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Cardiovascular Exercise Principles

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How to monitor exercise intensity and heart zone
There are several ways to monitor the exercise intensity. The best way to test the intensity is to take your heart rate during the exercise, within the first 5 minutes of your cardiovascular exercise session and again just before the cool-down.

There are two ways in which you can check your heart rate during exercise. The most accurate one is to purchase a heart-rate monitor that you strap around your chest. It will give you feedback on a digital watch that tells you exactly what your heart rate is at a specific time in the exercise session.

The other way to obtain your heart rate is by palpating (feeling) either the carotid artery, the temporal artery, or the radial artery. The easiest site is either the carotid or the radial artery.

The carotid artery may be felt by gently placing your index finger on your neck, between the middle of your collar bone and jaw line. Palpating the radial artery is done by placing your index and middle finger on the underside and thumb-side of your wrist.

Taking your heart rate
When you're taking your heart rate you measure it in beats per minute (counting the number of beats for 60 seconds). For convenience, many people take their pulse for 6 seconds and multiply that number by 10, or simply add a 0 behind the number just obtained. So, if in 6 seconds you counted 12 beats, that would mean your heart rate was 120 beats per minute (bpm).

Although counting for 6 seconds is most convenient, keep in mind that the longer the time interval used, the more accurate the results will be. For example, counting your heart rate for 30 seconds and then multiplying that number by 2 will give a slightly more accurate reading than counting your heart rate for 15 seconds and multiplying by 4, or 10 seconds and multiplying by 6. What ever time interval you use, be consistent.

Heart Zone Training
How do you know if you are training too intensely or not intensely enough for what you want to achieve? This is where Heart Zone Training comes in. Maximum Heart Rate is 100% of your heart rate (the fastest your heart will beat). This is different for everyone. To use Heart Zone Training you must first determine your maximum heart rate (max HR).

You can determine your max HR one of two ways.

  • One way is to use the age predicted max HR formula, whereby you subtract your age from 220. So, if you are 40 years old, your predicted max HR would be 180 bpm.
  • The other method, which is much more accurate and more individualized, is actually having a medical or fitness professional administer a max HR test for you, which is usually done on a stationery bicycle or treadmill for several minutes and requires very hard work. Thus, only those cleared by a physician should do this test.

We do not explain how to administer this test because only trained professionals should do so.

Once you have determined your max HR, you will need to decide what zone you want to train at. There are five different training zones separated by 10% increments, each having different characteristics and benefits.

Healthy Heart Training Zone
The first zone is called the Healthy Heart Zone. This is 50-60% of your max HR. This is the easiest and most comfortable zone within which to train and is the one that is best for people who are just starting an exercise program or have low functional capacity.

Those of you who are walkers most likely train at this zone. Although this zone has been criticized for not burning enough total calories, and for not being intense enough to get great cardiorespiratory benefits, it has been shown to help decrease body fat, blood pressure and cholesterol. It also decreases the risk of degenerative diseases and has a low risk of injury. In this zone, 10% of carbohydrates are "burned" (used as energy), 5% of protein is burned and a whopping 85% of fat is burned.

Fitness Training Zone
The next zone is the Fitness Zone, which is 60-70% of your max HR. Once again, 85% of your calories burned in this zone are fats, 5% are proteins and 10% are carbohydrates.

Studies have shown that in this zone you can condition your fat mobilization (getting fat out of your cells) while conditioning your fat transportation (getting fat to muscles). Thus, in this zone, you are training your fat cells to increase the rate of fat release and training your muscles to burn fat.

Therefore, the benefits of this zone are not only the same as the healthy heart zone (training at 50-60%) but you are now slightly increasing the total number of calories burned and provide a little more cardiorespiratory benefits. You burn more total calories at this zone simply because it is more intense.




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