By Stephen Black
Making exercise a part of your life is the most important step one can take toward achieving weight loss goals. But in order to really make your workouts effective, you need to pay attention to your heart. Or, more specifically, your heart rate.
The heart responds to exercise like any other muscle in the body: just as lifting weights can make the biceps muscle bigger and stronger, exercising the heart will make it stronger and more efficient. It’s important to realize that you don’t lose weight by going all out every time, as too high a heart rate may result in injury or, at the very least, a drop in motivation from fatigue and pain.
Heart rate training may sound advanced or complicated, but it’s really quite simple. When we talk about heart rate training, we’re talking about exercising at the right intensity for burning fat, strengthening your cardiovascular system or whatever your exercise goals are. And your heart rate is the indicator that will tell you when you’re exercising at the right intensity.
Heart Rate Monitors
A heart rate monitor is the best tool you can use to let you know what your heart rate is during exercise. In the past, you may have simply counted your pulse, but that method isn't accurate enough. It requires you to slow down your exercise activity, which causes your heart rate to immediately drop. By wearing a heart rate monitor during your workout, you get immediate, continuous, accurate feedback. A simple strap goes around your chest, and a watch on your wrist displays your heart rate in beats per minute.
Target Heart Rate
Of course, those numbers on your watch won’t mean a thing unless you know what your target range is, right? But don’t worry—that part is easy too. Your target heart rate range for weight loss is 65%–75% of your maximum heart rate. And your max heart rate is easily estimated with a simple equation. If you’re male, subtract your age from 220. If you’re female, use 226. So for a 35-year old male: 220-35 = 185. His estimated max heart rate is 185 beats per minute and his target heart rate range for weight loss is 120-139 BPM (65–75%).
The heart rate range for weight loss is what we call the Endurance Energy Zone. There are five zones in all, each with different benefits:
Recovery Energy Zone (50%–65% of MHR)
Gives your body a chance to heal, prevents burnout and reduces the risk of injury.
Endurance Energy Zone (65%–75% of MHR)
Builds your aerobic base and trains your body to burn fat by maintaining a steady heart rate and a comfortable pace over an extended period of time.
Strength Energy Zone (75%–85% of MHR)
Improves cardiovascular strength with increased intensity.
Interval Energy Zone (65%–92% of MHR)
Boosts your metabolism and calorie burn by incorporating bursts of speed and power with periods of recovery.
Race Day Energy Zone (80%–92% of MHR)
This Energy Zone is the ultimate challenge of all-out effort and an unbeatable way to test your fitness and measure your progress.
If weight loss is your goal, heart rate training and a nutritious diet is your best bet. Not only will you lose weight, but you’ll be doing it in a safe and healthy manner—which means this time, you’ll keep it off.
Stephen Black has 25+ years experience in the health and wellness industry. He has worked with professional teams, including NFL, NBA, NHL, WNBA and ABL/NBL affiliates. Steve currently heads clinical and research operations at Rocky Mountain Human Performance Centers, Inc. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.