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You may have noticed other people taking their heart rates during the middle of a workout, and wondered what they were doing. In most cases, it's likely not just a matter of curiosity, but a matter of getting the most out of each workout. While some researchers say monitoring your heart rate is really only necessary for the most advanced athletes, if you want to try it out, the process is fairly basic and simple to do.
When you take your pulse, you're measuring the number of times your heart beats within a one-minute period. When you exercise, your heart beats faster to bring more oxygen to your cells. That's also why you begin breathing harder when you work out -- your lungs need to fill with air more often to shuttle into your bloodstream.
Target Heart Rate
When you work out, the ideal condition is to be within a "target heart rate," which allows your body to get the most out of your workout. If you're in a particular heart rate zone, for example, you'll be able to burn more fat, while being above the target can mean overexertion and a less efficient workout. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the target heart rate for most people is about 60 to 80 percent of the individual's maximum heart rate. Maximum heart rate is the absolute fastest your heart can beat -- which typically goes down with age. According to the Cleveland Clinic, you should not exercise above 85 percent of your maximum heart rate, as that can increase the risk to your cardiovascular and orthopedic health.
To determine your target heart rate, you'll first need to determine your resting heart rate. To do this, place your index and middle fingers on either side of your windpipe when you first wake in the morning. Watching a clock, count the number of beats you feel in 10 seconds, and then multiply that number by 6. That is your resting heart rate. To determine your target range you'll also need to know your maximum heart rate; men can do this by subtracting their age from 220. For example, if you are 40, your maximum would be 180. According to researchers at Northwestern University, however, women should calculate their heart rate slightly differently; subtracting 88 percent of the woman's age from 206.
You'll now need to do a bit of math to determine your target heart rate. According to researchers at the University of Montana, you can do this by first subtracting your resting heart rate from the max heart rate. Using the example of the 40-year old, with a your resting heart rate of 80, subtract 80 from 180 to get to 100. Then multiply that number by .60 -- so in this example, that would be 60. Then add the resting heart rate back -- in this example, add 60 plus 80 to get to 140. This is the target heart rate for a 40 year old with a resting heart rate of 80. While exercising, check your pulse and see if you're close to that; if not, slow down or speed up the intensity of your workout to be within that ideal range.