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Cardio Training FAQs

Q. Why do I need to know my heart rate during training?

A. Your heart rate shows how hard you're working, which measures the intensity of your workout. At optimal intensity, you're working hard enough to positively affect your health by burning fat and building muscle. Low intensity means you're not getting the biggest bang for your exercise buck. If your heart rate is too high, your workout is too intense: not only are you not operating at your peak, you're stressing your body and impacting your physical fitness. Knowing your heart rate keeps you from overdoing it and getting hurt.

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Different routines vary in intensity, and certain types of training can be more stressful than others. You may not be aware that you're overstressing your body when power lifting, but if you stop to take a heart rate once in awhile, you can keep tabs on how hard you're working.

Q. What is the Target Heart Rate Zone?

A. Your heart rate is measured in the number of times per minute your heart beats. Your Target Heart Rate Zone is where you try to keep your heartbeat to get the most from your workout. The American College of Sports Medicine says that the Target Heart Rate Zone for the average, healthy adult is 55-90% of maximum heart rate. Your gym or trainer will have a chart that shows what the heartbeat range is for people at various ages. If you're not in good shape, your doctor or trainer will probably tell you to work in a lower range: as your fitness levels improve, your Target Heart Rate Zone will change.

Here's an example of how to calculate your Target Heart Rate. The formula is 220 (which is a constant) minus your age, multiplied for the intensity level as percent of maximum heart rate. So, if you're a 38 year old man trying for an intensity level of 65%...

220-38= 182 (this figure represents your maximum heart rate)
182 X .65= 118.3 (this is the target heart rate when exercising at 65% of your maximum heart rate)

A more complex but more precise way of calculating your heart rate is called the Heart Rate Reserve Zone. This method includes using your resting heart rate in the formula. You begin with the same constant as the Target Heart Rate ; 220.

From 220, subtract your age, then subtract the resting heart rate, and then multiply by the desired intensity. After getting this number, you add the resting heart rate back in again for the final Heart Rate Reserve.

Get your resting heart rate by taking the pulse in your rest before you get out of bed in the morning. Don't wake to an alarm clock, or you'll get a false reading because you will have been jolted from sleep! Count the beats in 30 seconds and then multiply them by two (for a minute count). The number you get is the number of Beats Per Minute (BPM) of your resting heart rate.

Let's take the original example—a 38 year old man, trying for a workout intensity of 65%. Let's assume his resting heart rate is 72 BPM.

220-38= 182
182-72 (resting heart rate) = 110 (heart rate reserve)
110 X .65 (intensity) = 71.5
71.5 + 72 = 143.5 = Target Heart Rate

Q. What is the difference between digital and analog heart rate monitoring systems found on cardio equipment?

Some types of workout equipment are more precise than others. Analog equipment isn't as correct as digital systems because it doesn't filter out muscle firings that come from muscles other than the heart. The electrical noise generated by other muscle systems is interpreted by analog systems as heart muscle firings and can cause a false reading for the heart rate. The error rate can be as high as thirty beats per minute, which can lead you into dangerous territory in terms of maximum heart rate. People with cardiovascular problems should always make sure the heart rate monitor on the equipment they use is precise, or they could exceed their target zone.

Digital heart rate monitors read the heart muscle and exclude other muscle firings, for a much more correct heart rate. Digital systems are accurate to three or four beats a minute which is a small margin of error and quite safe for training.

Q. Why do machines display Watts?

A. When you're concerned with fat burning, counting calories burned on the machine may seem more direct than using other measurements such as Watts, but with new evidence about the way individual metabolism works, the estimate of calories used by many machines may not be very accurate. On the other hand, using Watts as a training measurement may seem like a strange way to evaluate a workout since it measures the amount of work the machine is doing! But it's a consistent way to measure the amount of work the person using the machine is using, so trainers and doctors can tack a precise number to a workout and control the intensity of aerobic exercises. When building endurance or working on a weight loss program, it helps to have objective ways to set goals and measure progress.

You can reap the benefits of cardio workouts and other activities when you monitor the intensity and adjust it in precise increments. Using Watts is a good way to keep control over what would otherwise be a subjective situation. Aerobic conditioning, especially for those with medical problems, should be closely monitored, and rating workouts based on Watts is one way to keep exercisers working at a closely supervised rate.

Continue reading the next aerobics article on exercise myths

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