Everybody is different, we all know that. What some of us fail to realize is that our personal body composition affects how we should workout to maximize our results. The premise is simple; no two humans are the same and as such no two people will get the same results from a single workout. Our bodies all have a different metabolism, body fat ratio, caloric intake, level of experience, age, and most importantly heart rate.

There are a ton of ways to measure your workouts and pinpoint what you need to do to reach your goals, the most accurate of these being your heart rate. Whether your goal is fat loss, running a marathon, rehabbing after injury, or bulking up, your workout should be specifically tailored for you, if you are going to efficiently reach that goal.

If you follow fitness, watch TV, or check out Youtube, you have probably seen the advertisements and heard the hype about Heart Rate Monitors. It used to be more difficult to accurately read your heart rate at any time. It required you to carry and pump up an awkward arm band. But now companies such as Suunto, polar, and fitbit have revolutionized the fitness work by engineering wearable heart rate monitoring devices.

Most of these HR monitors come in a wrist watch, taking your heart rate directly from your wrist, while others use a chest strap attachment to read your heart rate. The chest strap may be a little more accurate according to some researchers, however the convenience of the wrist hr and the negligible difference in results lead many to go strap free. All of these gadgets can give you your heart rate immediately and also link to an app on your phone to store and review information. The ability to see where your heart rate is at any given point and to review the data post-workout will allow you to maximize your efficiency.

Figuring out your Max Heart Rate and Target Zone:

Beginners will need to spend some time figuring out their max heart rate as well as their target heart rate zones (also known as “training zone”). The target heart rate zone, much like your workout, will be dependent on your body composition and goals. Experienced athletes will probably already know their “Max Heart Rate”, but their target/training zone will fluctuate depending on their goals.

Determining Max Heart Rate: To decide what your “target zone” is going to be you will first need to find your “max heart rate”. The Max HR is most often figured out with a basic calculation that gives you a fairly accurate starting point. There may be some variables such as genetics and current fitness level (+/-10 to 20 bpm), but for beginners it is a good round number to start with. To calculate this you simply Subtract your age from 220. The resulting number is an age based prediction of maximum beats-per-minute. For example, mine would be 220-30= 190 BPM.

Another more accurate way to calculate the Max HR would be to have a doctor or trainer conduct a “stress test” in a clinical setting. The way the stress test or “exercise tolerance” test is conducted is by having you on a treadmill for three minute periods while increasing speed and incline until your heart rate goes to it’s highest point.

Determining Resting Heart Rate: Along with your Max HR you will also need to know your “resting heart rate” to decide your optimal training zone. To measure your resting heart rate simple take a heart rate measurement as soon as you wake up in the morning. Do this for a few days in a row and take the average. This will be your “resting heart rate”.

Determining Heart Rate Reserve: Take your Max HR and subtract your Resting HR (Example: 180(Max)-80(Resting)=100(HR Reserve).

Determining Training Zone/Target Zone: As I mentioned earlier, the “target heart rate zone” is going to be dependent on your goals. Experts have shown that certain levels of heart rate are beneficial in different ways. I will list the zones and how to calculate them below. Remember, these are estimates and can be tweaked over time if you or you trainer sees the need.

Aerobic Fat-Burning Zone: Aerobic fat burning happens at a fairly low heart rate as the scale goes. You want to make sure that you stay in your zone otherwise your body may turn to carbohydrates for fuel rather than the desired energy source, FAT! Fat burning happens at about 50-75% of your heart rate reserve added to your resting heart rate. Example: If your “Heart Rate Reserve” is 100 your zone would be between 50+80 and 75+80 (130-155 bpm). If you can get and keep your heart rate between 130 and 155 beats-per-minute you will be burning fat.

Aerobic Fitness Zone: The heart rate zone that is required to build aerobic endurance and improve fitness is a bit higher than the level needed to burn fat. You may still burn some fat in this zone but you risk your body switching to Carbohydrates/Muscle Glycogen for energy. The zone will be between 75-85% of the heart rate reserve again added to your resting heart rate. Using the above example of 100 Reserve HR, it would be 75+80 and 85 + 80 (155-165 bpm) making the target training zone for aerobic fitness 155-165 beats-per-minute.

Anaerobic Threshold/Training Zone: When your body shifts from Aerobic exercise to Anaerobic exercise you are in a training zone geared towards athletic performance and cardiovascular endurance. This zone will not burn any fat stores as fuel, rather it will be a carbohydrate burning zone. This means that your muscles will be depleted of their glycogen stores and you will be pushing your limits. Though you can lose weight at this zone, it is not recommended for this purpose because the weight you lose may come at the expense of your muscles rather than fat. Using the same formula as the previous zones plug in 85-95% of your heart rate reserve. Add the 75% and 80% of the reserve to your resting heart rate: 85+80 and 95+80 (165-175 bpm). Your Anaerobic Training Zone is between 165-175 beats per minute.

Training In Your Zone:

Which heart rate target zone you will try to stay in to optimize results will change depending on your personal goals. Using the 3 zones given to you earlier you can determine where you need to be. Fat burning happens at a lower heart rate and cardiovascular fitness happens at a higher one. If you are training for a marathon or a long swim you would want to train in the higher zones to get your body in shape for the endurance events. Marathon runners can often get their resting heart rate down to the mid 40’s after years of intense training at higher heart rates. This allows them to expend less energy and need less oxygen to maintain their pace. The more you get that heart rate in the correct zone and the longer it stays there, the better your results will be guaranteed.

Remember that when you finish training and your heart rate is elevated you need to do a 5-10 minute cool down period that slowly drops your HR back to a normal rate. This is very important for your health and well being so that you can continue to live a fit life!