Updated: July 29th, 2021

By now, your are a pro on heart rate training. You’ve calculated your maximum heart rate (MHR), you understand each zone and know how many beats per minute (BPM) is required to target different aspects of athletic prowess. But what you may not yet know, is that you’re resting heart rate is just as vital as your maximum – it signifies:

  • How stressed your body is
  • How well your body is recovering
  • and whether it is time to up the ante in training

How to measure Resting heart rate

Generally speaking, this measurement is taken first thing in the morning, before rolling out of bed. Although, if your training session is at night, then its worth checking your resting heart rate throughout the day too.

Here’s how to do it:

If you have an evening session, then lay down for 3 minutes and relax. Deep breathing and then proceed with the following steps:

  • Lay two fingers (remember no thumbs!) over a pulse spot on your wrist or under your jaw.
  • Count the amount of times your pulse pumps in 10 seconds.
  • Multiply that number by 6

Alternatively, most fitness watches calculate your heart rate for you, so check that if you don’t fancy an early morning counting session.

Man taking his pulse rate

What does an increased resting heart rate mean?

After measuring your RHR before getting up for a few days, you get a feel for an average figure. It can vary 1-3 BPM on an given day due to day-to-day stresses, your quality of sleep, the weather, many other factors. Even the stage of a woman’s menstrual cycle affects hear rate and body temperature, its worth being mindful of this – it would be worth using a menstruation tracking app alongside your training calendar).

However.

An increased RHR by 5-7 beats or higher (or 10% whichever is higher) indicates your body is in distress, and not fully recovered from your previous training session. It could be fatigued from your training intensity or perhaps a stressful week at work.

What’s an average RHR?

Not dissimilar to your MHR, it is a unique number for you; there’s no need to compare your result to someone else’s, yet some facts are:

  • The RHR average usually sits between 60-90 BPM.
  • Older people tend to have a lower RHR.
  • Women average 10 BPM higher (A smaller heart, biological requirement for more rest and menstruation can be the reasons for this).
  • Athletes can have RHR of 40 BPM.

Heart

How to improve your resting heart rate

With sufficient cardiovascular training, mixing up the training HR zones, plenty of rest, a healthy lifestyle maintaining a healthy weight. Over time your heart muscles become stronger. Each beat pumps an increasing amount of blood through your body so incidentally, your heart doesn’t need to work as hard; it can do the job with less beats – so it does. Therefore your resting heart rate also decreases.

Bradycardia

Regular, non athletic people with a RHR under 60 BPM falls into a category of ‘bradycardia’.
Bradycardia is a condition where your heart doesn’t pump enough oxygen-rich blood around the body; to your working muscles and vital organs – including the brain.

The Cleveland clinic state there is no need to be concerned if your RHR is lower than 60. It’s the case for most whilst asleep, the ageing adult and athletes. So unless you also have following symptoms associated with bradycardia:

  • Passing out
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Confusion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations
  • Chest pain
  • Lacking in energy

Then consulting your doctor would be wise.

How keeping track of your RHR optimises training

It wont be the first time you’ve heard this, but becoming fully rested for key training sessions is one of the most important aspects to optimising your performance. This way your body can tolerate increased intensity and training load to keep improving. Without proper rest and recovery, the body cannot adapt to the training your asking it to do; increasing likelihood of injury.

Monitoring your RHR following an intense session will give you an idea if the body is responding and recovering sufficiently. It also tell-tales the first sign of over training. Likewise will tell you if you’re sick, and when your at full health again; and exactly when its time to get back to training.

Polar heart rate monitor

On any given day your RHR can alter, we know that, so if you woke up today and found your RHR has increased by 15% – you’re sessions are not difficult, but you had a late night and didn’t eat much yesterday either. By noticing your RHR increase, you should respond accordingly.

Assist your body to recover. So instead of that zone 3 session you had planned, opt for a rest day or active recovery zone 1 effort instead. Because, by training hard, ignoring your bodies fatigue your only digging yourself a bigger hole, it will be a mountain to climb out of later.

On the other hand, if you measure your RHR daily, and its gradually started to rise over a period of several weeks, that is a sign of accumulated fatigue. Your body is likely to be running on reserves teetering on the edge of overtraining – this is the time to consider taking a recovery week.

You wont lose fitness. On the contrary; it will help you grow stronger and feel much much better.

rest in a tree

There we have it. You are now completely clued up on heart rate focused training. You know how hard to push, and just as vitally when to ease off and how. If you take note of everything we have been through, there there is no doubt your body is in good hands. And I’m sure you will really enjoy and thrive through your training programme.

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