Resting Heart Rate

Measuring heart rate at rest can provide a basic yet useful indicator of an overall change in aerobic fitness over time.

Performing this test:

  • Test should not be performed before commencement of strenuous exercise
  • Subject sits in a resting position for no less than 5 minutes and preferably up to 10 minutes to allow the body to settle and the heart rate to slow naturally
  • Subject’s pulse is taken, with the total number of heart beats counted within a 60-second duration
  • A heart rate monitor may be used, however the subject should still remain at rest for the duration of the test with the result being the heart rate monitored at the end of the test period.

Interpreting the Results:

  • Resting heart rate is affected slightly by both age and sex, however based on averages:
    • A rate greater 78 beats per minute, may indicate poor aerobic fitness.
    • A rate between 70 and 78 beats per minute, may indicate the population average for aerobic fitness.
    • A rate between 66 and 71 beats per minute, may indicate above average aerobic fitness.
    • A rate between 61 and 65 beats per minute, may indicate good aerobic fitness.
    • A rate between 56 and 60 beats per minute, may indicate an excellent level of aerobic fitness.
    • A rate between 49 and 55 beats per minute, may indicate an athlete’s level of aerobic fitness.

Why do this test?

  • Lower heart rate averages can mean that the heart has become more efficient at pumping blood by satisfying the body’s oxygenation requirements with fewer yet stronger heartbeats.
  • Using long term averages, an overall picture of an individual’s aerobic fitness can identify trends that can indicate whether training has been effective in terms of the  individual’s level of fitness.
  • A long term downward trend in heart rate measurements indicates that aerobic fitness is improving, and can mean that training is effective.
  • A long term plateau might indicate that either the training or the individual’s application of the training has not been effective.
  • A long term upward trend might indicate that the individual’s training is being neglected, or that their may be a medical issue to resolve, such as asthma or smoking for example.
  • Abnormally low or high heart rates can be indicators of an underlying medical issue which might require a modification to training approaches.

Things I like about this test:

  • It’s very simple to do, and encourages the individual to take a moment for absolute rest. This can be particularly effective in helping to achieve a calm and focussed state of mind prior to heavy exertion, such as at an event, or simply to get the most out of a workout.
  • Very little equipment needs to be used. At a minimum, a clock or a stopwatch. At most, a heart rate monitor.
  • It’s easy to do the test on your own.
  • Done properly with measurements taken and interpreted over a long period of time, small problems with individual measurements will not impact too heavily on the overall result.

Things I dislike about this test:

  • Resting heart rate also indicates an individual’s present state of relaxation, and can therefore fluctuate many times within a short period of time.
  • Measurements can be influenced by feelings of anxiety and stress.
  • Meditation and relaxation techniques can manipulate the results to be artificially low.
  • Shallow breathing into the chest only can result in rapid breathing and result in higher measurements, falsely resulting in a poorer picture of overall aerobic fitness.
  • The results can be very easily misinterpreted. Average measurements taken over months are required to see real results, and daily or weekly measurements can be misleading if accepted on their own.

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