Monitoring Your Heart Rate While Exercising

Why monitor heart rates?

One of the goals of your aerobic workout is to improve your cardiovascular fitness. Heart rates taken during exercise indicate how hard your heart is working. Your heart rate is actually a motivating friend when you learn to monitor it properly, for this allows you to objectively detect beneficial changes which you can’t otherwise see.

The benefits of monitoring your heart rate are:

Safety. The heart rate is a gauge by which to assess the intensity of your workout to make sure you’re not overexerting or overextending yourself. For example, if your heart rate is above your working heart rate range, it’s telling you to slow down a little and use fewer arm movements.

Effectiveness. If your heart rate indicates you’re not working hard enough, then you can work out a little more vigorously to maximize the effectiveness of your workout. To maximize your aerobic workout, you need to stay in your working heart rate range for at least 20 to 30 minutes continuously.

Incentive. By monitoring your heart rate from week to week as you participate in an aerobic activity, you’ll discover that you will be able to exercise at a higher level of intensity, but at the same or lower heart rate. This is the way the heart tells you it is becoming stronger and more efficient. When you see positive results, it will motivate you to strive for even better results.

Heart rates to track

It is important to know about three different heart rates:

Resting Heart Rate

The rate your heart is pumping when you have been sitting quietly for a while or when you are sleeping is your resting heart rate. This rate indicates your cardiovascular fitness level. The normal resting heart rate is 15 to 20 beats per minute slower than your “usual” heart rate. A person who is in good aerobic condition usually has a lower resting heart rate. Take your resting heart rate for 60 seconds before you get up in the morning.

Working Heart Rate

While you are exercising, you want to elevate your heart rate to produce a “training effect” but not so high as to be dangerous. Therefore, it is important to monitor your heart rate throughout the class. Gradually increase your working heart rate into a range that is maintained for the 20 to 30 minutes required to assure a training effect and an adequate workout. Find your working heart rate range on the chart and adjust your workout to stay in the middle of your range during the aerobic segment. The more conditioned your heart becomes, the more challenging it is to elevate your heart rate. If your heart rate is too high, lower the level of the next aerobic routine by exercising less vigorously and minimizing your arm movements. If your heart rate is too low, exercise more vigorously. We take the working heart rate for 6 seconds after the booster and each aerobic routine. Multiply this number by 10 (i.e., add a zero to the end of the number) to determine the number of beats per minute.

Recovery Heart Rate

The recovery heart rate is taken for 15 seconds during the post cooldown, 5 to 6 minutes after the last aerobic activity. Multiply this number by 4 to determine the number of beats per minute. Recovering to 120 beats per minute or lower is important. If your recovery heart rate is above 120 beats per minute, then during the next class, you should lower your workout level. This is accomplished by doing steps at a walking level and minimizing arm moves. You should always work out at a level that is enjoyable and comfortable for you. As long as you do not exceed your maximum working heart rate during the aerobic part of class and you recover at 120 beats per minute or less, you know that your workout has been safe and effective.

How to count your heart rate

Counting the pulse at the carotid artery has proven to be the easiest place to locate the pulse. Press gently on one side of the neck with your index and middle finger until the pulse is felt. Count each beat you feel to determine your heart rate. In class, your instructor will tell you when to start and stop counting. When taking your resting heart rate at home before you get up in the morning, count each beat you feel for 60 seconds.

Heart rates are important indicators

Your heart rate will ensure a safe and effective aerobic workout. Monitoring your heart rate will allow you to track the magical changes taking place in your cardiovascular system as you journey on the road to aerobic fitness.

See our Working Heart Rate Range Chart on the Heart Rate System page.

From the Fitness Floor

“Jacki’s Aerobics has seen me through the ups and downs of my life. When things are coming apart, aerobics is always there to remind me of what is important. It has truly been my lifeline. It’s good for the mind, body and spirit. We love Jacki and we love dancing!”

— Jean Ricciardelli, Instructor
Portland, Maine