Any athlete with an ounce of competitiveness running through their veins loves to test whether they are fitter than their fellow athletes, not just in their sport but in any, and every aspect possible.

One of the simplest ways of monitoring your fitness levels is to use heart rate monitoring. As you well know, here at Sundried, we are big on keeping track of our heart rates. You can view our heart rate related articles via the link here.

Before we start exploring all the potential measures we can look at to evaluate fitness and recovery with heart rate, let’s start by addressing what you will need. Whilst most of these tests can be evaluated using just a watch and your pulse, you will find it much easier to take accurate readings by using a heart rate monitor.

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Resting heart rate

Your resting heart rate is best measured when your body is most at rest, so ideally this will be in the moments you wake up. Pre-coffee, pre springing up to start your day. If you are using a heart rate watch, this can be as simple as checking the reading from your watch.

To measure your heart rate without any additional tools your two easiest pulse points are the neck and wrist. Place your Index and third finger on your neck, just left of your windpipe. To check your pulse at your wrist, place two fingers between the bone and the tendon over your radial artery — which is located on the thumb side of your wrist. To take your reading, count the number of beats in 15 seconds and times this by 4, whilst you can count for the full 60 seconds you’re more likely to stay accurate for a shorter amount of time.


MENS RESTING HEART RATE CHART

AGE

18 -25

26 -35

36 -45

46 - 55

56 -65

65+

ATHLETE

49-55

49-54

50-56

50-57

51-56

50-55

EXCEL'T

56-61

55-61

57-62

58-63

57-61

56-61

GOOD

62-65

62-65

63-66

64-67

62-67

62-65

ABOVE AV

66-69

66-70

67-70

68-71

68-71

66-69

AVERAGE

70-73

71-74

71-75

72-76

72-75

70-73

BELOW AV

74-81

75-81

76-82

77-83

76-81

74-79

POOR

82+

82+

83+

84+

82+

80+

WOMENS RESTING HEART RATE CHART

AGE

18 -25

26 -35

36 -45

46 - 55

56 -65

65+

ATHLETE

54-60

54-59

54-59

54-60

54-59

54-59

EXCEL'T

61-65

60-64

60-64

61-65

60-64

60-64

GOOD

66-69

65-68

65-69

66-69

65-68

65-68

ABOVE AV

70-73

69-72

70-73

70-73

69-73

69-72

AVERAGE

74-78

73-76

74-78

74-77

74-77

73-76

BELOW AV

79-84

77-82

79-84

78-83

78-83

77-84

POOR

85+

83+

85+

84+

84+

84+


The above are guidelines and if your resting heart rate causes concern, it may be worth consulting a GP.

Typically when it comes to studying resting heart rate and fitness, a lower resting heart rate signifies a higher level of health as seen above. As cardiovascular fitness improves the muscles in the heart wall thicken and the heart pumps more blood with each beat, increasing it’s efficiency.

Heart Rate Recovery

How fast your heart rate can return from high intensity near max bpm to this resting rate is known as your heart rate recovery.  HR Recovery is measured after performing strenuous exercise for a given period of time and then measuring how far your heart rate drops two minutes after stopping that exercise. For example sprinting on a treadmill as fast as you can for around 2 minutes. Follow this with a heart rate reading and then rest for 2 complete minutes and take your heart rate again. To calculate your heart rate recovery rate you now subtract the two numbers.

Findings: (These recovery results were taken from Enhanced Medical Care).

  • Less than 22: Your biological age is slightly older than your calendar age.
  • 22-52: Your biological age is about the same as your calendar age.
  • 53-58: Your biological age is slightly younger than your calendar age.
  • 59-65: Your biological age is moderately younger than your calendar age.
  • 66 or more: Your biological age is a lot younger than your calendar age.

The bottom line? The faster your heart rate returns to normal, the higher your level of fitness.

Medical research also supports this analysis of heart rate recovery. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, people whose heart rate recovery times are longer are at a higher risk of death than people with shorter recovery times, regardless of physical condition or other risk factors. Another study by the National Emergency Medicine Association found measuring heart rate recovery rates is one way to tell whether an exercise program is effective.

How can you improve heart rate recovery

If you heart rate recovery wasn’t as good as you had hoped and you’ve been checked out for any underlying health conditions then there are multiple ways you can improve your heart rate recovery with fitness.

When you start a fitness training programme, your heart is challenged to reach new rates and becomes stronger, meaning it can pump blood more effectively. Each contraction of your heart muscle forces more blood through your circulatory system than it previously could. The more you train and improve the more effect this has on your heart and body. After some time training your blood volume increases allowing more oxygenated blood to reach your muscles and this gives your heart greater volume. The end result is a stronger contraction with a higher volume of blood and increased oxygen and nutrients circulating.

Once you start any fitness regime, be it weight lifting or running, you will begin to build the muscles in your heart and notice your recovery time shorten. This is due to your heart becoming more efficient and your muscles getting a larger supply of oxygenated blood with each contraction, so your heart doesn’t have to work as hard.

High Intensity Interval Training

High Intensity Interval training where your heart rate is challenged to reach it’s peak training zone is great for improving your RHR, as it conditions your heart so it is familiar to working at higher intensities.

The principle of high intensity interval training protocol is short bursts of maximal effort intensity during ‘work’ periods where your heart rate should reach at least 80% of its max, followed by short rest periods where your heart rate is allowed time to recover to around 60% of its max. In order to make sure the higher heart rates are achieved the exercises during ‘work’ intervals are designed to be tough. Example exercises include:

  • Burpees
  • Mountain climbers
  • Sprinting
  • Push ups
  • Star jumps
  • Boxing

Try 40 seconds of work vs 30 seconds of rest, if you're new to exercise this may take longer.

Add 2 - 3 HIIT sessions into your training regime per week and keep monitoring your heart rate to see the improvements in your HRR.

As your health and fitness improves you will be able to notice changes not only in your heart rate recovery but also in your resting heart rate, which will lower as your heart becomes stronger.

Heart rate recovery and fitness levels, resting heart rate, heart rate recovery, high intensity interval training.

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