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Heart Rate Monitors: A Reason to Train

Training without a heart rate monitor is a bit like driving without a dashboard. You might see evidence of your speed as you pass trees, and evidence that your headlights are on, but having a direct connection to the input and output of your cardio engine takes all the guessing out of it. You may notice that you step up your training on an intellectual level as well as a physical level once you start to factor your heart rate into your workouts.

You have undoubtedly heard your Spinning® instructors talk about a percentage of your maximum heart rate (MHR) in class. Each of the Spinning Energy Zones™ comes with a suggested target heart rate. Spinning was right on the cutting edge of using heart rate monitors when the program was developed as a means of simple and immediate feedback as well as tracking individual fitness gains. It was the first group fitness program that put “training” into the workout so participants could see and measure their overall progress and train with purpose, rather than exercise out of sheer habit. 

Four reasons to use a heart rate monitor

1)     They are easy to use. Just strap it on and you will know exactly how many times in a minute your heart beats.

2)     Heart rate monitors help you discover and track changes in your fitness level. The heart rate is a real number, measurable and accurate, unlike tracking your perception of your effort.

Your heart rate not only reflects your fitness in exercise and during rest, but it also reflects your overall training regimen. It may indicate where you are not training enough, or are perhaps overtraining. 

4)     It is entertaining. Your long-term motivation will be enhanced.

How to select your heart rate monitor

Consider which features you'll really need when picking out your heart rate monitor. Many simple heart rate monitors factor in personal information regarding your weight, age, gender, etc., and will offer you a range to work in and suggest a number of calories burned after your workout. Take the estimated calories burned number with a grain of salt, but not with a calorie-dense meal to replace all those “calories burned” as they are often overstated.

Some transmit information to your computer so you can track your progress; others have GPS technology in them so you can track your distance. However, simple is great if you’re just starting out: If it is too complicated you might be too intimidated to just strap it on. Think about it: Do you really need a GPS in your Spinning studio?

How to use your heart rate monitor 

In order to understand your Spinning instructor’s instructions for working at a percentage of your maximum heart rate, you should calculate your numbers ahead of time. The most accurate way to know your MHR is to have it tested in a lab, though it can be costly and difficult to schedule, unless prescribed by a doctor. Dr. Felicia Greer, (retired professional cyclist, exercise physiologist at CSU-Fresno and owner of Pinnacle Training Systems) suggests that you just “keep it simple” when starting out. There are several formulas to help athletes and non-athletes discover their maximum heart rate, but the basic one is still applicable to the general population. “Just keep in mind,” she cautions, “that there could be a plus or minus 10 BPM error depending on the person.” She adds, “Maximum heart rate will be different depending on the exercise modality—running, swimming, and cycling, for example, will have different maximum heart rates.”

This basic formula calculates 220 minus your age (if you are male) and 226 minus your age (if you are female). This provides the maximum heart rate expected for your age and gender. Then you calculate different percentages to correspond with the Energy Zones that Spinning classes offer. You can find these calculations here and here

Maximum heart rate is not everything

Knowing your maximum heart rate (MHR) is just the beginning. Once you calculate your percentages, then you are given ranges to work within and Spinning provides definitions to the benefits of each of these ranges. The ceiling is called the lactate threshold, where you begin to work anaerobically. That has its place in the big picture, for sure, though many people think this is the goal of every workout and don’t feel satisfied unless they work in this zone every time. This is a problem for many fitness enthusiasts, as they aren’t effectively building their aerobic base. The floor is the aerobic threshold, the lower intensity heart rate that puts a slight demand on the cardiovascular system. This is where most people should be training much of the time.

Your resting heart rate (your heart rate while you sleep) can tell you a lot about your fitness gains as you continue on with the Spinning program and other exercise activities. As you build your aerobic base and condition your heart to be more efficient during exercise, it also becomes more efficient during rest. Your heart will beat fewer times in a minute to accomplish the same work.

Likewise, if you are overtraining your heart, it will be reflected in various symptoms including fatigue, a change in disposition and an increased resting heart rate.

For more information and some activities to help you learn about using your HRM in your training, check out Cori’s latest blogs on our Spinning Community Site!

Cori Parks



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