Heart rate monitors (HRM) are everywhere, they are a feature on your smartwatch and fitness tracker. Heart rate tracking has been around for several decades in the fitness world. But now they are more mainstream with infrared monitors built into modern devices. I was an early adopter in 2003 when I purchased my first Polar HRM.
I recall doing a ramp test on a spin bike at the San Diego 24-Hour Fitness where I worked. The 1-minute ramp test (every minute the intensity gets harder) goes until I couldn’t go anymore. I was disappointed because my heart rate only got to 165 beats per minute (BPM). I was 23 years old, and the charts said I should reach 197 BPM. Was I not fit? I nearly killed myself doing the test.
Fast forward a few years when I was a student at the University of New Mexico. I entered the Exercise Physiology Lab and did a VO2 max test as part of my Exercise Physiology class. Again, we only saw ~163 BPM. My fellow students thought I wasn’t going hard enough, yet on the Borg Scale of perceived exertion I was at level 20 (max effort), I could not go any harder. But, my power output on the bike was high, so what was going on?
My professor and world-renowned exercise physiologist, Dr. Len Kravitz explained to the class that I more than likely had what’s called an “athlete’s heart.” Meaning my heart rate does not get very high due to the size of my left ventricle, I just pump more blood than my peers. Well that made sense, we also identified my resting heart rate to be in the low 40s. Now, as an avid endurance athlete, my resting heart rate is usually in the mid-30s at night. How do I know this? My Oura Ring tells me.
Why am I telling you all this? So you understand the methodology of our use of HR monitors at the Performance Ranch. Everyone is unique and has unique heart rates due to genetics, training, hydration, caffeine intake, etc. this is why we test our clients.
Determining your Peak HR
I later learned that the 220-age formula is not a very accurate calculation for the majority of our population. This is why we implement a few tests to help determine your HR Peak. We don’t use the term max, because to find your true max would take some laboratory testing to determine (we do have the equipment). But the difference between Peak and Max is usually only a few beats and we have the flexibility of changing the values in our system.
At the Performance Ranch, we use a few testing methods to determine peak heart rate as well as heart rate recovery. Our two go-to tests are the 5 minute Maximal Aerobic Power (MAP) test and the Ramp Test on either our Wattbike or Treadmill. For those that one more specific numbers, we offer VO2 Max testing using our KORR Metabolic Cart.
These tests allow us to determine your HR peak as well as your 1-min HR recovery (HRR). You can easily extend the recovery time out after a test like this to determine your 2-min+ recovery time. Why is this important? HRR is very important because it tells us how “fit” you are. Generally, 18+ BPM’s drop in 1 minute is good. This can vary depending on hydration status, caffeine intake for the day, fatigue, stress, etc. This is why we recommend performing this test every 4-8 weeks to see how your fitness is improving.
How to Use the Data
This is where science meets the real world. We can use your numbers from the MAP test to help determine your HR training zones. Once we have your peak HR captured, we can then use this number in our HR system. The system will automatically assign new training zones based on your HR Peak. But this is a simple percentage formula that will establish your zones.
Zone 1 – 50% – 60% Peak HR
Zone 2 – 60% – 70% Peak HR
Zone 3 – 70% – 80% Peak HR
Zone 4 – 80% – 90% Peak HR
Zone 5 – 90% – 100% Peak HR
Your Peak HR may change over time and we are able to change your values based on your current fitness level.
Ask your coach for more information on HR training. If you have an ANT+ HR monitor, we can easily connect it to our system. If not, we recommend the Wahoo TCKR HR monitor. We carry them at the Performance Ranch and their versatility makes them compatible with many other devices and apps so you can use it to “Live Life Beyond the Gym Walls!”