By: Jack Burdick Cardio Workouts And Heart Rate Monitors - Get The Most Out of Them! Does your workout schedule include cardio? Which muscle do you feel is the most important to train? Biceps? Chest? Any answer is acceptable, but unfortunately another, more important, muscle is often forgotten. Did the title give it away? Yes, I’m talking about that thing in your chest that’s keeping you alive, your heart. Your heart doesn’t have to be your favorite muscle to train, but just like training your legs, it shouldn’t be skipped. How Should You Train Your Heart? There are many exercises that can help improve your cardio fitness. Cardio workouts can be really versatile, and if you don’t enjoy running you could do any number of other activities. Hiking, cycling, swimming, or anything else that will keep your heart rate up for an extended period of time makes for a good cardio workout. The choice is yours and creativity is encouraged. How do you quantify how hard you worked, or how you’re improving over time? It’s easy to log reps and weight for your physical strength, but how do you measure your cardio fitness? A heart rate monitor is a great tool for measuring your cardio performance, and luckily they have grown in popularity in the last few years, showing up in more fitness bands and watches than ever. But heart rate monitors seem to intimidate people and I think this is because interpreting their output can be overwhelming at first. I’d like to demystify heart rate monitor data a bit in hopes to encourage those who many not use a heart rate monitor to give it a try. The Basics: When reading a heart rate monitor, the BPM, stands for Beats per Minute – this is how many times your heart beats each minute. This is what is typically displayed on your heart rate monitor’s screen by default. Resting Heart Rate – how many times your heart beats in a minute when you’re resting. Average Max Heart Rate – this is an approximation of the maximum number of times your heart can beat in a minute. The generally accepted method for calculating your approximate average maximum heart rate is by subtracting your age from 220, e.g., if you’re 20 years old, your average max heart rate would be 200 bpm. Target Heart Rate Zone -- This is a range of bpm values, that, when training, is best to maintain. Your target heart rate zone varies depending on the type of training you’re doing. By knowing your heart rate zone, you can either increase or decrease your exertion to raise or lower your bpm to fall within this targeted heart rate zone. There are many charts and diagrams that can be found online to guide you depending on your individual goals. A simple search for “heart rate training zones” in your search engine should help you find an appropriate training zone. Here are some of the common general training zones: 90 - 100% of your average max heart rate – Speed training 80 - 90% of your average max heart rate – High speed endurance/anaerobic tolerance 70 - 80% of your average max heart rate – Aerobic training 60 - 70% of your average max heart rate – General endurance training The amount of time you spend in each zone and how often you train in each zone is variable. Talking to a physician or fitness professional before attempting to start a new training program is important, they will work with you to help you reach your goals safely and more efficiently. There is a lot of great information that can be found online regarding your heart and cardio fitness. The American Heart Association (www.heart.org) has many great articles, including this one. For further reading, I’d recommend visiting this site to further educate yourself on your heart’s health.