercise is prescribed, if it is for either performance or health purposes, its given with different details and structures about how to do that task. The importance of its intensity is fundamental and the information is crucial to actually reach the exercise goals and most importantly its benefits. Here are 4 points to get the most out of your heart rate.

1. Heart Rate

Heart rate has become a popular and well know biomarker over the years to target exercise intensity. Although nowadays it might have been overshadowed in sport performance by mechanical markers, specially by endurance sport tech trends, it is a powerful tool to measure exercise intensity.
Heart rate is a dynamic adaptable continuum dependant of metabolism demand, highly effected by muscle requirements and its demands, in synergy with the respiratory system. Heart rate is measured in beats per minute (bpm) and it rises as demand increases.
Heart rate is limited by multiple factors heart pump capacity, cardiovascular conditions, breathing physiology efficiency and the energy demand to supply. Its functional capacity generally decreases with sedentarism, aging, stress and the maturity of the nervous system regulations which affect our life sustaining systems.
An estimate of your maximum heart rate can be withdrawn out of:

Maximal Heart Rate (HRmax) = 220 – age

What is important for you to know is that your heart rate range is composed by a large variety of benefits. Going at your maximal ain’t necessary, nor safe without a proper training adaptation and tolerance.
or this reason different exercise intensities ,light, moderate or sever, correspond to a percentage grading out of your maximal heart rate, ex.: 45% of HRmax, 70% of HRmax, 88% of HRmax.

Example for a 35 year old person:
Maximal Heart Rate (HRmax) = 220 – 35 = 185 bpm
45% of HRmax = 185 * 0.45 = 83 bpm
88% of HRmax = 88 * 0.88 = 163 bpm

Targeting the right intensity is fundamental, less or to much intensity might not trigger what is meant to, leading the work effort and time towards another end, even increasing stress and injury risk. It is important to note that intensity in biological structures and systems does not always respond to linear responses and each one of us reacts differently to exercise bouts.

2. Heart rate reserve (HRR)

Heart rate reserve or HRR is a very interesting and more precise way to target your response and exercise intensity range. It differs from regular Heart Rate because its counts your rest base line and cardiovascular adaptations.
Your HRR is the difference between your resting heart rate and your maximal. This two limits set up a precise range or heart rate drift which define the adaptable continuum depending on activity intensity and its metabolic demand. HRR is usually expressed in percentage although it can be read by bpm¡ too. Here is an example:

Resting HR: 55 bpm = 0%HRR
Maximal HR: 185 bpm = 100%HRR
HRR drift: 130 bpm
45% of HRR = 114 bpm
88% of HRR = 169 bpm

3. How to measure your heart rate

Generally, to figure out whether you are exercising within the target heart rate zone, you must briefly stop exercising to take your pulse unless you use a heart rate monitor device which directly reads you heart rate and provides you instant feedback by bpm, HR% or HRR%. You can take your pulse at your neck, wrist, or chest. From the side of your neck, just under your jaw your neck, you can feel the artery pulse. Place the tips of the index and middle fingers over the artery and press lightly. Take a 30 seconds count of the heartbeats and multiply by 2.

4. Ratio of perceived Exertion (RPE)

Heart rate is a very useful and precise tool for sports training and health-fitness alike. But it requires from an investment on wearables and gear. The Ratio of Perceived Exertion or RPE is a subjective qualitative tool to measure your intensity, not only guessing out of your maximum (known or unknown), also by physiological markers. Where breathing and speaking can help to precisely measure exercise bout intensity.
Despite its initial reluctance, it end up being that scientific literature found out and supports strong correlations between measured intensity and RPE scales.
RPE is a scale from 0 to 10, where 0 is null or rest and 10 is sever response due to exercise intensity and demand, here is  your guide throughout physiology and speaking markers:

5. Heart Rate Variability (HRV)

Heart rate variability or HRV is a powerful tool that uses heart rate, specifically recording beat to beat, to process its data over a period of time. It allows to read further and deep details about ,not only about individual response to exercise, as well to how your nervous system is reacting and adapting to certain stressors, conditions, adaptations and even into clinical settings and diagnosis. HRV is a powerful complex tool.
However, HRV is hard to read on the go, it needs a bunch of data for posterior insightful readings versus HR, HRR and RPE markers, which ones can be used and provide feedback straight away.
HRV tracking plays a big role on tracking fatigue, adaptations and optimal timings to optimize health and performance.


* Cover photo for divulgation purposes. No copyrights intended.

About the author:
Albert Piñol – MSc in Physical Activity and Sports Science, MSc in Exercise Physiology, MAT Certified, DHE Snowboard Coach, DE Mountain Guide and Mountain Bike Coach. Specialized in exercise physiology, hypoxia, neuromuscular system and motor skill development. IG: @albert_pinol