How to Use Heart Rate During A Workout

Learn how to measure your heart rate during a workout, how to set heart rate zones, and how your heart rate should feel during exercise.

Ben Greenfield
6-minute read
Episode #31

It’s pretty likely that when you climb a flight of stairs, see someone you really like, or hear the rollicking tunes of the Get-Fit Guy podcast, you experience a rise in heart rate. Since the heart is responsible for delivering blood to active parts of your body, that makes sense. After all, if you ever need to break into dance, run from a lion, or just get very psyched up to write that fourth quarter report, the active parts of your body need oxygen and nutrients. But it can be pretty confusing to actually know what your heart rate should be when you exercise and what heart rate will give you the most benefit during a workout. So in this article, you’ll learn how to measure your heart rate during a workout, how to set heart rate zones, and how your heart rate should feel during exercise. We’ll also solve a heart rate mystery from a Get-Fit Guy reader.

This episode is sponsored by Audible. You can download part one for free or choose from one of 75,000 other titles by signing up for a 14 day trial membership at http://www.audiblepodcast.com/getfit, where you will receive a free audiobook of your choice.

How to Measure Heart Rate During Exercise

Of course, it would be useless for you to know which heart rate zones will help you get better fitness results if you don’t know how to measure your heart rate in the first place. So here are three quick and dirty methods to measure heart rate during exercise:

#1: Take your pulse. This old-school method involves placing your fingers on the carotid artery that runs down the front-side of your neck or the radial artery on the inside of your wrist, and counting how many times you feel your heart beat in 6, 10, 15, 30 or 60 seconds. Frankly, this method is inconvenient, and it can be easy to miss heart beats. But if you’re technology deficient, it’s one way to go.

#2: Use a heart rate monitor. A heart rate monitor has two components: a strap that goes around your chest and a monitor that looks just like a watch which you wear on your wrist. The strap transmits your heart rate to the watch, and…voila! Your heart rate is displayed without you having to do any messy counting. And don’t worry too much if the heart rate on your monitor occasionally disappears or speeds up to 300 beats per minute. In most cases, that is technical difficulty and can often be remedied by ensuring that the skin under the chest strap is moistened with sweat, water, or an electrical conducting gel. But just in case there is something medically related happening with your heart, you may want to read the House Call Doctor’s article “Which Tests Diagnose Heart Problems?

#3: Use a piece of cardio equipment. Most cardio machines in gyms these days have silver-colored handles or bars you can hold on to which will record your heart rate. They’re slightly less convenient than a heart rate monitor, but usually more convenient than taking your pulse.

Whichever method you choose, when you first begin tracking your heart rate, I’d recommend you do it a lot. Eventually, you’ll learn to associate how your intensity, breathing, and muscles feel at each heart rate, at which point you can begin to pay less attention to heart rate, and more attention to nature, your favorite TV show, or your exercise companions.


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.