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Aerobic Exercise Training

Lub Dub: Heart Rates
To get a good cardiovascular workout, it's helpful to know how hard to push yourself. (Going too slow loses the training benefit; training too hard is often unnecessary, counterproductive or even dangerous.) As a result, the best way to monitor your pace is by figuring out your heart rate and knowing at what level of exertion to train.

Although it initially may seem complicated, figuring out your heart rate while you exercise is quite easy. In fact, before you know it, you'll be monitoring your heart rate like Jonathan. A number cruncher at heart, he often checks his heart rate after a shower, while watching a scary movie, or when waiting in line at the bank. (Please don't ask why he does this. While he's extremely knowledgeable on all aspects of fitness, he is rather, how shall we say, unique.)

To make the heart rate number crunching game worth your while, you'll need to know a few basic things.

To maximize weight loss, you want to exercise at 60 to 75 percent of your maximal heart rate (MHR).

For cardiovascular fitness, you want to increase this to about 85 percent of your MHR. Elite athletes, like Olympic sprinters, often push the envelope and exercise at nearly 100 percent of their MHR.

Figure It Out
The simplest way to determine whether you're exercising aerobically or anaerobically is the talk test. If you can carry on a conversation with your training mate while you're jogging around the park, you're training aerobically; you may be huffing and puffing, but you can be understood and respond without gasping for breath. If your partner asks, "How ya doin'?" and you reply like a breathless mugger wearing a ski mask, well, you're in the anaerobic range.

You can also use what is called your rate of perceived exertion (RPE). This is a chart that attempts to quantify for you how hard you're working when you're exercising. This is very often used with patients who are participating in cardiac rehabilitation after suffering a heart attack or cardiovascular surgery. The RPE scale is imperfect because it's so subjective, but it can be a useful tool to go along with monitoring your heart rate.

The following is the scale for rate of perceived exertion (RPE):

0 Nothing at all
0.5 Very, very weak
1 Very weak
2 Weak
3 Moderate
4 Somewhat strong
5 Strong
6 Strong
7 Very strong
8 Very strong
9 Very strong
10 Very, very strong
  Maximal
If you don't have anyone by your side to talk to and fear being considered a nut job carrying on a one-sided conversation, there are two formulas that you can use to figure out what your target heart rate should be during your workout.

The first formula to figure out your MHR is as follows:

  1. 220 minus your age.
  2. Take that figure and multiply it by 60 percent. This represents the low end of your target heart rate.
  3. Multiply your predicted maximum heart rate by 85 percent. This is the high end of your target heart rate.
The second, more accurate way to figure your target heart rate during aerobic activity is called the Karvonen formula. First we need to record your resting heart rate (RHR). To get an accurate reading, take your pulse first thing in the morning before you get out of bed on three consecutive days. Average the three, and take that to be your resting heart rate. Here's the rest of the equation:
  1. 220 minus your age is your predicted maximum heart rate (MHR).
  2. MHR minus your resting heart rate (RHR).
  3. Multiply that number by 60 percent and 85 percent.
  4. Add your RHR to each of these values for the low end and high end of your target heart rate zone.

Sounds complicated but it's not. For example: Deidre Johnson-Cane, age 39 (and holding). Resting heart rate, 72. Here's how she would figure out her target heart rate

  1. 220 - 39 = 181
  2. 181 - 72 = 109
  3. 109 X .60 = 65.4
  4. 72 + 65.4 = 137


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Excerpted from he Complete Idiot's Guide to Weight Training © 2003 by Deidre Johnson-Cane and Jonathan Cane. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide website or call 1-800-253-6476.


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