The Case for Measuring Your Workout the OG Way—With Your Heart Rate

Photo: Getty Images/ sanjeri
Techy options for tracking your fitness progress may very well now outnumber even the menu options for the ever-versatile avocado. But the truth is, you could totally ditch every piece of gear, save for one all-star accessory you were born with: your heartbeat. Ask a handful of coaches and industry pros, and they might tell you that the old-school method could become your new fave way to stay in touch with your progress.

“Heart-rate training gives you objective guidance on whether you’re on the right track, pushing too hard or taking it too easy,” Janet Hamilton, an Atlanta-based running coach recently told The Washington Post pieceRather than heading out to run a specific number of miles, or sprinting in a SoulCycle class for a certain number of minutes, she recommends shooting for heart rates within your sweat sesh that fall within specific ranges of your maximum heart rate (MHR), or the number of times your heart beats per minute when it's working the hardest. Why? Because what you get out of a certain workout really depends on your effort level, or how close you come to reaching a super-high heart rate.

For example, if you hop on the elliptical (à la Jennifer Aniston), and stay within 60 to 70 percent of your personal MHR zone for 20 minutes, you would burn calories and improve your cardiovascular fitness. If you dialed that effort up to 70 to 90 percent for 20 to 90 minutes though, the exercise would up your endurance levels, according to a chart created by Runner's World Contributing Editor Scott Douglas that appears in The Washington Post. So depending on your specific goals on any given day, you could tailor your workout to meet them...with just your heart rate.

Depending on your specific goals on any given day, you could tailor your workout to meet them...with just your heart rate.

To do this, you'll first need to calculate your particular max. If you own a wearable (and didn't give it to a friend after realizing all you really need is your trusty old ticker), this step will already be done for you. But to do it the old-school way, use an online calculator. Or, The Mayo Clinic reports that you can get a general idea of where you land MHR-wise by subtracting your age from 220 (it won't be on-the-nose accurate though, Hamilton notes). Then, simply use Douglas' handy guide to calculate where your rate needs to be in your go-to exercises.

This method works for every type of sweat sesh you can think of except HIIT, which Douglas says focuses on smaller bouts of effort that just won't give you the time to check in with your heart rate. But for every other exercise, this is a method you just can't, *ahem*, beat.

If a HIIT workout is what you seek, steal Jenna Dewan's quick circuit, or these six moves that will up your happiness level

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