One of the simplest ways of monitoring your fitness level is using heart rate monitoring and testing your recovery by seeing how quickly your heart rate returns to normal after a strenuous workout.
How do we measure fitness?
Your resting heart rate is best measured when your body is completely at rest, so ideally this will be in the moments you first wake up. 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
46 - 55
WOMENS RESTING HEART RATE CHART
46 - 55
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 its efficiency.
Heart Rate Recovery
How fast your heart rate can return from high intensity near max bpm to 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 your 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 become 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 its 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:
- Mountain climbers
- Push ups
- Star jumps
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 improve, you will notice changes not only in your heart rate recovery but also in your resting heart rate, which will lower as your heart becomes stronger.
We all know how important it is to stay active in order to keep fit and healthy, but rest and recovery often go under the radar. Rest is a very important part of being healthy so make sure you know how much you should be resting and why.
Why are rest days important?
When we train, we are putting stress and strain on our body so that it has to adapt and change. When you lift weights you are tearing your muscles and it is not until you refuel and rest that your muscles repair and grow stronger. This is why overtraining is such a problem and why rest days are so important. Read our article on overtraining to find out more about what happens when you don't rest properly.
Signs your body is in need of recovery
You’re exhausted despite having had a good night's sleep
If you know you’ve had enough sleep but you still feel exhausted in the morning, it’s a good sign your body is in need of recovery and sleep just isn’t enough. Let your muscles repair by giving them complete rest until you feel more energetic. This could be anywhere from a few days off to a week without training.
Your resting heart rate is significantly elevated
An elevated resting heart rate is a sign of overtraining as your body’s metabolic rate is increased to meet the imposed demands of training. For those who train regularly with heart rate, this will be easy to monitor. For those whose resting heart rate is unknown, the best time to take a pulse for this reading is first thing in the morning, right as you wake up. Continue to monitor your resting heart rate as you awake for the days after training and if it is normal you know you’ve had adequate recovery.
You drink plenty of water but you’re still thirsty
Suffering from an unquenchable thirst is a sign your body is not experiencing adequate recovery. When your body is in a catabolic state (ie. breaking down muscle) it becomes dehydrated. Keep your water intake high to avoid dehydration and give your body time to recover.
You are always aching
Do you feel like your DOMS will never end? If you re-train muscles before they are fully repaired, they will never have the time to recover and grow stronger. It’s normal to experience DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) for some time after a good workout, but any more than 72 hours is a sign your body is struggling to recover and you probably need a rest. A deloading week is often added into training programmes to allow recovery and recuperation before returning to regular training frequency.
Consistent training places your body in a constant state of repair and your immune system can suffer the consequences. An increase in illness frequency suggests that your body is in need of recovery.
Tips for ensuring adequate recovery
- Plan rest days. Create a programme with rest and recovery sessions included. Most people plan a training regime but won’t make progressive changes to it or factor in rest. Add recovery days to ensure you get the most from your training.
- Nourish your body. Eat a nutrient-dense diet with adequate quality resources from carbs, proteins and fats. Nutrition helps the recovery process by replenishing the muscle and liver glycogen stores, helping to restore the fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat, and proteins will assist with muscle repair. This is particularly critical in your choice of post-workout meal.
- Ensure your recovery timing is relative to your sport or exercise. For example, a boxer or fighter will need a significant amount of recovery time in between fights. A light jog or yoga class will, in contrast, only take minimal recovery.
- Avoid self-medicating. Pain killers can mask the pain of an injury or ache and lead you to rush into your next session too quickly, without giving yourself adequate time to repair.
- Have weeks of complete rest. This will give your body time to recover and you will return with a new lease of enthusiasm for your training, with more energy and regained focus.
- Get a massage. Massage can help to relieve tired, achy muscles through potentially helping to break down built up fluid which will help to reduce inflammation and speed up the recovery process.
- Reduce stress. The stress hormone cortisol interferes with your recovery in a big way. Elevated cortisol levels will leave you stressed, moody and can cause a catabolic state where muscle is burned and fat is stored.
How many days a week should you rest?
We all have different bodies and therefore we all recover at different rates. The average person can perform 5-6 tough workouts per week with a day or two recovery. However, athletes can train multiple times per day without rest. The key to knowing when to recover and when to carry on is to listen to your body. Keep track of your progress by writing down your workouts and noticing when you feel run down, or if your progress is stalling.
Never feel guilty about letting your body recover, rest days are just as important as training days and taking a rest day will not halt your progress, instead it will do just the opposite.
Fitness tracking started with written logs and spreadsheets in the 1980s but has now evolved into an industry that’s set to be worth $19 billion by 2018. Smart watches can track your steps, sleep, heart rate, and more, and we're becoming more reliant on them than ever. But are we becoming addicted to their feedback? And is that necessarily a bad thing?
Benefits Of Using An Activity Tracker
Fail to plan, plan to fail
Fitness trackers help you to put a plan into place. They give your walk meaning and they help to create a routine which adjusts to fit your daily activity. Fitness trackers give you a fantastic insight into where your fitness is at and where it should be going. They can also provide motivation; if you're 2,000 steps away from your goal, you're more likely to go for a walk around the block to make up the steps.
Fitness trackers give your workout accountability. Every activity will be there for you to view via the app and some trackers even share directly with your social media, so everyone knows what you’ve been getting up to. Fitness trackers also mean you can’t cheat yourself and will give you in black and white exactly what results you got from your last training session.
The leading benefit of tracking your steps, distance, sleep, calories and heart rate amongst other measures is to keep you motivated to do more. Whether it’s to earn a Fitbit gold star or score higher than your friends on Nike Plus, fitness trackers enable that extra incentive that gets you moving more, eating healthier, and going to bed earlier. Putting numerative data on your movement means you’re able to see progress and adjust your activities accordingly.
Those with a competitive streak love a fitness tracker because even if they’re not competing against their friends, they can compete against themselves. Quantifying your fitness makes it easy to monitor progress and up your game when needed. The better you are, the more bragging rights you earn and you’ll have the data to back up your brag.
Activity Trackers In Numbers
- Fitbit users walk 43% more than non-Fitbit users.
- 13.5 million health and fitness trackers (HFTs) were sold in 2014 and the numbers are shooting up every year.
- Currently, around one in seven (14%) Brits own any wearable technology.
- Fitbit (the largest wearable company) has 9.5 million active users.
- Employees equipped with wearable technology reported an 8.5% increase in productivity and a 3.5% increase in job satisfaction.
- Most people who use wearable tech are young; 48% are between 18 and 34.
- Growth in the wearables market is expected to increase 35% by 2019.
Are We Addicted?
The problem with fitness trackers comes with the obsession over numbers which aren’t necessarily 100% accurate, which can then rather ironically lead to some unhealthy habits. Is it good for your mental health to be obsessing over calories and steps every waking hour?It's possible that obsessing over fitness statistics can lead to overtraining, and it's always more important to listen to your body than your tracker. Having it as a support system is great, but never forget that it's all just for fun and is nothing to lose sleep over.
If you're looking for a short but intense workout, this is the one for you. Lasting just over 5 minutes, you don't even need a punchbag as you can just punch the air.
The Punch Bag
I use the Lonsdale Authentic Bag in Vintage Brown. It weighs 34kg so it is a heavy bag meaning a tough workout. It is a premium bag, but one built to last.
I will be using the Everlast Evergel Handwrap Boxing Gloves. I purchased these as bag mitts and they offer amazing protection at the wrists, a very common place for people to pick up injuries. However, the stitching is already splitting at the knuckles so I'm not sure they would last very long.
The Interval Timer
You can find many interval timers for your phone in the app store. The purchased version of ‘IntervalTimer’ I have found useful to so many workouts. You can create your own customised workout timers including rests, bell ring noises and it will save them into a calendar. Of course, you could just use a stopwatch, but using the app I have set up a little ‘last 10 seconds remaining’ for each interval to mimic my personal trainer encouraging me to ‘push through the burn’.
20 seconds punching, 20 seconds rest.
30 seconds punching, 30 seconds rest.
40 seconds punching, 40 seconds rest
50 seconds punching, 50 seconds rest
60 seconds punching, 60 seconds rest
The total workout lasts 5 minutes 40 seconds. It will work your shoulders, arms, lungs, and heart. My heart rate hits a maximum of 150 bpm during this workout which is about 80% of max.
If you've been training hard since the new year but not sure whether you're getting fitter, you need to do a fitness test. But there are so many out there, which one is best? We take a look at 3 different fitness tests as a way to track your fitness.
The Astrand Treadmill VO2 Max Test
This test is fairly advanced and is good for people who are already fit and active and would like a quantitative assessment of their fitness that they can compare to others. This VO2 Max Test is a universal test, so you could have all your friends or club members do it and compare your results.
For this test, you will be jogging on a treadmill. Start with the treadmill at a gradient of 0% and a speed of 8km/h. After three minutes, increase the incline to 2.5% (keep the speed the same throughout the entire test). After another 2 minutes, increase the incline by another 2.5% and repeat every 2 minutes until you cannot run anymore. Write down the time you finish.
In order to get your results, input your time into the following equation:
(Time x 1.44) + 14.99
For example, say you are a 35 year-old male and you make it to 15 minutes and 15 seconds. That is 15.25 minutes, so you would calculate:
15.25 x 1.44 = 21.96
21.96 + 14.99 = 36.95
Therefore, your VO2 Max would be 36.95
To find out how your score stacks up, use the following charts:
So our example 35 year-old male who got a score of 36.95 is at a 'fair' level of fitness. He could follow a training regime for a number of weeks and then repeat the test to see in clear numbers if his fitness has increased or not.
This test is fairly advanced and is not suitable for pregnant women, those who cannot run, or those with health conditions.
Chair Sit Test
Dr Michael Mosley has been making waves recently with his BBC programme 'The Truth About Getting Fit'. In his programme, Dr Mosley showed one way you can easily test your fitness in the comfort of your own home and it's suitable for people of all ages. The test simply asks how long it takes you to sit down in a chair and get back up again 10 times. Men under 35 should be able to do it in under 10 seconds, with women under 35 aiming for under 12 seconds. Men aged 35-55 should be able to do it in 13 seconds with women aiming for 15, and people over 55 should be able to do it in under 19 seconds.
This is obviously a very broad and unspecific test, but if you live a sedentary lifestyle and are looking for somewhere to start, this is an easy test to give you an idea of where you stand.
Vertical Jump Test
Our final test is different yet again. This time, we are testing the power in the legs, which is another great way to test fitness. If you want to be fit all-round, you need to have strength, power, and stamina. The vertical jump test is very easy and you only need one thing: a measuring tape.
Stand next to a wall, and jump as high as you can while reaching upwards. Have a friend mark the wall where you managed to touch, and then measure the height. This is your score.
Why is it important to do fitness testing?
There are several reasons why you may want to do a fitness test. You may feel like you live a healthy lifestyle, but there is no way for you to know for sure until you do a fitness test. If you live a largely sedentary lifestyle, your health could be at risk, so doing a fitness test could help to determine whether you need to get more active.
For those who are already very active, doing a fitness test is a great way to see if your training and hard work is paying off and you are actually progressing. If you see that you are not, you will know to change up your exercise regime so that you do get fitter.
Of course, it always depends on your goals, so make sure you set some goals first before you embark upon a fitness journey.