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Heart rate 101: Monitor your workout with the right gear - and a little math

Feb. 27, 2012 - 03:35PM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 27, 2012 - 03:35PM  |  
From left: New Balance HRT Fit, Polar RCX5 and the Timex Ironman Target Trainer.
From left: New Balance HRT Fit, Polar RCX5 and the Timex Ironman Target Trainer. ()
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Are you worried that your workout isn't doing you any good? Want a better measurement than time or reps? If so, maybe it's time for a heart-rate monitor.

The number of times your heart beats per minute affects the amount of blood and oxygen traveling through your system, as well as the amount of lactic acid that can be cleared from your blood.

To start heart-rate training, figure your maximum heart rate with a simple equation: HR max equals 220 minus your age. From there, you work within intensity zones.

Heart-rate training can help you train smarter, and a heart-rate monitor makes it easy.

Training zones

Athletes who practice heart-rate training generally work within four heart-rate zones calculated based on percentages of their maximum heart rate:

Endurance 60 percent-70 percent: The zone for developing cardio and muscle fitness and for using stored fat as fuel.

Aerobic 70 percent-80 percent: The body burns mostly carbohydrates and fat. Good for overall fitness, strength and weight management.

Anaerobic 80 percent-90 percent: Builds lung capacity and conditions athletes for greater performance in short, intense activities. Used in interval workouts.

VO2 Max 90 percent-100 percent: Working out in this zone can help with speed by strengthening fast-twitch muscle fibers. It's advisable only for short periods.

Using a monitor

To avoid constantly measuring your heart rate during a workout, let a heart-rate monitor do the work.

Army World Class Athlete Program distance runner Maj. Dan Browne says he uses one to keep on top of real versus perceived effort.

"As an elite athlete, I know my body pretty well, but I still use a monitor to check in on occasion to gauge my effort level and for new workouts," Browne says. "For the person just starting to pay attention to their heart-rate zones, a monitor is a necessary tool to experience how the different zones feel to you."

Air Force Capt. Rena Sandgren, attached to the University of Washington, Seattle's ROTC program, says she began training with a heart-rate monitor this year to improve her hill repeats running uphill for speed and jogging or walking back down.

"When I first started wearing the heart-rate monitor, I quickly reached my maximum threshold," Sandgren says. The monitor allowed her to accurately back off intensity, improve fitness and do multiple sets of hill repeats weekly.


Heart-rate monitors can be simple or complex, with prices to match.

New Balance HRT Fit Strap this easy-to-operate model on your wrist and go no chest strap or preprogramming necessary. Simply touch and hold anywhere on the bezel to start reading. $50.">

Timex Ironman Target Trainer Sleek and smart, this model provides time in target zone, percentage of maximum heart rate, average rate for workout or lap, and two interval timers, all with handy tap-screen technology. $125.">

Polar RCX5 The RCX5 includes zone optimization to keep you training at the right intensity, works in the water, has stride sensors, doesn't require charging, is programmable for different sports and features downloadable data. $350 ($470 for the GPS model)">

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