How to Use a Heart Rate Monitor—Benefits of a Heart Rate Monitor

How to Use a Heart Rate Monitor

So, you have decided to get a heart rate monitor, or are considering it because it looks so cool and you can tell everyone you are training. Or maybe you want to lose weight and get the most out of your training. Perhaps your MD told you to start exercising and to watch your heart rate. Well, whatever the reason, I am here to help!

In short, a Heart Rate Monitor monitors how many times your heart beats per minute (BPM). (Note — Before initiating any exercise program, consult a physician to design the correct goals for you.)

How hard you are working out can be seen in your body by how hard you are breathing and how fast your heart is beating (how high your BPM is). Contrary to popular belief, wweat has little to do with it — it is not an accurate determining factor of hard work.

You may have noticed that is harder to talk when you exert yourself. There is an old but fairly reliable way to test how intensely you are working out: a “talk test”. Aside from swimmers who usually can’t talk while exercising, most other exercise allows you to talk. (There are some Heart Rate Monitors that can relate distance, pace etc. for swimmers).

  • You are out for a stroll with your friend and can easily communicate. This is often called Zone 1 or a warm up or cool down pace.
  • Now, let's take fast walking/running. You are running or walking with a friend and you can keep up a conversation. You may have to breathe heavier on the uphill but you are not huffing and puffing. This is often called “conversation pace,” or Zone 2.
  • You ramp up your efforts and run/walk faster. You find you can only talk in short, broken sentences. This is called Zone 3.
  • In Zone 4 you cannot talk, and in Zone 5, your lungs are burning and your heart is racing.

But let’s say you don’t have a buddy. You could talk to yourself, sure! Take any poem you know well, such as the pledge of allegiance or a nursery rhyme, and try to recite it out loud while exercising. Even better though, get a heart monitor.

You should not go over your maximum heart rate (MHR) when exercising. Your MHR is determined simply by subtracting your age from 220.

So if your age is 20, your MHR would be 220 - 20 = 200. If you are 60 years old, that is 220 – 60 = 160 BPM.

Of course, there are variations based on gender, fitness level and genetics. To get your real MHR you may need to do a treadmill test in a lab with your doctor — but do you really need it?  Once you have established your estimated MHR, you can find your training zones by multiplying your MHR by a percentage. Each zone serves as an indicator for how intensely you are training.

*Heart Rate Zone 1: 50-60% of your MHR This is very low intensity used in warm ups or cool down

*Heart Rate Zone 2: 60-70% of your MHR

*Heart Rate Zone 3: 70-80% of your MHR

*Heart Rate Zone 4: 80-90% of your MHR

*Heart Rate Zone 5: 90-100% of your MHR

The American Heart Association chart provides a broad value system for training zones. Try not to go lower or over these while you are working out.


Target HR Zone 50-85%

Average Maximum Heart Rate, 100%

20 years

100-170 beats per minute

200 beats per minute

30 years

95-162 beats per minute

190 beats per minute

35 years

93-157 beats per minute

185 beats per minute

40 years

90-153 beats per minute

180 beats per minute

45 years

88-149 beats per minute

175 beats per minute

50 years

85-145 beats per minute

170 beats per minute

55 years

83-140 beats per minute

165 beats per minute

60 years

80-136 beats per minute

160 beats per minute

65 years

78-132 beats per minute

155 beats per minute

70 years

75-128 beats per minute

150 beats per minute


Heart Rate Monitor Features

Basic Heart Monitor models time your workout, and give you data on high and low target heart rates reached. Most have a target zone feature, many with at least 3 zones. If it has fewer, you will need to program it when you up your levels.

A feature I really like is when a Heart Rate Monitor beeps once you are over or under your training zones to let you know to slow down or speed up a bit, or to at least be aware of it. Some feature calorie counters, or estimates of calories burnt during exercise, which can be helpful if your exercise goal is weight-loss motivated.

What Are the Benefits of Heart Rate Training?

The idea behind using a Heart Monitor is training your aerobic system without overstressing your muscles or bones. Instead of just relying on time and distance, you are monitoring heart intensity.

- When monitoring your heart rate during your training or workout sessions, you can prevent yourself from over doing it on your easier or recovery days, reducing the risk of soreness, and overtraining. More is not always better.

- Training to heart rate — as opposed to time and duration — helps moderate for external factors like incline of the running/walking surface, heat, and humidity, which make the heart work harder. They can help you fine-tune your workout.

 - Often the heart monitors on gym machines are not accurate or reliable, and people don’t take the time to reset the buttons in between users.

 - Heart Rate Monitors help with motivation, you are not guessing at your progress, and are able to more finely tune your progress — even without a training buddy to monitor your ability to talk!

Heart Monitors are no longer just for the professional athlete or college student whose coach demands it.

They are affordable, accurate, and attractive.

I like to see my progress, so checking numbers on a device on my wrist with a flick of my finger instead of pledging allegiance to the air out loud in public (not that I am not patriotic) is a much better option for me.

Andrew Wyatt

Andrew Wyatt

Andrew Wyatt has been a tech geek for as long as he can remember. Whether it's laptops, cameras, or projects, he's obsessed with it all. When he's not researching the latest tech products, he likes to go on long hikes with his dogs.

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