Understanding Heart Rate Monitor Data

By Patrick Jak, MS
Jul 22, 2016

Thanks to the fitness technology craze, heart rate monitors have become more than just something cyclists throw on before a race. These monitors are powerful tools that can help us assess cardiovascular health, measure exercise intensity, train the body to become fuel-efficient, improve fitness and performance, and avoid overtraining syndrome.

But once we start collecting all of this data, what should we do with it?

Sometimes, the best data to collect doesn’t come from the work interval. Recovery heart rate can be used to create an accurate training load prescription (Lamberts et al. 2010).In fact, Laumakis & McCormack (2014) found that a decrease of 15–25 beats per minute in the first minute of recovery is typical for a healthy person. A recovery heart rate below 12 beats per minute in the first recovery minute indicates a lack of cardiovascular fitness and potential health risks. The faster the heart responds, the better your client’s fitness level and readiness to progress.

Revealing Signs of Overloading

Heart rate clearly and immediately provides insight into the parasympathetic and sympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system and the body’s response to exercise (Borresen & Lambert 2007). This is important when you’re structuring and adjusting training plans. Heart rate will send specific signals if the body is fatigued, under too much load, over-reaching, in training stagnation and/or ready for rest (Achten & Jeukendrup 2003; Borysewicz 1985; Coggan 2008):

  • resting heart rate—elevated
  • working heart rate—harder to get into zone
  • peak heart rate—suppressed
  • recovery heart rate—takes longer to drop

Factors That Influence Heart Rate

Remember that heart rate can be affected by many factors besides fatigue:

  • Heat and humidity. Heart rate rises with temperature and humidity (Laumakis & McCormick 2014).
  • Hydration. Dehydration increases heart rate.
  • Medication. Beta blockers can decrease heart rate, while calcium channel blockers, thyroid meds and antidepressants
    can increase heart rate (ACSM 2006).
  • Altitude. The heart works harder in higher
  • Body position. Heart rate increases from lying down, to sitting, to kneeling, to standing.

All of these approaches are quick and easy to apply to individuals, small groups and
classes. In fact, using a heart rate monitor enables clients to see whether they’re meeting their personal goals as they participate in group choreographed workouts. This way you can truly instruct each client to the highest common denominator.

To read more about how to support clients when self-massage tools like foam rollers release more than tight muscles and trigger points, please see “Unlocking the Potential of Heart Rate Monitors” in the online IDEA Library or in the February 2016 print issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.

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Patrick Jak, MS

Pat Jak worked for several years in E-Business before changing careers. Now, he is the Director of Metabolic Testing at Todd Durkin's Fitness Quest 10 and Head Coach of the nationally ranked UC San Diego Cycling Team. Pat uses leading edge fitness technology devices and apps to train and coach individuals from all walks of life: from general fitness clients to performance focused athletes. He has been a trainer for over a decade and his workouts have been featured in Bicycling Magazine. Pat holds a masterÔÇÖs degree in exercise science. Certifications: IFPA, USA Cycling.

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