Ah here we are. Fully committed to exercising regularly. No one needs to talk us into it any more. We get it. Weíre doing it. We have the shoes, the sweats, the water bottle, the videos. Weíre getting out there and getting up a good sweat. And we feel — exhausted.
We are exhausted because we are overdoing it. We are overdoing it because we are determined to get as fit as we can as fast as we can. Weíre tired of being out of shape. We have goals. We have deadlines. We are determined.
But we need to ease up a little. Itís good to feel motivated, itís fine to have goals, itís great to commit to regular exercise, but we really need to work within our current fitness levels, and encourage gentle improvements. And the best monitor of your current fitness level is your ticker.
Your heart, your pump, gives you the single best meter for exercise. It will tell you whether youíre doing too much, if you learn to listen. If itís beating too fast, you should slow down. Too slow, you should speed up. You want to exercise within your ideal ďtarget heart rate range,Ē which is easy to find. The more fit you become, the harder you have to work to reach your target range. The more unfit you are, the harder you have to work to keep from exceeding your range.
When you overdo it, you wear yourself out. If you wear yourself out, youíre less likely to show up the next day, and you may actually do your heart and body more harm than good. Stay within the range, and youíll see steady improvements, greater fitness over time.
So how to find your target heart rate range, and learn to listen to your heart while youíre exercising?
Easy sneezy: First learn to take your own pulse. Pull out your body log and a pen. Find a watch or clock that counts seconds. Sit quietly for 5-10 minutes in perfect calm, not thinking about current news cycles or work or family stresses. Think about something that makes you feel relaxed. Pull out your watch. Place the first two fingers of your left hand under your left ear, then draw them straight down until they are tucked just under your jawbone. You should be able to feel your pulse. Fish around until you can. Look at your watch. You want to count the number of pulses within 10 seconds. So when the second hand hits 0, start counting pulses and keep counting until the second hand reaches 10. Take your pulse number and multiply by 6 to get your resting heart rate per minute. Write it down. This is the number that will improve over time if you exercise moderately and regularly. The lower the number the better.
(So, for example, when I started to exercise, I counted 15 pulses within 10 seconds. Multiply 15 by 6 and you get 90. My resting pulse rate was 90.)
Now, armed with this number, we can figure out your target heart rate range for exercise. Itís a simple formula:
220 – [your age] x .65 (for the low end of your heart rate) AND x .85 (for the high end of your heart rate).
(So, for example, Iím 43. 220-43 = 177 and 177 x .65 = 115 AND 177 x .85 = 150. So my target heart rate range for exercise is 115 – 150 beats per minute.)
There are more complex formulas used by athletes with super strong hearts, but for most of us, this formula works pretty well. To check my pulse while Iím exercising, I divide my target rates by 6, so I know the number for 10-second counts. At my age, I want to stay between 19 and 25 beats in 10 seconds.
When I first started exercising, it was no problem for me to climb up to 28 or 30 beats per 10 seconds during an aerobics class, or while circuit training. That was too intense. Not good for me. By checking my pulse regularly, I learned to regulate my exercise by how I feel. I could tell when I was working too hard and needed to pull back. It was a little hard on my ego to do that, but I learned to do it anyway. Sometimes I lose that ability and need to go back to checking my pulse regularly, stopping to count.
Of course you can buy equipment that will do the counting for you. Very comfortable heart rate monitors that beep at you when youíve gone over or under your target rate, helping you stay in the zone without slowing down to count. Theyíre swell devices, and interesting, if you can afford them. But if not, your two fingers and a second hand work just fine.
Keep track. Check your resting heart rate every month or so, and record it in your body log. As your heart gets stronger, it pumps harder, and needs fewer beats per minute to push your blood around your body. As your resting heart rate comes down, you know youíre growing more healthy. Itís a great measure of your progress. Way cooler than mere weight loss measures.