Heart Rate Zone Monitors Under The Microscope

Heart Rate Monitor with chest strap
Heart Rate Monitor with chest strap

Two years ago we wrote about heart rate monitors in our article Fat Burning or Time Wasting Zone? It seems that others are now starting to realize that watching the heart rate can actually hold you back in fitness and weight loss.

The Argument For Heart Rate Monitors

The idea for heart rate monitors is that if you exercise within your “fat burning heart rate zone” you can maximize weight loss as you will be working out at maximum efficiency. If you exercise with too much intensity your will tire and stop before burning many calories, and it you exercise too gently you will not burn enough calories per hour to make exercise efficient.

Max Heart Rate Calculation: 220 – Your Age

Target Heart Rate = Max X 0.85

However, calculating the ideal heart rate is a vague process at best. Generally it is based on your gender and age. Height, weight, fitness levels, diet or athletic ability are not taken into account.

It seems that the current method of calculating ideal heart rate is not actually suitable for 50% of people. So if you have been religiously exercising in your heart rate zone then you may not have been exercising in a very efficient way.

High Intensity Interval Training

It is now thought that many people will not get maximum fitness and weight loss gains by exercising at an intensity to achieve their “target heart rate”.

Also, sports scientists have shown already that the best way to lose weight and get fit is to perform interval training, where you cycle short bursts of high activity with slower recovery periods. This sees you raise your heart rate high in the intense intervals, then recover to a slower heart rate.

According to the heart rate monitor fanatics, this method would not work for weight loss as you spend a lot of the time in a slow paced recovery phase. But the research shows the opposite.

“Intensity Training a time-efficient but safe alternative to traditional types of moderate long term exercise.” Prof. Martin J. Gibal.

It seems then that the best option is to just get on with exercise in a more natural way. In the same way that health scientists have discovered that people who do not think about the food they eat are more likely to overeat, people who switch off while exercising probably gain less too. Many people exercise at a steady pace on a treadmill, elliptical or rower without listening to signals from their body.

To get fitter and burn more calories you need to keep increasing your exercise intensity. If you follow a heart rate zone approach to exercise you do not push yourself harder. On the flip side there is a risk that you may try to push yourself too hard too soon into a new fitness regime. If you are not at all fit then trying to exercise at 85% of your theoretical maximum heart rate could be deadly.

The best way to exercise is to simply listen to your body as you exercise. If you have more energy, more breath, then push yourself harder. If you are feeling unwell, dizzy, weak, feel a strain in your chest, then slow down – regardless of over far under or over your heart rate you are.

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