Why (and how) to track your heart rate during cardio exercise

Can using a heart rate monitor help you perform better in your cardiovascular workout?

A heart rate monitor can be used by anyone,  no matter if you are a beginner or all the way up to an advanced athlete, you can benefit from paying attention to your heart rate during exercise.

Heart rate at any given time during a workout serves as a signal telling you what physical and mental stresses are placed on your body. Ultimately, a heart rate monitor can become your personal trainer during a cardiovascular training session. It can tell you when to go hard or when to back off depending on what training goal you are looking for.

A heart rate monitor can ultimately provide biofeedback during both your low and high intensity bouts of cardiovascular exercise. Read on to learn about how measuring your heart rate during different intensities can ultimately help you achieve your desired fitness goals.

Time versus Intensity

Firstly you should understand that cardiovascular training is beneficial for everyone’s training routine. Your heart is the most important muscle in your body and during exercise or at rest can tell you:

  • How hard you are exercising
  • How fast you are using energy
  • What state your emotions are in

The heart communicates the above physiological factors together and reports an overall condition (Heart beats per minute). During exercise the amount of blood pumped around the body is determined by the intensity of the workout. In simple terms the harder you train the higher your heart rate goes. We should also understand that the longer we train for the more demand can be placed on the heart.

The time you spent training versus how intense you work can have a significant focus on a desired training goal. During training you find that the harder the intensity (higher heart rate) the less time you are able to train for. By using a heart rate monitor you can make sure that you are specifically targeting a desired intensity for that given time period. You can also compare your session to previous sessions to determine any improvements.

Heart rate Zones (Intensity ranges)

Training at different heart rate intensities could alter the outcome of your training session. Remember that training in these different zones will depend on what training outcome you are after. You must be mindful that the higher the heart rate in any given zone will have significant effect on length of training session (time versus intensity). Outlined below are the 4 different heart rate zones that you can train in.

Zone 1 – Recovery Training (50-60% HRmax):

  • This zone is aerobic in nature and uses energy primarily from fats (however carbohydrates are still used). This zone is used readily in both a warm-up and cool-down of a training program. Training in this zone can be used to target goals such as:
  • Regeneration of well being while overcoming mental stress
  • Cardiac rehabilitation
  • Improvement of general health
  • Great for people with a condition such as diabetes or high blood pressure

Zone 2 – Fat Metabolism Training (60-70% of HRmax)

  • This zone is most optimal for stimulation of fat metabolism (using fat as the primary fuel source in training). Training in this zone can specifically target goals such as:
  • Basic endurance development
  • Activation and stimulation of fat metabolism
  • Stabilising and improving heart rate over time

Zone 3 – Cardiovascular Training (70-80% of HRmax)

  • This zone will start to deplete your carbohydrate stores more readily (depends on fitness level) and specifically focuses on the following goals:
  • Improve endurance and cardiovascular efficiency
  • Improve both aerobic muscles endurance and capacity
  • Better weight management through reduced body fat percentage

Zone 4 – Anaerobic Threshold Training (80-90% of HRmax)

  • Training in this zone requires the use of primarily carbohydrates as the fuel source. Training in this zone can:
  • Improve aerobic endurance
  • Improve anaerobic capacity
  • Improved glycolytic metabolism (breaking down of carbohydrates for fuel)

Below is some possible information that you can get from monitoring your heart rate in different training zones during a workout:

  • Correct intensity system development (aerobic or anaerobic)
  • Correct duration with time spent in different training zones (more specific to cross training)
  • Appropriate recovery periods during interval training (utilises work to rest ratios during a workout)
  • Appropriate recovery between exercise sessions
  • Effective evaluation of training adaptations to programs
  • Over-training warning signs or unwanted stress on body
  • An indication of energy depletion (carbohydrates during high intensity training)
  • Race pace strategy for all kinds of competitors (beginners to advanced)

Frequently using the heart rate monitor will show your reaction to training stimuli over given time period. This can give you an overview of your training progress and ultimately can make your workouts higher quality and more enjoyable. A heart rate monitor is indeed a powerful training tool during cardiovascular workouts.

Remember that heart rate training is not a gimmick; it has the potential to tell you the truth about your fitness level and what results are being achieved with your training.

Used well, the heart rate tool can help revolutionise your training no matter if you are training for health, fitness or athletic goals.

When you start using a heart rate monitor for cardiovascular purposes you are well on your way to tracking and adjusting an exercise program that is individualised for your heart. Don’t forget that your cardiovascular training program should be based on your current fitness level, general ability and goals.

Want to get started?

You can purchase a Myzone Switch heart rate monitor from us or try one of our comprehensive Cardio training plans and we’ll guide you through each week, with workouts designed to improve your cardio fitness. Choose the best plan or you:

  1. 10 Day Cardio HIIT
  2. Fitter in 2 Weeks
  3. 21 Day Kick-start


  • Heart Rate Monitoring – applications and Limitations – Juul Achten, Asker E. Jeukendrup; Sports Medicine, 2003
  • Prediction of energy expenditure from heart rate monitoring during submaximal exercise – LR Keytel and Colleagues; Journal of Sports Sciences, 2005
  • Precision heart rate training – Edmund R.Burl; Human Kinetics
  • Training with the Hear Rate Monitor – Kuno Hottenrott; Meyer & Meyer Sport

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Author: CrankIt Fitness

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