heart health

Zone Training: The Ultimate Heart Health Hack

As the weather is improving, and we are all able to get out and workout more, it is important that we remember we’ve been locked up, and our heart muscle can weaken like any other muscle. Heart rate zones are a great way to improve your heart health and reach those goals. I often use them to train for 5ks, sprint tris, and marathons, in spin class, at orange theory fitness, and the possibilities go on and on endlessly.

UNDERSTANDING YOUR HEART: the muscle

How many of you thought that your heart was an organ? Then how could it possibly be a muscle? Well it is BOTH! Surprised? It is actually referred to as a muscular organ. The heart muscle works just like any other muscle, and as such suffers from the same downfalls. Muscles respond to the stresses placed upon them.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? If you sit around all day, not stressing the heart at all, it will become slower, weaker, and not as resilient. Conversely, if you just go sprint as fast as you can, as hard as you can too soon, you run the risk of over-stressing your heart and causing damage or hindering your ability to maintain the workout. Finding the place to challenge your heart, without overexertion is that “sweet spot”, for optimal health and a long life.

Medical illustration of the atriums and various parts of the heart muscle displayed in red and blue

Here is where it gets technical: According to the American Heart Association, the heart beats an average of 109,000 times per day. PER. DAY! For the average American that is about 76 times per minute.
All in all, your heart circulates roughly 5-6 quarts of blood per minute, or about 2,000 gallons of blood each and every day. How do you challenge yourself to improve your heart health in a safe way? Elevate its beats per minute (bpm), over a set period of time for stronger, faster, and more resilient heart health.

TIPS & TRICKS FOR UNDERSTANDING HEART HEALTH:

The following heart health terms and phrases will be helpful references for you throughout this article. Understanding the different methods of measuring your heart rate and how different activities can affect it is key!

HEART RATE DEFINITION: the number of times your heart beats per minute

RESTING HEART RATE DEFINITION: the number of heart beats per minute when you are at rest. This is best measured when you first wake up in the morning, without an alarm.

TARGET HEART RATE DEFINITION: the minimum number of heart beats in a given period of time. Usually used to attain a certain goal (see interval training below).

MAX HEART RATE DEFINITION: the maximum number of beats made by your heart in a 1 minute time period. Calculate this by doing 220-(your age).

Heart rate is directly related to the intensity of your exercise. With an increase in the intensity of your workout, comes an increase in your heart rate. The harder you push, the faster your little heart pumps away.

How fast the heart pumps (aka how many beats per minute) is dependent upon a variety of characteristics including fitness level, age, and the amount of effort required by your specific exercise. Every individual will have a different maximum heart rate.

GET IN YOUR HEART HEALTH ZONE

Oftentimes we think “I’m doing enough”, at the beginning, but then you don’t see the results you want fast enough, so next time you kill yourself at the gym. GUESS WHAT? Now you are so exhausted, sore, and tired that you have no energy left to keep going with throughout the week. Quickly things spiral and you have given up on your goals entirely before you know it. Sound familiar? Simple solution incoming!

Heart rate zone training, utilizing the Karvonen formula, can change your life by improving your heart health; it can even extend the length of your life when used correctly.

Measure your heart rate and find the heart rate zones that you need to work in, in order to achieve maximum calorie burn that remains in balance with your effort and energy level.

Example:

First, figure your expected maximum heart rate for your age. Simply take 220, subtract your age, so if you are 40 years old your max is 180. The variance, or standard deviation allowed is +/- 10 to 12 beats per minute. Thus the actual maximal heart rate for this individual could be expected to fall within the range of 168-192 bpm.
Second, multiply that answer, by your exercise intensity number. For this example we will use .65 to get 65% intensity.
168 x .65 = 109.2 & 192 x .65 = 124.8
Roughly 109-125bpm is the maximum heart rate zone you are targeting.
MY RECOMMENDATION: If the workout calls for an extended time of movement, 30 minutes to 2 hours, consider this a “conversational workout”. What I mean by this is you should be able to say a sentence or two without losing your breath throughout the workout. The heart rate zone, or intensity level, that you are shooting for is 80%. Try to do these types of long duration exercises, 2-3 times per week.

HOW READY ARE YOU TO BEGIN?

OVERALL AND HEART HEALTH CHALLENGE

I hope by now you have been able to try out the pelvic yoga positions and stretches I have available on my YouTube channel. Have you found the right modifications for your body? I challenge you to build those into a workout routine, or go for a run on the nicest day this week and utilize your new heart health training knowledge. Try it out, you’ll still be able to use the toilet tomorrow, I promise!

It is super important to add in things to challenge yourself to maintain and improve your heart health! A great example of this is interval training. Interval training can be done 2-3 times per week. You can do this type of workout for 20-30 minutes at a time, with a rest-to-work ratio that is 3-5 minutes of work, with equal amounts of rest.

MORE IMPORTANTLY…

I want you to be rigid on this one point, if nothing else. DO NOT OVER DO IT!! These heart rate zones are based on your body’s capabilities and current heart health. Weak self-talk during an exercise makes you push hard, push harder, push harder until, guess what ALWAYS happens? Burnout, fatigue, even injuries!

Remember, as you approach your workouts to integrate your new heart health skill, heart rate zone training. This will allow you to reach your goals safely and efficiently.

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