By Ed Halper, M. Ed.
Heart-rate monitoring is the way I like to monitor training, both for myself, and my clients. I invested in a MIO pulse watch years ago, and it has been an invaluable tool in measuring how hard I am working.
According to the American Council on Exercise, adult males average about 70 beats per minute at rest, and women about 75. However, a normal resting heart rate can vary as low as 40 (many marathoners and triathletes) to as high as 100 in unconditioned individuals.
Wearing a chest strap heart-rate monitor, with accompanying wrist monitor can give you a constant reading on your effort, as the strap contains electrodes that pick up the actual heart (rather than pulse) rate. You can also gauge it by placing the tips of two fingers by your wrist or carotid artery (on the side of the neck). Feel for pulse, get a count for 10 seconds, and multiply by six to get your beats-per-minute.
There are many ways to measure your maximum heart rate (think of a speedometer in a car). The older you are, your maximum heart rate drops correspondingly (think of an older engine). A simple formula to measure is 220 minus your age. I'm 54, so my theoretical max is 166, although every heart, like every engine, is a little different.
The better shape you are in (discounting genetic factors or certain medical conditions), the longer it will take to reach your heart rate max. As a runner, I'll give the analogies in these terms.
My all-out mile effort is approximately six minutes. So "easy pace miles" are at 8:40, which translates to 65-80% of my max (108-133). My "tempo or threshold pace" miles are at 6:55,
which are at 88-92% of HR max (146-152). If I try to dig out that all-out mile, my heart-rate, at conclusion, should be right around that 166 mark.
Stress can raise your heart rate up to numbers comparable to those listed above, without the corresponding benefit to your heart. The Star-Ledger did an article on some local basketball coaches (former Rutgers coach Mike Rice was one of them) who had a heart rate monitor attached to them during games. One of the coaches, in his 40's, reached a max of 171, and the others weren't far behind. No wonder stress is considered so bad for your body!
Through years of doing this, I'm pretty accurate at estimating my own heart rate, and my clients, I have to say, are amazed how accurately I can guess theirs, after a sprint on the treadmill or minute of two-arm dumbbell swings.
If you're serious about training, have any heart-related concerns, or just want accurate feedback on your exercise effort, invest in some type of heart-rate watch. Nothing measures your own particular effort level as accurately. Hopefully, it will take longer and longer for your "engine" to reach the top of the "speedometer" levels!