Monitoring my heart rate

By Jess

For Christmas, my husband got me a heart rate monitor belt. It is possibly the awesomest thing ever. I wear it around my chest, underneath the bottom of my sports bra, while I work out, and it automatically works with the machine I’m on at the gym to tell me my heart rate.

Now, I already know that my heart is basically healthy. My dad has a genetic heart condition, so I have been to a cardiologist and had an echocardiogram that showed that I do not have the heart condition, and that my heart looks good. But of course, that doesn’t address cardiovascular health per se, and mine could use some improving.

Of course, it’s already improved a lot as I’ve lost weight and become fitter. I can work out pretty hard for a fairly sustained period of time. In fact, before I got the heart rate monitor, I would work out on the adaptive motion trainer at resistance level 10 for half an hour a few times per week. Resistance level 10 is pretty high. It was the highest I could sustain

for half an hour without hacking up a lung. So, I thought that meant it was the best workout for me.

But the first day I went to the gym wearing the heart rate monitor, I got a little surprise. The monitor doesn’t start to work until it has a bit of moisture, so my heart rate didn’t show up right away. It took a minute or so before I started sweating. In the meantime, I hopped on the adaptive motion trainer and began my usual level 10 workout. Then my heart rate showed up on the screen. 180, and I’d only been going for a couple minutes.

To provide some context, according to the machine at the gym, the target heart rate range for a workout is 107-164. I like to keep my heart rate fluctuating between fat burning and cardio levels, which for my age means keeping it in the 130s. 180 is what the machine classified as “peak high.” I was shocked that it was that high. I mean, I wasn’t out of breath or anything. In fact, I was talking to my husband on the machine next to me as I was going. But there it

was, undeniable. 180.

Of course, once I’d already inadvertently gotten my heart rate up that high, I had to slow way down in order to get it back down into the target range. I had to go all the way down to resistance level 1 AND go really slowly, so slowly that the machine kept telling me to “climb faster” and I felt SURE that everyone near me was judging me for being so lazy and going so slowly. But I did get my heart rate back down into its target range.

Since then, I’ve seen my cardiovascular health improve dramatically. One important factor that I’ve figured out is that I need not to go too hard during that first minute before the monitor kicks in. If I start off slow, my heart rate slowly eases into its target range, which is what I want. (I also need to start wetting the belt before I put it on so that it’s easier to track this.)

And I can clearly see the effects. I can now go pretty steadily at resistance level 4 for half an hour. I start slowly and then go faster until my heart rate hits the upper 130s. Then I go slower (but not so slow that I get that damn “climb faster” message) until it’s back into the 120s. Then I speed up again, and slow down again, and so on. I adjust my speed and resistance to always keep my heart rate in the 130s. Before, I had to be on level 2 to do this. Now, I can tell I’m on the verge of moving up to level 5. And it’s only been a month since I started using the monitor.

I can see a couple other positive signs, too. First, when I reduce the intensity of my workout, my heart rate goes down right away. Second, when I increase the intensity of the workout, my heart rate does NOT go up right away. It stays solid for awhile before slowly beginning to climb. And third, even during the course of the workout I can see improvements. I can go faster toward the end of the workout than I could at the beginning and still keep my heart rate in the same range.

Also, this is just a personality thing, I think, but I really like having a goal like this. I find it fascinating to watch my heart rate go up and down, and make small adjustments as needed. I like aiming for the 130s and doing what’s necessary to get and stay there. I like seeing how easily I can affect my heart rate. AND, as a bonus, I find myself so engrossed in watching the heart rate screen that the workout goes by much faster than if I were staring at the silent TV ahead of me.

Seriously, being able to monitor your heart rate is awesome. Now I know for a fact that I’m getting the most of my workouts, health-wise, and that I’m not overdoing it. I can see my progress in a short period of time. And I’m really looking forward to getting back up to resistance level 10. Now I just know that I have to go a little slower on my way there.


10 Responses to “Monitoring my heart rate”

  1. Sahara Says:

    About getting the monitor belt wet before you start: There will come a day when you realize your monitor isn’t working and will lick your fingers and then dig around in your bra. In public.

    Don’t think too much about it, just go with it. (Happy monitoring!)

  2. Britt Says:

    Run the sensors on your HRM under water before you put it on. The wet will make them work from the very start :)
    I love my HRM! It’s such a good tool to keep me on track :)

  3. rhaazz Says:

    The great thing about staying in your target zone is that your workouts are more productive. Target zone workouts do more for healthy improvement, weight loss, etc., than workouts that are inappropriately demanding. I love reading about your progress and hwo great you;re doing! Keep writing! I really look forward to your posts.

  4. Rachael Says:

    I’m with Britt – I always wet my sensors before I put it on.

    My HRM has been the best ever – it’s so hard to know on your own when you’re in a fat-burning zone. Helps me stay right between “too easy” and “overkill”

  5. Lauchlin Says:

    That sounds like a great toy. I’d love to have one of those. At my old gym, all of the cardio equipment supposedly had built in heart rate monitors but I have low blood pressure and I guess the pulse in my hands (the sensors were on the handles) wasn’t strong enough to always get a reliable reading. I would be biking for ten minutes with the machine telling me to hold onto the handles, and then my hands would hit the sweet spot where it could get a measure and I’d be up around 180-190. At least I was getting a badass cardio workout.

  6. Liz Says:

    First off: YAY! HRM training is a really great way to get in shape.

    Second off: I have to be a little annoying about this, because I learned the hard way: Heart Rate Target zones are really really really generic. While the target zone of 180 means “DEATH SOON” for most people and is way off the charts, for me, personally, that is my “zone 2″ heart rate zone — the zone I’m suppose to be in for an easy comfortable run where I can make conversation. That’s just the way it is for me; my heart rate skews high. If I used the charts at the gym I’d be really selling myself short with regards to how much effort I should be using.

    Focusing on HR while your training is an AWESOME way to train and see improvements, but I would make a point to seek out a trainer at the gym and ask if there is a quick way they can help you determine HR zones that are best for you.

  7. Yasmin Says:

    I’ve been toying with the idea of getting a heart rate monitor-is there a brand/type that you recommend?

  8. Liz Says:

    Timex or Polar are the market leaders and offer very good basic (read: not stupid expensive) options that will get you started.

    Garmin is also great, but much pricier as the HRM is in addtion to their GPS watch. If I was getting my first one, I’d go with Timex or Polar (I believe Polar is the brand that links in with most gym cardio machines, but Timex may do that now too).

    Timex was the first HRM I had – their most entry level model, and I used it for 5 years happily; I only switched because I upgrade to the Garmin

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