How to check your pulse and heart rate
If you had a spare hour, would you choose to spend it hooked up to a machine that shows you, and everyone else in the room, how hard you are exercising?
Well right now, many people around the country are doing just that, in heart rate monitor exercise classes.
Class participants wear heart rate monitors and the results are shown on a large screen at the front of the class for all to see.
Heart rate monitor classes come at a cost, in effort and in dollars. So what’s the benefit? Or are these classes simply hype?
We talked to MD Anderson Fitness Specialist Corinna Medina to find out.
What's the basic idea of heart rate monitor classes?
Heart monitoring classes are a way to improve exercise results by making workouts more efficient. In the class, everyone’s heart rate is displayed on a screen together with your name. You can choose to use a code. You can look up and see exactly where your heart rate is, at any point during the class. Heart rate monitoring can be applied to lots of different classes. It could be high intensity interval training or cardio combination classes or straight cardio, like cycling.
How do you know where your heart rate should be?
Each gym should figure out heart rate zones specific to you. Most places use five zones. Zone one is the easiest and zone five is the hardest. Each zone represents a percentage of your maximum heart rate. Zone three might mean you exercise at 65% of your maximum heart rate, zone four might be 75%. Your maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age.
Do the instructors look at what's happening and give individual feedback based on what they see in your heart rate numbers?
Yes, it is the instructor’s job to know each participant's level and what zones they want to work out in. They should be able to encourage you on how to work harder or even to work out with less intensity to stay within a certain level or a certain target. So say your goal is fat burn, then they would say, “OK go 65% or go 75%, or whatever it is for that person.”
Who do you think these heart rate monitor classes are most useful for?
I would say people who have had a tough time losing weight or building more muscle mass, even though they are consistent with their workouts, might find these classes useful. It may be because they haven't been working at the intensity they need to. Just because you walk for an hour doesn't mean you're doing it as well as you should be. You don't want to give up because you may need encouragement to push your body just a little bit more to achieve better results.
Are there any limitations to heart monitor classes?
Heart rate monitoring is better when you can control the temperature. If you're outdoors and it is hot, that increases your heart rate, even if you’re not exercising at a high intensity. If you're in a controlled setting, I think it's ideal. That way you can maximize the intensity that you need for calorie burn or fat burn or whatever your goal is.
Heart rate monitoring also may not work for people that are on certain medications that interfere with the heart rate or blood pressure. Pregnant women should avoid it unless they’ve talked to their doctor and they're very familiar with what heart rate they should be at.
Don't be afraid of heart rate monitoring
Have you found heart rate monitoring helpful?
I've gone to a couple of spin classes that used it, as well as a strength training/cardio combination class. Heart rate monitoring definitely makes you work harder. It’s a lot more challenging because you can't relax like you would if you didn't have your heart rate displayed in front of the entire class. So it does push you. But it’s important to stay within your box and focus on your body's performance, not someone else's. Everyone has their own targets.
I think it's good for everyone to at least go through a couple of classes like this. That way they can learn how it feels to be at a certain target and know that it's OK to push the body. You might learn that you won't have to work out for two hours. You could achieve the same results in 30 or 45 minutes.
Could you use a personal heart rate monitor if you did not want to pay for classes?
It’s best to meet with a personal trainer to get you started. But after you are comfortable with the zones and what your targets are, I think it's something that you can maintain on your own. You can find good quality trackers or heart rate monitors that will help you hit your target heart rate zones or stay within the target zones during your workout.
What’s the most important thing to know about heart rate monitor classes?
Don’t be afraid of heart rate monitoring. Think of it as a way to become more efficient in your workout. You might get better results with a shorter workout and it's something you can do in addition to your current workout. Heart rate monitoring can be applied to any activity. That could be walking, swimming, running, cycling or strength training. It's a type of training that you can add to any type of activity and have fun.