How To Find Your Optimal Heart Rate For Weight Loss

Written by Jade Scipioni

I used to exercise like crazy. I'd work out at least once a day (sometimes twice), but despite all the time I was putting in and all the sweat pouring out, I wasn't seeing results.

But then I I tried wearing a heart rate monitor during a workout, and everything changed. Whether it was naiveté or resistance to changing up my own routine, I never even considered what role heart rate played in weight loss until I took a workout class where they were offered for free. I figured I had nothing to lose, so I strapped that bad boy on and got ready to move.

Before class started, the instructor told us that the goal was to get in the "red zone" on the monitor (aka the fat-burning zone) during high-interval sprints. "No problem," I figured. I was in shape, I knew what I was doing and as I scanned the rest of the class participants, I felt confident that not only would I reach the red zone, I'd blow everyone else out of the water.

Fast forward 45 minutes ... I'm the only one who hasn't made it into the red zone. The. Only. One. I was definitely sweating and felt like I was getting a good workout, but my heart rate monitor wasn't registering what I thought was me pushing myself. What had gone wrong?

"It's the best way to give you a visual feedback of where your heart rate is," says Jessica Kumari, owner of Orangetheory fitness in New York City. "I always compare them to the speedometer of a car. You can drive a car without one, but you have no way of knowing if you're driving too fast or too slow."

Even though I thought I'd been pushing myself during exercise, I had really been underperforming, causing my lack of results. So now I knew the red zone was where it was at optimal results, but how to figure out where that red zone was?

Here's how the National Academy of Sports Medicine breaks down your heart rate into the following training zones:

  • Zone One: 65-75% of maximum heart rate (HRmax). This is usually walking.
  • Zone Two: 76-85% HRmax. This is usually briskly walking or jogging.
  • Zone Three: 86-95% HRmax. This is all-out sprinting.

For optimal weight loss, NASM suggests exercising in zone three for 30-60 seconds at a time, then recovering in zone one ... also known as interval training. The reason this is the exercise sweet spot for most people is because after roughly 12 minutes in zone three, your body will achieve the "afterburn effect," or exercise post-oxygen consumption (EPOC). This means that the more intense the exercise, the more oxygen the body consumes afterward, sometimes up to 36 hours after. The more oxygen consumed, the more calories burned. And the more calories burned, the more fat lost.

"I love training in that zone. So, wearing a heart rate monitor is an added plus, providing that instant feedback as to when to push it harder or back it down a bit," says Mike Michalski, certified trainer and owner of Variant Fitness.

So next time you decide to upgrade your fitness game, consider a heart rate monitor, or at least take your heart rate into account. The gadgets aren't essential for every workout — or everyone — but if you're serious about working out (and losing weight), they may be helpful in turning up your "beat" at the gym.

Ready to learn more about how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE web class with nutrition expert Kelly LeVeque.

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