Heart rate question for the fitness experts....

I’ve poked around on some fitness sites, but the only thing I can find about target heart rates is the general formula of 220 - age x 80%. I have a heart monitor that I wear when I’m exercising to keep an eye on my target heart rate, and I know that for my age (30), my target heart rate using the above formula works out to 152.

I’ve noticed that no matter how regularly I work out, my heart rate absolutely shoots up as soon as I start moving around. I was under the impression that the better shape you were in, the harder it is to get your heart rate up. How long does this take? When I’m just walking around the house, my heart rate will be between 100 and 110. If I walk up a flight of stairs, it goes up to about 150 almost instantaneously. As soon as I stop moving, it goes right back down to 110 or so. I think that how fast your heart rate returns to normal is also an indicator of how fit you are, but my situation seems contradictory…no matter how fit I think I am, my heart rate gets very high, which would indicate a lower fitness level…but it returns to normal very quickly, which is a good sign of fitness. Am I confused?

I have a very difficult time keeping my heart rate near my target range when I’m exercising at what I feel is a moderate level…in that I’m not breathing hard, not struggling, etc. I’ll feel like I’m working out normally, and I’ll glance at my monitor to see my heart rate in the 170’s!!

My questions are:

  1. Is it dangerous in any way to push your heart rate near your max (for me, 190ish) if you don’t feel like you’re working that hard? I occasionally do a bike spin class at the gym, and I always top out over my recommended max in spin class, and often in step aerobics as well.

  2. I understand that fat-burning is supposed to be most effective if you keep your heart rate in your target zone, but for me to do that, I feel like I’m barely working. Is the target zone more of a guideline than a hard and fast rule? If my heart rate is always higher than the guideline when I’m working out at what I feel is a normal pace, does that mean that my “normal” workout heart rate is just higher than average and I should go by what’s “normal” for me? Or should I slow down?

Here is a typical site. This gives a more detail explination and a more detailed calculation including your resting heart rate.

Target Heart Rate

If you heart rate shoots up that fast you could have several causes. One you could be out of shape. Two it could be meds you are on. Three Caffine and Cigarettes do that.

I was reading in Men’s Health magazine that a study indicated that it was good for ATHLETES to over push their max heart rates. But remember this was people in good condition to start.

70 is about average for a pulse rate so if you’re just walking around the house and it is 110 that is high.

The second question depends on what you are trying to do. Are you aware there is a zone to burn fat and a zone to improve your heart conditioning. The site above tells more about that.

For instance I have a hard time pushing into my heart training zone as I am asthmatic and once I get above 140 it is harder to breathe then I get panicky etc…

What recently happend to me was I was on Ziac and my doctor removed me from it without weaning me off. After a day or so my resting pulse jumped to 120. I would climb up a flight of stairs and my heart rate zoomed to 150. It was awful. My heart had grown dependent on it. (Ziac is a beta blocker -well partly…and isn’t a choice for asthmatic…but my asthma isn’t that bad)

Ironically when he put me back on the Ziac my pulse fell to 75-80 resting and my blood pressure was better than before he took me off of it.

The best indicator though is at what level are you able to carry on a normal conversation. If you can comfortably keep your heart rate up and talk like normal, most likely you aren’t harming yourself.

Again this is assuming you are healthy and not on any drugs illegal or legal

I am not out of shape. I either mountain bike or hit the gym 4-5 times a week. When I mountain bike, it’s usually 10-15 miles for several hours at a time. My gym activities are either treadmill, elliptical trainer, spin class or step aerobics. I’m not on any meds. I don’t drink caffeine and I don’t smoke.

70 is an average resting heart rate. Resting implies just that…not moving around. When I say that my heart rate is around 100 when I’m walking around the house, I mean that I’m not loafing on the sofa watching TV. It’s 100 when I’m walking around, washing dishes, etc. If I sit down at the computer, it goes down to about 80.

This is exactly my point. I can carry on a normal conversation and not be breathing heavy when my heart rate is 190, even though (according to everything I’ve read), that is my maximum heart rate. My “normal” heart rate while exercising moderately (meaning not pushing myself at all) is in the 160’s, even though my target heart rate (again, according to all articles I’ve read) is 152.

What I’m trying to find out is why my heart rates goes up so quickly and so high, even though I exercise regularly and feel as if I’m in good physical condition. Even when my heart rate is high, I barely feel as if I’m working out, I can talk to other people, I’m not gasping for breath. I want to know if this is just normal for some people, or whether I should be concerned about it.

Have you confirmed the accuracy of the heart rate monitor you are using? Either against another monitor or against a physical count? I’ve been shopping around for one, and have found some that are not very accurate.

If you’re able to carry on a conversation when your heart monitor reads 190, you might want to check to see if your monitor is making accurate measurements.

As for why it goes up quickly, it is a little complicated. You have a sympathetic autonomic nervous system which mediates the “fight or flight” response. And a parasympathetic system which mediates “rest and digest” reflexes. The two have a combined effect on heart rate. More sympathetic leads to higher heart rate and vice versa. When you first start exercising, your parasympathetics are withdrawn. This causes a rapid increase in heart rate. It also explains why heart rate increases when you are only thinking about exercising.

I am a cycling / fitness fanatic currently on sabbatical ;). I used heart rate monitors extensively to help with training for racing over several years, and found that the best time of day to test my true resting heart rate was the moment I opened my eyes in the morning (i.e. sleep with it on). Depending on how much money you spend (and believe me, you can spend an awful lot) you can get one that uploads the data to a pc so you can check out how your heart rate varies over time (I believe that Polar do one).

For me, relativity is the key to these indicators, not absolutes. “220 - Age” is all well and good, but some people can go over 190 and still feel OK - I maxed one time at 193 after a 130k bike race and a 10k climb up a 11% hill with sprint for points to the top and thought I was going to die (and still didn’t win, grrr!). Find out what’s good for you over time and don’t think about it too much. I found that my heart rate would soar at the thought of hard exercise, as USCDiver states above. You’ve got to keep your mind fresh and not worry about the indicators all the time - concentrate on your performance.

Also don’t forget that heart rate should not be viewed in isolation as an indicator of fitness: blood pressure, fat content, lung capacity etc can all be viewed as part of the overall fitness indicator package (and how’s your skin/hair/appetite/attitude etc?). If you are an endurance athelete and you are really serious, you could look into monitoring your VO2 Max (uptake of oxygen in the blood). There are people much more qualified than I who can help you out with that.

I don’t know what’s causing your heart rate to shoot up so high, but I can give you my experience with heart rate monitors.

I have a Polar monitor, I’m 31 years old, female. I’m in so-so shape right now, but most of the data I’ll comment on was when I was working out minimum of 3-4 days a week, and at some times up to 6 times a week, so I was in pretty good shape back then.

Resting heart rate was around 70. Normal hanging out in the house was around 90-100. The minute I went outside to take a walk, even a very mellow walk, it went up to about 100-110.

However, it takes work to get it up to 150. About the highest I’ve ever gone is 168 or so, and that’s when I’m going all out - like a fast sprint or something. I’m comfortable around the 135-155 level, anything above that counts as work.

My gut feeling is that your monitor is off. Try going for a walk. Five or ten minutes in, when you’re warmed up, try varying your pace. Does the monitor go down and up when it should? Or does it jump? Mine tends to go up and down in small increments - I’ve never seen it go from say, 100 to 150 with nothing in between. Maybe you got a bad monitor.

Bear in mind that “fat burning” is more dependent upon doing continuous exercise at a moderate level. It shouldn’t necessarily feel that difficult. Walking is a fairly good activity of this type. The kids on my track team have a hard time learning to pace themselves. They feel that if they are not ready to puke at the end of a workout that they have not done anything, and that just isn’t so.

The heart rate formula you mention is, I believe, the Karvonin Method. It generally works well, but is well known mainly because it’s simple. You might be an exception, and I’d suggest you consult a trainer.

Incidentally, many workout regimens suggest getting into a
zone of 65-85% of your max heart rate. That’s a good rule of thumb.

Interestingly enough, there is an article in today’s New York Times about this very subject. Turns out the conventional method for determining maximum heart rate doesn’t work for a significant percentage of people.

From the article:


Wow…this is exactly the sort of info that I was hoping to get. I rode my bike 7.5 miles today. When I got off my bike, my heart rate was 179. By the time I pulled out of the parking lot, my heart rate was 108. It couldn’t have been more than 3 minutes for me to throw my bike on the rack, yank off helmet and gloves and get the car on the road. I also tested my recovery at turn-around points in my ride. I’d give myself up to 2 minutes to get my heart rate down 30 bpm before resuming. I was usually back on the bike by 1.5 minutes.

It doesn’t appear that the monitor is malfunctioning. I’ve worn the monitor at the gym, and compared my heart rate reading from the monitor to the readings you can get on the treadmill by grasping the sensors on the bar in front of the programming panel, and it matches. The monitor also fluctuates with exertion…it just seems to give higher readings than most standard guides would indicate.

This article goes a long way towards reassuring me. As I said, I always feel fine even when my heart rate seems high…I guess I’m just one of those fast beaters rather than strong pushers. :slight_smile:

As pointed out, the “maximum heart rate” is geared for sedentary people. My MHR with that formula is 157, but I’ve gotten my HR up to over 200 after speed work on the track. The only way to ascertain your MHR is to get a maximum stress test. Incidentally, my resting pulse upon awakening is in the low 40s. Every one is different, and there is so much variation in resting HRs, that you can’t tell much by that. As noted, how quickly it recovers to normal (whatever is normal for you) after a work-out is very important in determining fitness.