Last week, I talked about using the Karnoven Method for determining accurate heart rate training targets/zones, and promised I’d return this week with information about Resting Heart Rate (RHR) and Maximum Heart Rate (MHR).
Today, I’ll talk about RHR. Please come by tomorrow for the MHR discussion.
Five Things You Should Know About Your Resting Heart Rate
- The first thing to know about RHR is that, generally speaking, the lower the number the better. Why? Because (again, generally speaking) the lower a person’s RHR, the more fit they are. And why is that? Well, without getting too technical, it’s because the more blood your heart can pump with each beat, the less number of times it has to beat each minute to keep the rest of your body …resting. In other words, better fitness translates to larger heart capacity and lower RHR.
- The second thing to know about RHR is that yours can be lowered substantially by engaging in regular aerobic exercise. How substantially you ask? Very substantially! In my case, prior to a return to running several years ago, my resting heart rate had been between 65 and 70 BPM and, after a year of training, it had dropped to around 50. Right now my RHR is at about 43 but it’s been as low as 39 at the peak of marathon training.
- The next important thing about RHR is that the only RHR that’s important to you is your RHR. Above, I told you my RHR numbers only to illustrate that RHR can be lowered with fitness but please do not be concerned with comparing your RHR with mine or anyone else’s. Yes, it’s interesting that, at the height of his training, Lance Armstrong’s resting heart rate was 32 beats per minute (BPM) but Lance’s RHR has no bearing on how you should go about setting up your heart rate based training program.
- Important thing number four is that your RHR can fluctuate based on a number of variables including, but not limited to; the amount of sleep you’ve had, whether you’re ingesting caffeine (caffeine raises RHR), how well rested you are, and (listen up!) whether you are over-trained.
- Let’s talk more about the very important connection between RHR and over-training. The lesson here is that you could be running better than ever, be well hydrated, getting lots of sleep, and still see your RHR rise. If this ever happens to you, it’s time to look at your training regimen to determine whether you may be over-doing it. A rising RHR could be an indication that you’re piling on too many high intensity workouts causing your body to fall behind repairing itself—a recipe for poor performance and injury. That’s right, if your RHR is rising at a time when it should be staying constant or falling, you might be over-trained.
Three Ways to Take Your Pulse Rate
Before you can figure out your RHR, you need a reliable method for counting your pulse rate. Here are three ways to do that:
- Use the tried and true two-finger method so clearly illustrated here (you may have to scroll down the page).
- Use a stethoscope and a watch.
- Use a heart rate monitor.
Of the three methods, the last one is the most expensive but probably the easiest and most accurate way to take a pulse rate.
Five Tips for Accurately Measuring RHR
- Be well rested. Don’t go to bed at midnight, get up at five a.m and expect to get an accurate reading.
- Don’t get your body rev’d up with caffeine or any other kind of stimulant.
- Make sure you’re well hydrated.
- Get yourself really relaxed for at least several minutes. Some people advocate taking your measurements immediately in the morning but, if you’re going to do that, make sure you don’t have to pee because that’ll raise your HR every time! Seriously, I have found I get my lowest readings sitting in a reclining chair for five to ten minutes.
- Measure away and, if you’re just not sure the reading was a good one, take another on a separate day.
Why Is Resting Heart Rate Important?
Now that you know all this stuff about RHR, why should you care? Well, in a word it’s because RHR is one of the two foundations used for calculating the Karnoven heart rate training targets we discussed last week. The key connection to the Karnoven Method is that without accurately determining RHR, your HR training targets will be off, your training program will be flawed, and your odds of under- or over-training are that much greater.
The second of the two foundations used for calculating Karvoven heart rate training targets is Maximum Heart Rate but you’ll have to come back tomorrow to learn about that.