Thursday, May 5, 2011

The trouble with normal...

Nicole asked what a normal heart rate was. Strangely enough heart rates vary so much that the range considered 'normal' is huge. In most people anything from 60 to 100 could be normal - and if you are fit then even lower, down into the 40's is not just normal but good. But being higher than 60 doesn't mean you are unfit - it might just be normal for you.

Is it bad to have a resting heart rate of, say, 95? Not necessarily - it depends on what your maximum heart rate is. You may have a high maximum heart rate as well - in which case the difference between your resting heart rate and your maximum heart rate (known as your heart rate reserve) could be the same as someone with a resting heart rate of 60.

So why are doctors always taking your pulse if virtually any value can be considered normal? Because changes to your resting heart rate are a very good indicator of potential problems. That's why hospitals track your pulse rate. It's not the value that matters so much as changes to the value. They can indicate something is wrong before you may be aware of it.

In fact some athletes take their resting pulse rate every morning (best immediately after you wake up unless you have a loud and startling alarm clock!). Even small increases to this value are one of the most reliable warning signs of overtraining.

Some people also get very into heart rate training which involves carefully monitoring your heart rate and keeping it within particular ranges for different exercises. Endurance training for example is best done well within the aerobic zone which is around 75% of maximum heart rate. Most people actually need to slow down in order to do this. You can buy chest strap heart rate monitors that send a signal to a wrist watch pretty cheaply these days. Here's an article by Mark Allen on how heart rate training influenced him. Mark Allen is the six times Ironman champion, and (thanks Wikipedia) a biology graduate from UC San Diego.

And a few previous posts you may be interested in checking out:

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