How to Use a Heart Rate Monitor to Get Fit

If you’re looking to improve your fitness level or even train for a bike ride, consider how you’ll track the intensity of your exercises – and invest in a reliable heart rate monitor. This post demonstrates how you may utilize perceived rate of effort to kick-start your fitness journey and proposes that you supplement it with the precision of a heart rate monitor.

There are several methods for monitoring your workout intensity, ranging from the quite simple to the extremely sophisticated. The most straightforward method of determining intensity is to utilize self-perceived exertion. The Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is the simplest method for determining the intensity of exercise. I’ve included the heart rate percentages in the table below (more about that further down in this article). The RPE table is a condensed version of the Borg Perceived Exertion Scale.

Zones of Aerobic Exercise: Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) and Corresponding Heart Rate Percentages

ZoneRPE LevelLevel of exertionHow it feelsPercentage of maximum heart rate
1 (Recovery)1 to 2Very lightI’m so relaxed that I could do this all day!40% to 45%
2 (Endurance)3 to 4Light
I’m a little sweaty, but I’m fine and can easily hold a conversation.
46% to 50%
3 (Tempo)5 to 6Moderate
I’m out of breath now, but I can still speak.
46% to 50%
4 (Lactate threshold)7Somewhat heavy
I suppose I could speak if I had to, but I don’t want to, and I’m sweating like a race horse.
61% to 67%
5 (Above threshold)8HeavyIf you have to ask me a question, don’t expect anything more than a grunt. I need to come to a halt as soon as possible.68% to 75%
6 (Aerobic Capacity)9Very heavyI’m pretty sure I’m going to die.76% to 80%
7 (Anaerobic Capacity)10Don’t die!I believe I just died.81% to 85%

According to the above scale, an effort level of 1 to 3 places you in the low center of your aerobic training zone, which is an ideal position for a novice to begin aerobic exercise such as cycling.

However, if you’re serious about getting healthy, you’ll need more precision than simply your self-perception. It’s preferable to be aware that you’ve entered the target zone and to be able to track how long you stay there. That’s when equipment like a heart rate monitor or a smart watch like the top-rated Garmin Vivoactive HR comes in handy.

Heart rate monitors are also appropriate for average cyclists

Do not believe that measuring your workout intensity is reserved for the most dedicated bikers and sportsmen. It is, in fact, quite beneficial to measure your riding intensity in order to ensure that you optimize your fitness gains for the time spent. Otherwise, it’s far too simple to underestimate or exaggerate the intensity of your workout. Both of these strategies are self-defeating. With an underestimation of intensity, you risk burning out from overtraining and weariness; with an overestimation, you won’t grow any fitter.

For instance, the last time I began a training regimen, my first ride was 1 hour and 20 minutes, primarily flat, but with around 20 minutes of constant uphill. My RPE (rate of perceived exertion) indicated that I spent the most of my time in the light to moderate zone (with some time in the heavy zone during the long uphill). Thus, that should have been an adequate first training ride. However, following the bike, I examined the Polar heart rate monitor I was wearing. My heart rate monitor indicated that I had expended 782 calories (excellent – that’s a lot of red wine!) and maintained an average heart rate of 145, with a maximum of 174. That, too, sounds fantastic.

The Garmin Edge 130 Plus compared. the Garmin Edge Explore vs. the Garmin Edge 530 vs. the Garmin Edge 830 vs. the Garmin Edge 1030 Plus
A heart rate of 145 places me in the 77 percent training heart rate zone, which is ideal for developing cardiovascular fitness. That is RPE 9, Aerobic capacity, and extremely hard exertion, as indicated in the table above. However, there is a catch. Additionally, the heart rate monitor indicates that I spent 17 minutes and 35 seconds in the training zone. This indicates that I grossly underestimated the value of this route as a training ride.

I was actually just receiving a 17.5-minute cardiovascular exercise (no doubt on that prolonged uphill). My time on the ascent clearly shifted the average rate of 145 higher. My heart was probably idle the most of the time.

I might as well have been on the bus, given the amount of instruction I was receiving over the majority of the journey!

The heart rate monitor results indicated that I would need to increase my speed on future training rides — either by riding faster or by doing more uphills. It was somewhat disheartening, but it was far preferable to have the information and accelerate my speed than to spend countless hours exercising and gaining little fitness. That is how I will never get in shape for a more difficult charity ride!

In a word, if you want to get the most out of your workout, you must be quite exact when evaluating the intensity of your activity, which will need some investment.

Have you ever spun your way through an entire cycling class and emerged practically sweat-free, despite the fact that the rest of the class seemed to be drenched? Here’s why: it’s simple to trick yourself on a stationary bike by not attempting as hard as you should. (For more inspiration, check out these 5 Cool Cycling Trends to Try.) However, there is a failsafe method for monitoring your effort level and ensuring that you are working hard enough to earn a well-deserved glisten—and getting the most out of your exercise. And it’s effective regardless of whether you’re cycling, jogging, or weight training.

“A heart rate monitor is an excellent tool for determining how hard you are working,” Drill Fitness coach Angel Santiago explains. “Heart rate data is not deceptive.” Unlike you when you assert that you are incapable of spinning much faster! (There are no judgments—everyone has been there!)

Indeed, Santiago and the Drill Fitness team are so certain of the benefits of this data that they require participants in each of their cycling and HIIT programs to wear a heart rate monitor. “An instructor will lead you through the various intensity color zones, which correspond to heart rate data that indicates how hard you’re working, and will teach you on when to aim for each zone,” Santiago continues. However, even if you’re on your own, you may still benefit from this excellent fitness metric!

Select a monitor (Drill prefers Wahoo monitors) and do the following easy calculation: “Subtract 220 from your age to get a sense of what your maximum heart rate should be,” Santiago explains. (In other words, if you’re 35, that’s 185 beats per minute.) Then determine how diligently you wish to work. If you’re performing high-intensity interval training, whether cardio or strength, Santiago recommends aiming for 80 percent of your maximum heart rate (the average 35-year-old would want to hit around 130 BPM.) If you’re wanting to improve endurance, aim for 70%, but avoid going below 60% of your maximum heart rate if you want to see gains.

And one more tip: avoid focusing only on the statistics during your workout, every workout.