Cardio can feel almost torturous, especially when you've committed time and energy to sprinting on the treadmill four or five times every week without any visible progress to speak of.
But pushing yourself to the limit is tricky. If you under-perform, you're definitely not going to see the results you're looking for. If you overexert yourself, you put your body at risk for injury. So how can you identify the happy medium for your personal endurance level?
Aqib Rashid said the easiest and most effective way to gauge the intensity of your workout is through heart rate interval training.
Heart rate (HR) interval training is the measurement and monitoring of your heart rate during exercise in order to yield specific results.
"Heart rate training is a method of exercise in which you leverage your heart's functional response as an indication of exercise intensity," the founder of the technology-driven personal training facility and luxury fitness lounge, GHOST told INSIDER."Rather than relying on an external performance benchmark (e.g. running speed, number of reps etc), exercise intensity is set based on 'target' heart rate zones."
Heart rate training might sound like a mouthful to the fitness novice, but the technique is pretty straightforward.
Resting heart rate, Dr. Robert Segal, co-founder of LabFinder.com told INSIDER, is the number of beats per minute (bpm) your heart pumps when it's at rest (i.e. when you first wake up in the morning, or right before engaging in any physical activity). The normal baseline for adults falls anywhere between 60 to 100 bpm, while the average athletes' baseline is between 40 to 60 bpm.
Once you've identified your RHR, you can work with a trainer or doctor to figure out which heart rate zone is going to be ideal for your fitness goals.
The second part of heart rate training is becoming familiar with the five heart rate zones, which, Segal explained, are the levels of exertion that intensify from your RHR, to your MHR, or maximum heart rate. According to Active's Target Heart Rate Calculator, you can calculate your MHR by subtracting your age from 220.
Each heart rate zone represents a percentage of your MHR, Dr Joel French, Ph.D, senior director of research, fitness and wellness at Orangetheory Fitness explained. "Training in zones 3, 4, 5 have the biggest impact which is why interval training is so effective," while "zones 1-2 would be your marathon pace, while 4,5 are short sprints during interval training."
So the heart rate zones of marathon runners, who need to sustain their endurance levels for long periods of time, are going to look a little different than, say, the heart rate zones of a sprinter, who runs at an extremely fast pace for shorter periods of time.
"By establishing different zones of training, an athlete can better capitalise on aerobic/anaerobic training thresholds as well as regulate training intensity by goal," such as peak performance, or fat loss, Segal said.
The most accurate way to track your heart rate throughout your workouts is via wearable tech.
The best way to train around your heart rate, Segal told INSIDER, is to use either a chest strap or other wearable fitness trackers like the Fitbit HR, Apple Watch or Garmin Forerunner, as these accessories are made with advanced technology that track your bpm, among other details, and uploads the information to your phone or app. But you don't necessarily need a fitness tracker to practice this technique.
"You can also palpate (feel) your HR at your wrist, neck, etc. to determine your rate," French said. "Simply stop your exercise for 15 seconds, count the number of beats and multiply by four to get your HR in beats/min."
If you do choose to rely on a fitness tracker, Rashid warned that these devices are not perfect, and their readings aren't necessarily as precise as the medical instruments and tests your physician can perform.
"The main purpose in using HR as a barometer for exercise is observance of the overall trends of your heart rate- for which a wearable device is very helpful," he told INSIDER. "So as much as we all love data, try not to focus on the number itself. Instead challenge yourself to simply improve on your current level as assessed by the device or your hand."
When you're trying to achieve a very specific goal, it can be hard to reign yourself in before pushing your body too hard. Through heart rate training, you become more aware of your body, and the cues it initiates when something doesn't feel right.
"This goes for both elite athletes and those new to fitness," Rashid told INSIDER. "Often times athletes have a difficult time lowering the intensity of their training, which is essential to a balanced programme. Similarly, individuals who may not be used to intense training find it challenging to push themselves to higher levels of exertion."
In other words, keeping a close eye on your heart rate is a key indicator of when to speed up, and when to slow down.
Of course, heart rate training offers a slew of physical benefits as well, such as improving your VO2 max. In case you aren't familiar, your VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen you can use during a workout. What's more, French said it's the number one determinant of your aerobic endurance, and overall health.
Figuring out your VO2 max, in combination with your RHR and MHR, you'll be able to narrow down which heart rate training zones to start in, and track your progress accordingly based on how much endurance you can handle overtime.
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