Making the Most of Heart Rate Monitors

Written by Raphael Konforti, RecSports Personal Training Program Assistant.  

What is a Heart Rate Monitor?

A heart rate monitor (HRM) is a tool used to give instantaneous feedback of one’s heart rate. A HRM is composed of two important pieces: a chest strap and a wrist monitor (watch). Some HRMs will even go beyond the simple heart rate monitoring and allow you to amass data from different workouts to track progress and intensity over time. The major advantage to wearing a HRM versus checking your pulse manually is seeing your heart rate change over different workouts and time. It is also a fairly accurate tool for measuring caloric expenditure. 

How Do I Use a Heart Rate Monitor?

The most useful aspect of a HRM is seeing how your body reacts to the stress (exercise) that you are putting it through. Using a HRM provides instant feedback so you will know if you are working hard enough or even too hard. In other words, this genius device enables you to be aware of your body's performance. But you might as well use it more effectively by implementing different heart rate training zones. 

The body has three basic energy systems that are determined by different heart rate zones. They are the aerobic, lactic acid and anaerobic (also referred to as ATP-PC) systems. Here is a breakdown of how long each system can last for and at what heart rate you will utilize them, keeping in mind there is always some overlap.

Energy Systems

Energy System

% of Max Heart Rate

Length of Energy System Sustainability


Under 70%


Lactic Acid


1-2 minutes


Above 85%

Under 20 seconds

Using a HRM to Improve Fitness Levels and Strength

A heart rate monitor will make your training more efficient and effective. Knowing your heart rate allows you to ensure you are training the proper energy system. For example, while training for a 5k you can monitor your heart rate and adjust your pace accordingly to stay in the aerobic system. Additionally, while training for shorter high intensity bursts of energy (like playing a down in football) you can see how quickly your heart rate rises and recovers. This information is vital because you can practice elevating your heart rate into the lactic acid system then monitor your heart rate to ensure a full heart rate recovery. Over time this will train your heart to recover faster and lead to better athletic performance. These techniques can be applied to a multitude of sports and activities with proper programming.

HRMs are also very useful for training in the gym. While training for strength or hypertrophy, track your heart rate during sets and then try programming cardio to match these numbers. Ideally if your goal is hypertrophy you would train your cardiovascular system to mimic the stress from lifting. An example would be doing 3 sets of 10 reps of squats with 90 seconds rest and tracking your heart rate right before and after the set. With this information, try matching these heart rates by using the same work to rest ratios and heart rates on a rower. The intensity as measured by heart rate should be mimicked for both the lifting and cardio. Training like this will make you more efficient at lifting and result in greater hypertrophy.

If you are interested in testing out a heart rate monitor and seeing what your VO2 Max (How efficient you are at cardio) is stop by the Training Center at Southwest Recreation Center for a free fitness assessment.


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