Heart rate monitoring – what, why?

This blog post revolves around the heart and healthy steps in improving your fitness from ground up. There are the measured value called heart rate, and a method of making sense of it called the heart rate zones. This is not about technology and devices, just the principles that can be followed with or without special gear.

  • HR: heart rate (beats per minute), or pulse
  • HR zones: ranges of heart rate (minimum and maximum) applicable for certain type of excercise
  • Exercise, training, activites: I may use all these words but they all mean the same thing: walking, running, cycling, swimming – everything more or less physical


Why do we need to know our heart rate?

Everyone can exercise too much. That’s the simple answer. Heart rate is the basic value you can follow to have some kind of idea what are you actually doing. It may not be the same as what you think you are doing. Pushing it too far is very easy and concerns everyone, from beginners to pro athletes. To know how you should be going for healthy results, you need to know your heart rate and especially what it should be. Also, I’m usually monitoring my heart rate on my way to and from work (afterwards, not so much when I’m riding), to see what is going on with my health. The effort just does not always correlate with the heart rate.

I had been bicycling a lot for a good six years, but I didn’t measure my heart rate. Then I started monitoring it. I was surprised how much I had to slow down to stay within the ”green” zone! The easiest levels were the most difficult for me. But then, even the first forest trail rides showed how good it is to go slower. Quite often I pushed too much and too hard, and now I see it takes some time to fix the bad habits. It is better to do things right from the beginning than learn it the hard way.


All kinds of activities count: easy, hard – and doing nothing!

The absolute heart rate figures vary from person to person, but for healthy progress you can start even without monitoring, by following these guidelines I’ve come to understand during the last year or so and currently adopting into my activities:

  1. Most of the activities should be easy, only some harder, and doing nothing is very positive. In numbers, lets say 80% of everything you do should be rather easy. Only 20% harder. Adding the rest into the count, a week could be divided into 4-5 easy, 0-1 harder and 1-2 resting days. Don’t go too sporty every day. If you do, and especially if you have weekly harder activities, take every fifth week really easy, preferably no sports at all.
  2. The harder you go, the more recovery and rest you need. Every minute vs. heart rate counts. Without full recovery, the load accumulates, and the needed recovery period gets longer. Without proper rest, you eventually overtrain your body resulting in decreased performance, fatigue and even mental problems. 
  3. Observe yourself: if you don’t feel comfortable leaving your activities for a few days in a row, you may have been exercising too much. Habits are good, but it only takes a small step for slipping into bad habits.
  4. Varying the effort is better than blind repetition. Be free! Re-schedule. Accept changes.
  5. Resting is never a bad thing! Avoid activities if you are tired.


Easy, hard and in-between: the HR zones

In addition to making a distinction between easy and hard exercise, the zones come into play for more efficient and safe training. The full heart rate range is typically divided into five zones, from “very easy” to “very hard”, from your resting pulse to the maximum. I’m repeating this, but it is important to see that the zones are not related to your fitness, nor it is for professionals only. Forget about your current condition, there is no comparing, the same rules always apply. In order to maintain or improve your fitness in a healthy way, you need to first follow your heart, not the distance, course times or speed. The zones are good for everyone, and it is always a good time to start using them.

I don’t go into details of maximizing the benefit of the zones, but I ask to visit the links below for more information, and also try the zone calculators. Many of us have smart watches with heart rate measurement, and they can provide the same information and much more very easily. I find that kind of technology really helpful. It’s just up to us to use the data wisely.

Positively sweating heart

Body = mind

I’ve had my lessons experiencing the connection between overloaded body and the mind. We are one package, not more. The fitness is complete, or it’s not fitness. Taking the steps towards healthier activities was inevitable, and by taking those steps I’m beginning to see how easy the steps actually are. In the heart of all the activities, we have our heart. That’s why it is very important to know what the heart is doing.


Feel free to leave comments. I’d like to hear if you have found your own ways or methods related to healthy fitness, have good information sources on your own language, or just suggestions for future posts. Thank you!



Zones explained and endorsed by Cycling Australia: www.cycling-inform.com/how-to-use-heart-rate-monitor-and-zones-to-improve-your-cycling
Zone calculator 1: www.fitdigits.com/personalized-heart-rate-zones.html
Zone calculator 2: www.runningforfitness.org/calc/heart-rate-calculators/hrzone