Triathletes Exercise Intensity and Heart Rate – Physical Activity Metrics for a Proper Workout

If you’re just starting out with working out or training for a sport, it’s important to understand the basics of how to assess your body’s condition and how it responds to physical activity.

This article provides an overview of exercise intensity and heart rate, and how these factors can impact your fitness goals.

How to Measure Exercise Intensity

When you exercise, are you working hard or hardly working? Exercising at the correct intensity can help you get the most out of your physical activity — making sure you’re not pushing too hard or too little. 

There are two basic ways to measure exercise intensity:

  • How you feel. Exercise intensity is a subjective measure of how hard physical activity feels to you while you’re doing it — your perceived exertion. Your perceived exertion level may be different from what someone else feels doing the same exercise. For example, what feels to you like a hard run can feel like an easy workout to someone who’s fitter.
  • Your heart rate. Your heart rate offers a more objective look at exercise intensity. In general, the higher your heart rate during physical activity, the higher the exercise intensity.

Perceived exertion is not always the same as your heart rate level. It varies depending on the person. This can be used as a general guide to help measure your level of exertion. Most people think they are working hard when their heart rate is higher than normal.

You can use either way of gauging exercise intensity. If you are interested in technology, you can use an activity tracker with a heart rate monitor to check your heart rate. If you are confident in your abilities to read your body and how hard you are working, then you probably don’t need a monitor.

Gauging Intensity by How You Feel

The following are some tips to help you determine how intense your workout is.

Moderate exercise intensity

Moderate activity feels somewhat hard. Here are clues that your exercise intensity is at a moderate level:

  • Your breathing quickens, but you’re not out of breath.
  • You develop a light sweat after about 10 minutes of activity.
  • You can carry on a conversation, but you can’t sing.

Vigorous exercise intensity

Vigorous activity feels challenging. Here are clues that your exercise intensity is at a vigorous level:

  • Your breathing is deep and rapid.
  • You develop a sweat after only a few minutes of activity.
  • You can’t say more than a few words without pausing for breath.

Overexerting yourself

Beware of pushing yourself too hard too often. If you can’t work out for as long as you planned, your exercise intensity is probably too high for your fitness level. Back off a bit and build intensity gradually.

Signs you are doing too much

As you exercise, you should be aware of your body’s response. Signs you are doing too much include:

  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • nausea (upset stomach) and vomiting (throwing up)
  • cold sweat
  • shortness of breath, making conversation difficult
  • exhaustion or unusual fatigue
  • feeling as if your heart is suddenly racing or pounding
  • any chest pain or pressure in your:
    • teeth
    • arm
    • jaw
    • ear
    • neck
    • between your shoulder blades

What to do

Stop and rest if you feel any of the above symptoms.

Gauging Intensity Using Your Heart Rate

round black smartwatch

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), your heart rate should be at 50 to 85 per cent of your maximum heart rate when you’re working out. Your heart rate should be at 50 to 85 per cent of the maximum when exercising, according to the AHA. The first step to using this method is finding out your maximum heart rate. This is the highest rate that your cardiovascular system can handle during physical activity.

The maximum heart rate that you can have is determined by subtracting your age from 220. For example, 220-45=175 The average maximum number of heartbeats per minute during exercise should be 180.

Your desired target heart rate zone is the level at which your heart is being exercised and conditioned but not overworked.

The American Heart Association generally recommends a target heart rate of:

This intensity level is appropriate if you’re just starting to get active or you’re trying to maintain your current level of fitness.

You should exercise at a vigorous intensity if you want to see heart health benefits. This level of exercise is 70% to 85% of your maximum heart rate.

If you’re not fit or you’re just beginning an exercise program, you should aim for the lower end of your target heart rate zone. Then, gradually build up the intensity. If you are healthy and want to exercise at a vigorous intensity, you should go for the higher end of the zone.

How to Determine Your Target Heart Rate Zone

Heart rate royalty free illustration

You can use an online calculator to determine your desired target heart rate zone. Or, you can do the maths yourself with this simple method. If you’re aiming for a target heart rate in the vigorous range of 70% to 85%, you can use the heart rate reserve (HRR) method to calculate it like this:

  • Subtract your age from 220 to get your maximum heart rate.
  • Calculate your resting heart rate by counting how many times your heart beats per minute when you are at rest, such as first thing in the morning. It’s usually somewhere between 60 and 100 beats per minute for the average adult.
  • Calculate your heart rate reserve (HRR) by subtracting your resting heart rate from your maximum heart rate.
  • Multiply your HRR by 0.7 (70%). Add your resting heart rate to this number.
  • Multiply your HRR by 0.85 (85%). Add your resting heart rate to this number.

Your average target heart rate zone for vigorous exercise intensity when using the HRR to calculate your heart rate is these two numbers. The ideal heart rate during vigorous exercise is between these two numbers.

Choosing your exercise intensity

How hard should you be exercising? The Department of Health and Human Services recommends these exercise guidelines for most healthy adults:

  • Aerobic activity. Get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity — such as brisk walking, swimming or mowing the lawn — or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity — such as running or aerobic dancing. You can also do a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. It’s best to do this over a week. You can achieve more health benefits if you ramp up your exercise to 300 minutes or more of moderate aerobic weekly activity.
    Even small amounts of physical activity are helpful, and accumulated activity throughout the day adds up to provide health benefits.
  • Strength training. Do strength training for all major muscle groups at least twice a week. Consider free weights, weight machines or activities that use your own body weight — such as rock climbing or heavy gardening. Or try squats, planks or lunges. Aim to do a single set of each exercise, using a weight or resistance level heavy enough to tire your muscles after about 12 to 15 repetitions.

To gain the most benefits from exercising, you should do so at a moderate or vigorous level. The more intense or longer your activity, the more calories you burn, which can help with weight loss.

Balance is still important. Working out too hard can lead to soreness, injury, and burnout. If you have never exercised before, start by working out at a low intensity. Gradually build up to moderate or vigorous intensity.

Consider your reasons for exercising. If you’re looking to improve your fitness, lose weight or train for a competition, there are a few things you can do to help you achieve your goals. The level of intensity at which you should exercise will be determined by your answer to this question.

How to Tell if You’re in the Zone

Smartphones show a heart function monitor. Mobile device screen monitors health. Concept of using technology to take care royalty free stock photo

How can you tell if you’re within your target heart rate zone? An activity tracker can be used to check your heart rate while you exercise.

Or use these steps to check your heart rate during exercise:

  • Stop briefly.
  • Take your pulse for 15 seconds. To check your pulse over your carotid artery, place your index and third fingers on your neck to the side of your windpipe. To check your pulse at your wrist, place two fingers between the bone and the tendon over your radial artery — which is located on the thumb side of your wrist.
  • Multiply this number by 4 to calculate your beats per minute.

Here’s an example: You stop exercising and take your pulse for 15 seconds, getting 37 beats. Multiply 37 by 4, to get 148. This means that if you are 45 years old, your target heart rate zone for vigorous exercise is between 146.5 and 160.75 beats per minute. If you’re not in your target heart rate zone, adjust your exercise intensity.

Reap the Rewards of Exercise Intensity

The best results from your workouts will come if you exercise at the appropriate intensity for your health and fitness goals. If you’re not feeling any exertion, you’re not working hard enough. Pick up the pace. If you’re worried that you’re pushing yourself too hard, back off a bit. If you’re concerned that your heart rate is too high, back off a bit.

How to Calculate Resting Heart Rate (and Why)

Your resting heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute when you are at rest. You can measure your resting heart rate by taking your pulse.

To calculate your resting heart rate, simply put two fingers on the inner side of the wrist (closer to the thumbs) or on the side of your throat (slightly below the jaw). The result will be your heart rate per minute. Multiply the number of beats your heart makes in 10 seconds by 6 to find your heart rate per minute.

Athlete’s Resting Heart Rate & Recovery

The body’s stress level affects heart rate by increasing the speed at which oxygen and nutrients are delivered to different parts of the body.

When a person is under more stress, their body has to work harder. The liver is responsible for processing the cortisol and adrenaline hormones, as well as repairing any damage and normalizing all processes. More blood needs to be pumped by the heart to deliver oxygen and nutrients. Which, logically, results in an increased resting heart rate.

Resting heart rate (Rest HR) is a useful metric for athletes to monitor their training stress and recovery, as well as time their training sessions for maximum performance.

What is normal rest HR and what does it mean when it is high?

The average person’s normal resting heart rate is somewhere between 60 and 80 beats per minute. Older people have lower heart rates, while women have higher heart rates, on average.

A person’s resting heart rate is typically a good indicator of how much stress the body is under. A higher resting heart rate means that the body is under more stress, whether it be from poor metabolic fitness, a stressful week at work, or just fatigue from a hard training session.

Resting Heart Rate of Athletes

This is because trained athletes are not normal people. Especially those practising endurance sports.

Bradycardia is a condition in which the heart doesn’t pump enough oxygen-rich blood to the internal organs, including the brain. A resting heart rate under 60 bpm is a potential indicator of this condition. Although a resting heart rate of 60 beats per minute may be considered normal for the general population, for a trained athlete, such a rate is normal due to the heart muscle becoming larger and more efficient, reducing the number of times it needs to beat. More blood is carried with each beat, so fewer beats are required.

How to Calculate Resting Heart Rate Baseline & Use It in Training

If you want to understand how well your body is recovering after a tough workout, the best way to do it is to monitor your resting heart rate every day. This can help you to prevent overtraining.

You should establish a baseline of your average RHR for the past 7 days first. To find your normal resting heart rate level, measure your heart rate every day for a week. The average resting heart rate can differ by up to three beats per minute depending on external factors such as stress levels, weather, and sleep quality.

Heavy deviations from the norm can be caused by things like being tired from a tough workout, not getting enough sleep, being dehydrated, sick, or having a stressful week at work. This can happen if the body is not 100% ready for the next key session.

When your resting heart rate returns to normal, this is a sign that your body has fully recovered.

Training Load

If your resting heart rate is higher than normal by more than 10%, you should take a rest day or do a very easy session in Zone 1.

If the measurement gradually climbs over several weeks, it’s a signal of fatigue that has built up over time.

Measuring how your heart reacts to exercise

Target Heart Rates

The target heart rate is a guideline which can help you stay in a safe exercise heart rate range. This will help you improve your cardiorespiratory fitness. This means your heart and lungs will become stronger. As your age increases, your target heart rate will decrease.

The target heart rate, also known as THR, is based on 60 to 80 per cent of a maximum heart rate. To figure out your THR, use the table on this page.

  • If you keep your heart rate in the lower range of the guideline, you will be able to exercise longer and have more weight loss benefits.
  • If you keep your heart rate in the higher range of the guideline, you will have better cardiorespiratory fitness.

If you are just starting an exercise routine, you may want to start out at 60 to 70 per cent of your THR. As you become fitter, you may want to progress to 70 to 80 per cent of your THR.

Certain medicines will lower your heart rate response. Be sure to talk with your doctor if you have any questions.

Age 60% 65% 70% 75% 80%
20 120 130 140 150 160
21 119 129 139 149 159
22 119 129 139 149 158
23 118 128 138 148 158
24 118 127 137 147 157
25 117 127 137 146 156
26 116 126 136 146 155
27 116 125 135 145 154
28 115 125 134 144 154
29 115 124 134 143 153
30 114 124 133 143 152
31 113 123 132 142 151
32 113 122 132 141 150
33 112 122 131 140 150
34 112 121 130 140 149
35 111 120 130 139 148
36 110 120 129 138 147
37 110 119 128 137 146
38 109 118 127 137 146
39 109 118 127 136 145
40 108 117 126 135 144
41 107 116 125 134 143
42 107 116 125 134 142
43 106 115 124 133 142
44 106 114 123 132 141
45 105 114 123 131 140
46 104 113 122 131 139
47 104 112 121 130 138
48 103 112 120 129 138
49 103 111 120 128 137
50 102 111 119 128 136
51 101 110 118 127 135
52 101 109 118 126 134
53 100 109 117 125 134
54 100 108 116 125 133
55 99 107 116 124 132
56 98 107 115 123 131
57 98 106 114 122 130
58 97 105 113 122 130
59 97 105 113 121 129
60 96 104 112 120 128
61 95 103 111 119 127
62 95 103 111 119 126
63 94 102 110 118 126
64 94 101 109 117 125
65 93 101 109 116 124
66 92 100 108 116 123
67 92 99 107 115 122
68 91 99 107 114 122
69 91 98 106 113 121
70 90 98 105 113 120
71 89 97 104 112 119
72 89 96 104 111 118
73 88 96 103 110 118
74 88 95 102 110 117
75 87 94 102 109 116
76 86 94 101 108 115
77 86 93 100 107 114
78 85 92 99 107
79 85 92 99 106
80 84 91 98 105














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