It’s not always about working yourself to the max. Opting for a low heart-rate workout can build strength and endurance and help you reach your fitness goals.
Pushing ourselves to the max and leaving the gym dripping with sweat is, for many of us, a sign that we’ve got the most out of a training session. But going full pelt every time we exercise wears us out and also leaves us at risk of overworking and developing injuries.
Instead, more and more athletes are clasping on their fitness watches and heart rate monitors and embracing lower intensity, low heart-rate workouts. This form of exercise forces the body to move at a gentler pace that’s not only kinder to our joints but can also increase our endurance and help us realise our fitness goals.
“I started adding in low heart-rate training a couple of years ago, and the benefits have been huge,” says Chloe Whylie, a trainer at Fiit.“These sessions allow me to get continuous blood flow around my body, which then allows me to recover quicker from heavy lifting.
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“It also means I walk into the gym feeling fresher, both mentally as well as physically. This is how I am able to have higher-quality sessions.”
So, how do you calculate what a low heart rate is for you? And how can you keep your beats per minute low while doing cardio exercises like running? We asked Whylie for her tips and tricks on how to get the most out of low heart-rate workouts.
Why does heart rate matter?
Put simply, your heart rate is an excellent indicator of how hard you’re working while exercising, as well as a good benchmark of your overall fitness.
Your heart rate, or pulse, is measured in beats per minute (bpm). When you’re resting, your heart rate slows down, and when you’re active, especially if you’re doing some form of cardio exercise, your heart rate increases so blood can circulate around your body more quickly and give your muscles the oxygen and nutrients it needs to keep going.
Your heart rate is determined by a wide range of factors, including age, gender and genetics, meaning everyone’s average bpm is different. In fact, your resting heart rate is a really good indicator of your overall fitness, with most healthy adults having a resting heart rate of under 90 bpm.
What are heart rate zones?
There are five heart-rate zones based on the intensity of your work out and they’re calculated based on your own personal maximum heart rate. Each heart rate zone is a percentage of your maximum heart rate.
For example, if you’re exercising in heart rate zone 1, you’ll be working out at 50%-60% of your maximum heart rate; zone 2 is 60%-70% of your maximum heart rate; zone 3 is 70%-80%; zone 4 is 80%-90%; and zone 5 is 90%-100%.
You can use online heart rate trackers or your fitness watch/tracker to calculate your maximum heart rate, which is different for everyone.
When you’re doing low heart-rate training the idea is to keep your heart rate within zones 1 or 2. You can measure this on any good fitness watch or on a dedicated HRM strap. Or, simply keep your heart rate low by doing a lower-intensity workout like yoga or pilates.
The different heart rate zones affect different areas of fitness – aerobic and anaerobic – and a good workout plan will usually include exercise within different zones.
What are the benefits of exercising at a lower heart rate?
Adding low heart-rate training into your workout routine can help preserve your health and overall fitness. “Low heart-rate training will help you take some strain off your body and prevent you from overtraining. Overtraining is when we pick up injuries due to our body holding so much tension,” says Whylie.
For people who do lots of cardio exercise, such as runners, performing some of your runs at a low heart rate can help improve your endurance by building up aerobic capacity so your body grows more accustomed to long-term aerobic exercise.
“If you are like me, and you’re someone who wants to keep your body moving as much as possible, low heart-rate workouts are the smart way to do so,” says Whylie. “It has also helped me build a stronger aerobic system, which is ideal for my performance as an athlete.”
How can I lower my heart rate during a workout?
You can maintain a lower heart rate during workouts by moving at a slower, gentler pace. If you’re running and your heart rate starts to spike, slowing down to a walk can drop it back down or taking a few deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which will help slow your heart rate down, says Whylie.
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How to incorporate low heart workouts into your routine
A good exercise plan should include a mixture of workouts in all the different heart-rate zones. “A lot of people have already built the habit of going to the gym because they know the benefits. To make those benefits greater, it’s time to remove at least one of those high-impact sessions a week and swap it for low-intensity sessions,” says Whylie.
“In this session, you want to be working around the 60-70% range. I would suggest you first add this session the day after an epic all-out training session. No pain, no gain is the wrong mentality if you truly want to progress and make real gains.”
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