Heart Rate Monitoring (HRM) 101

by | Feb 8, 2019 | Last updated Feb 15, 2022

Resting heart rate is an important metric to check-in with frequently to assess your fitness level and intensity of workouts. As you become more fit, your resting heart rate will likely drop, due to the strengthening of cardiac muscle. The ideal time to take your pulse to measure your resting heart rate is first thing in the morning, while lying in bed. You can take your pulse inside your wrist (thumb side) or on the side of your neck, counting all beats over the span of one minute. Or, you can take your pulse for thirty seconds and double the number. An average resting heart rate of 60-100 beats per minute is considered normal, and 40-50 bpm is common with highly active individuals (Mayo Clinic).

Ambient heart rate also measures heart rate at rest; however, the pulse check is taken later in the day after being awake for a while and in a seated position. Your ambient heart rate will likely be higher than your resting heart rate. Physical activity at 50%-85% of your max heart rate for 30 minutes, five days per week or more, has been shown to help lower resting heart rate (Scientific American). An alternative way to track your heart rate is with the talk test. If you are able to talk to the person next to you during exercise, then you are working at a low intensity, and if you cannot talk as you workout then you are at a moderate to high intensity. The rate of perceived exertion (RPE) scale (0 no exertion – 10 maximum exertion) is another way to track your heart rate in workouts (Cleveland Clinic).  The talk test and RPE are alternatives that do not measure heart rate, but are a great alternative for the average person to monitor their effort!

RPE Scale:

  • 1 (very light activity activity; rest)
  • 2-3 (light activity; easy breathing, conversational)
  • 4-6 (moderate activity; faster breathing, talk in shorter conversations)
  • 7-8 (vigorous activity; shorter breaths, talk in shorter sentences)
  • 9 (very hard activity; really short breaths, talk in one word or more)
  • 10 (maximum activity; out of breath, no talking)The most accurate way to track your heart rate intensity/zones, and reap the most from your workout, is by wearing a fitness tracker device, or exercising on cardiovascular equipment which monitors heart rate.  As you vary your workload (i.e., speed, incline, distance, etc.), try examining how these changes influence your heart rate. Greater fitness requires new demands and diversity over time. Don’t forget to try out some new intensities as your fitness improves!

The breakdown below matches your fitness level to the appropriate intensity of training:

  • Beginner: 40%-60% of max heart rate (healthy heart zone-general health; 1-4 RPE)
  • Average: 60%-70% of max heart rate (fat burn zone-higher percentage of calories burned from fat; 4-5 RPE)
  • Highly Fit: 75%-85% of max heart rate (cardio burn zone-stronger heart; 5-8 RPE)

Author: Chelsea Denlinger