Last summer, I participated in a cycling study at our hospital. I was put on a stationary bike and my heart rate was monitored as I pedaled. I needed to keep my heart rate within a certain range for 40 minutes. I repeated this exercise three times a week for eight weeks.
The study involved people of various ages, sizes, and fitness levels. So, how did they determine the optimal workout level for each individual?
Finding Your Workout Sweet Spot
There are the pencil-and-paper formulas for workout heart rate that apply to your age, but that doesn’t account for your current fitness level. If you are unfit, you may not be able to sustain such a level for the 40-45 minutes recommended.
In this study, participants underwent a before and after study stress test. The “before” stress test determined the heart rate range that each participant would stay within during the workout.
During the pre-study stress test, I was hooked up to monitors gauging my heart rate, oxygen levels, CO², and other stuff that I don’t remember. I sat on a stationary bike and was asked to find the pedaling pace that was comfortable, then increase it just a bit so that I was working, but felt that I could keep going for a long time.
Then, the fun started. Every few minutes, the pedaling difficulty would increase and I was encouraged to keep my pace steady, until I could no longer pedal at all. The technicians cheered me on, until I reached the point of exhaustion.
I don’t know about you, but I haven’t exercised to the point of exhaustion since I was a kid. It was interesting and a little scary. So, “don’t try this at home,” you need to be medically supervised!
What the stress test did, was give my researcher a range within which I should workout, about 20% to 60% above my “easy exercise” heart rate level. For me, the lower end was 126 bpm (beats per minute) and the higher end was about 166 bpm. When I was actually pedaling, I could see my bpm on the screen so that I stayed in my range. Everyone’s range can be different, considering genetics and fitness level.
The post-study stress test followed the same format, and my before and after test results were compared. I found out that I could pedal longer at the highest levels of my range, before exhaustion.
Why Is Finding Your Workout Range a Key to Success?
The study did a lot for me, personally, although my participation was to assist in research. I lost some weight, gained strength and endurance, and gained a new confidence in my physical abilities.
Most importantly, I learned how to monitor my workouts so that I was making progress in my fitness level. Like I said before, I could apply the basic formulas to find my target heart rate range, but it didn’t account for my starting fitness level. By participating in the study, I found that 135-160 bpm was the level that gave me a good workout, but wasn’t so difficult that I never wanted to exercise again!
That second part of the above statement is key for me: but wasn’t so difficult that I never wanted to exercise again.
I have often started an exercise program, only to end up dreading it, and quitting. One piece of advice that I find an absolute truth is, “Some exercise is better than no exercise.”
I’ve read articles giving different advice, like that you must exercise above 165 bpm to improve aerobic capacity. If I had followed that advice, I know that I would have ditched my regimen in no time.
Your Workout Benefits Are Money in the Longevity Bank
So, what has happened to me in a year? I now wear a heart rate monitor during most workouts. I am still working out 3 to 5 times a week. I’ve noticed more definition in my muscles, increased strength, and increased endurance. The monitor has become my coach, letting me know when I’m too easy on myself, and too hard.
My workouts have ramped up a bit as my fitness level increases. As I climb hills, I now walk faster to get within my optimum heart rate range. I walk a longer distance to meet the 40-45 minute workout period. I don’t mind, though, because I see the progress and am proud of it; and, I can stick to my workout regime because I don’t go overboard, like I used to. That’s probably the most valuable piece of exercise knowledge I’ve ever acquired.
If you can, get a stress test to find your optimal workout range. If that isn’t possible, wear a heart rate monitor and observe your heart rate when you are doing an easy as opposed to difficult workout. Try to stick with a workout somewhere between these two points, not being too hard on yourself, nor too easy. If you do that, you will see your fitness level increase, and you’ll be encouraged to stick with it. Nothing but good can come from it!
This article is not intended as medical advice. Check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.
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