You’re likely well-versed on the ins and outs of your fitness tracker by now. Number of steps acquired in a day—easy. Hours of sleep—check. Splits for your last run—obviously. But there’s one last function that’s becoming more prominent in trackers. Yet, is still confusing to so many: the heart rate monitor.
Up until now, only serious athletes seemed to pay any attention to their heart rate during a workout. For the rest of us, those numbers were brushed aside—or not considered at all! Whether you’re looking to maintain a healthy lifestyle or you’re training for a half marathon, monitoring your active heart rate during a workout has serious benefits. Let us fill you in on the basics!
Does Tracking Really Matter?
In a word: Nope. A workout is a workout is a workout. If you’re giving it all you’ve got during your Aaptiv workout, you’re reaping major fitness benefits regardless of recording your heart rate or not.
That said, tracking your heart rate is a fantastic way to monitor your progress and make sure you’re getting the most out of your workout, says Kira Kohrherr, Aaptiv exercise expert and CEO and Founder of FitBump. “By keeping your heart rate in check, you can train smarter—burn calories efficiently, avoid overtraining, and tackle fitness goals,” she says.
“If you’re a runner who is trying to hit a PR, tracking your heart rate is especially important to you,” Kohrherr explains, “monitoring it during a run is strategic to staying on pace and not going too fast, too quickly.”
“Once you are really in tune with your numbers and your zones, you can monitor to see when there is an anomaly,” she says. “For example, if I’m training for a half marathon and I find that I’m doing an interval run and my heart rate is higher than normal, I drop back my training a little to recover more.”
Tracking your heart rate can even be beneficial for those looking to drop some pounds. Making sure you’re hitting your maximum heart rate zone of 60 to 70 percent during an aerobic workout (or 70 to 85 percent during a shorter HIIT workout—more on these numbers later!) helps ensure you’re burning some serious calories.
So, What Numbers Do I Need To Know?
You saw us mention it above, but basically all you need to know is your max heart rate. Kohrherr explains that this is the highest beats per minute your heart can achieve. “It is not sustainable since it is an all out effort,” she says. “For example, my max heart rate is the number I hit for that 30-60 second all-out sprint at the end of a race.” Remember: Your max heart rate is not a trainable component. This means as you become more or less fit—your maximum does not change,” explains Kohrherr.
So why does it matter? Well, your max heart rate (MHR) is what you’ll use to determine your zones for training.
What Should My Max Heart Rate Be?
When it comes to figuring out your personal MHR, the standard rule for finding this is to take 220 minus your age. E.g. If you’re 30 years old, your theoretical MHR is 190. This isn’t exact and everyone is different, of course, but it’s a great place to start!
Here’s where your zones come into play. When you’re working out, aiming for 60 to 70 percent of your heart rate is an ideal zone for calorie burn in general “medium” effort workouts. Looking to get some serious work done? Aim for 80 to 90 percent of your MHR for a harder, more intense workout.
What Tracker Should I Get?
This is totally up to you! Many multi-sport trackers, such as FitBits and Apple Watches, now come with built-in HR monitors. These are perfectly fine for basic tracking, but just know these typically aren’t as accurate as chest band sensors. If you want a more accurate measurement (maybe you’re trying to PR in your next race!), try a chest band option like the Polar H10 heart rate sensor.
Kohrherr’s best advice when shopping for a tracker? “Take a look at what you want it to do—just tell you heart rate, give you calorie burn, have a stopwatch—and then go from there,” she says. There are many options, so make sure you’re focusing on what matters most to you.