Mar 182012

Exertion is necessary when exercising. Breaking a sweat is good. Over-exertion, on the other hand, especially for beginners, leads to more than just injury. Typically, it’s one of the primary reasons people quit. Unfortunately, they don’t realize it. This is partially because they don’t know how to measure effort and when highly motivated, the tendency of human nature is to over-do it.

How do you know how much effort is enough and how much is excessive? Using a heart rate monitor or “effort-based” training are tools to help guide you and increase your awareness of effort, be it low (EASY), moderate (COMFORTABLE) or high (INTENSE). Heart rate or “effort-based” training is at the foundation of long term exercising. This, done consistently, leads to life-style changes and the attainment of your personal goals.

Guidelines listed are for Women’s Clinic participants or anyone starting an exercise program or returning from an extended lay-off. Let’s break up the exercise session into three parts. If going by effort, it’s easy, comfortable, then easy. As mentioned, beginners generally don’t truly understand what easy or comfortable feels like. Their tendency is intense right out of the chute. Stopping to manually take your heart rate is an option. Using a heart rate monitor, however, provides immediate, objective feedback and removes the guess work. Plus, there’s no stopping to check your HR. You simply glance at your monitor.

Many heart rate monitors apply the 220 minus your age formula and instruct users to program in their birthday. The unit then displays where the user is within a 65-85% range, with optional visual or audible alerts when under or over the target range. For the Women’s Clinic and most beginners I work with, a 60-80% range is suggested, with 85% being a red flag for over-doing it. Most heart rate monitors allow a manual adjustment to personalize your target HR range.

Warm-up Phase: 60-65% (Effort feels EASY)
Aerobic Conditioning Phase: 65-80% (Effort feels COMFORTABLE but more of an effort than EASY)
Cool-down Phase: 60-65% (Effort feels EASY)

HINT! If your effort is too hard, or you’re not having fun, SLOW down!

Additional beginner guidelines during Aerobic Conditioning (middle) Phase:

Less fit people:
“Error on the Conservative” Try not to go above 75%, especially in the first 6 weeks. You’ll see this reflected in your homework.

Moderately fit people:
“Generally” okay to go up to 80%.

Chronically fit people:
Occasionally okay to “gradually” progress up to 85%, but do this towards the “end” of the Aerobic Conditioning phase, not during the “entire” phase.

Generally, be aware that it’s a bit hectic the first week of HR checks but we get through it and it gets easier. So hang in there, respect your group leaders (especially the big groups) and do your best. Read through this information a few times so you know what to expect. You are being given a tool to help you exercise at the pace that’s right for you. Remember my comment on the first night, you’re here for one reason or another, but “nobody here is training to qualify for the Olympic Trails.” Although a few of you may be returning, most of you are still building your fitness base. There is no need to exceed the guidelines. Consistency is the key to your success.


Some drugs raise heart rate and some lower it. Medications may also influence hydration levels which can affect heart rate. If you are on medications and are not sure what effect they may have on your exercise heart rate, please contact your physician and be inquisitive. Let the doctor know your exercise plans and concerns regarding medicine use and heart rate guidelines. How does the medicine you are taking affect heart rate during exercise and what precautions should you take?

Remember, we’re aiming for an increased awareness of the importance of starting EASY (Warm-up Phase), staying Comfortable (Aerobic Conditioning Phase), and ending EASY (Cool-down Phase). Begin to associate “effort” (what it FEELS like) with your HR numbers, so that eventually you KNOW your effort and trust it.

Click the following links for more on Using Heart Rate as Your Exercise Guideline:

Heart Rate Formula

Conversation Pace

History of Taking Heart Rates

Your True Resting Heart Rate

Three Stages of Aerobic Fitness

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