Cardio at 80% of heart rate and intensity levels...Help!

  • I've just started the program and still trying to figure out the details. Had a cardio session today but I'm not sure if I'm doing it right.

    Was maintaining my HR at 80% of max on the eliptical machine for most of my workout. But I was wondering if this is what I'm supposed to be doing. As I've been working out before the challenge doing lots of cardio, I don't really feel like I'm working out at an intensity of 9 when my HR is at 80%. Should I up this and shoot through my HR? I only really feel it at 90% of max. I did finish off with a 10 for sure as
    I wanted to die for the last minute....but for the rest of the workout I'm not sure how I should be doing it.

    Can anyone tell me which I should follow HR or perceived intensity?

    Confused WN

  • BPM(bpm) can be deceiving.  Your BPM can vary at different times of the day.  Follow how you feel and use everything else as a guide.

    However,  It can be easy to stop challenging ourselves(fall into a routine), so if you have been doing cardio in the relatively same time period every day and your BPM has been 158 right after your 9 for several sessions, then a couple of sessions in a row your BPM is 150, it might be time to challenge yourself and re-invigorate.

  • I would say that the first two intensity level rounds for lack of a better term will not be nearly as intense as the last two, however, start at a level that you might have to reduce because you simply can't keep up instead of starting too low and not getting intense enough.  

    Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right ~ Henry Ford

    Michelle Simpson ~2009 Body-for-LIFE Champion 46+ Catagory

  • You sound like you are really in tune with the your own gauge of intensity, which is great! Most people don't "get it" the way I think you already do. I think it's great to use that "feeling" of intensity to determine how hard to push, but it's also helpful to have some solid numbers to measure. I use HR with my clients in order to monitor their intensity. I take them through a range (as long as they are typically healthy with no real major metabolic or heart problems) that ranges from 64-94% of their Max Heart Rate. I also try to get up to 94% of my Max Heart Rate during my own workouts. As a trainer, it's important for me to work my clients intensely, but also safely. I definitely use the Max Heart Rate (220-age) as a cutoff point. If I see them getting within 1 or 2 bpm of their MHR I back it way down fast to bring their heart rate back down.

    Of course it varies according to each individual person too though. Even though it's pretty rare, I've had people who are working at 90% of their MHR and are still able to talk.  That's not the case with most people. They just have a high heart rate, and chances are it might be hereditary. That is pretty rare, but it does happen.

    So I say use both. It sounds like you don't feel like you are pushing yourself hard enough. I would shoot for closer to 94% of your MHR for your high points. After the first interval, you'll notice as Michelle mentioned, that your heart rate will climb faster with each corresponding interval, because you're becoming more winded with each interval.   Pay attention to how you feel too. If you start seeing spots or feel dizzy, then back it down. It's definitely a combination of using both heart rate and also your rate of perceived exertion if you want to get the most results possible from your workouts.

    On a side note, the cool thing about monitoring your heart rate is how much you learn about your progress. When I first started BFL I would get to 94% MHR by running at 5.5 mph. Now it takes 8.5 mph to get me to my high point and sometimes 9 mph..and I'm a shorty! Besides that you'll also notice that over time your Recovery Heart Rate (the ability to bring your heart rate back down during the "low points") also improves. You're able to recover more quickly. I love teaching people how they can control their heart rate just by the way they breathe.

    If you ARE interested in using heart rate and don't have one already, I highly recommend buying a Polar heart rate monitor that wraps around your ribcage and is compatible with most every brand of cardio exercise that you aren't fumbling with the crappy hand things on the machine. Then you can see your heart rate every single second while you work out. It's pretty eye opening. You'll be able to see your anaerobic threshold increase right before your eyes as you continue doing HIIT and will also see how your breathing affects your heart rate during recovery just by taking really slow deep breathes. It really is cool. My clients always get a kick out of watching the bpm's drop just by teaching them the deep slow breaths to recovery during those low points.

    My advice....use both. If you get a real heart rate monitor and use it along with your rate of perceived exertion you will learn so much about your body that you will start being able to guess exactly what your heart rate is without even wearing the thing...that is how in tune you will get to your maximum intensity. I don't even wear a heart rate monitor anymore, because I can guess at any given point exactly where I'm at within 1 or 2 bpm.  I check it every so often, and it never fails I am right where I want to be at each step 64%, 74%, 84%, clockwork. The more you practice the more consistent it will get and you'll know you are hitting those high points while still working out safely.  

    Best of luck to you! You are already one step ahead of many. Great question!!!

    "If you want something you've never had, you must do things you've never done!"

  • Thanks Em for all that info. Will try it out tomorrow on my cardio session! I'm so excited about this challenge!

  • Followed the advice given and I've had great workouts for my last 3 cardio sessions! Turns out I need to work out at about 95% of MHR to achieve a level 10 and my level 6 are about 80%. Finally feel that I'm getting something out of my cardio sessons. Thanks for all your help.

    Will definitely go buy myself a polar HR monitor. Not sure which one to get though.

  • Wee Nee - The MHR formula does not have a scientific basis.  It was literally made up at a conference years ago by someone who knew enough to know what was ballpark likely.  Don't worry about it.  It's how you feel.  I would suggest a HR monitor to measure your own progress, but it's okay if you are above the "average".  Also, remember that different activities actually have different Vo2 maxes and that makes a major impact.  For instance, you can get your heart rate up more and more safely with cycling than running.  


    Jessica Mighty Max ~ 2013 Body-for-LIFE Champion ~ Champion is a VERB!

  • Wee Nee- Glad using the combination of monitoring your heart rate along WITH the RPE scale is working better for you! It sounds like you've been getting some better targeting of the intensity. It's a great approach in my opinion. As far as heart rate monitors go, I use this one with my clients...

    It's great because you can strap it on under your clothes and doesn't feel bulky. I tell people when you go to put it on under your sports shirt/sports bra, wet the two sensors with a tiny dab of water first and you won't lose the conductivity at any point. This is sometimes a problem for people who don't have much fat around the ribcage area moreso for some reason. Anyways, you just adjust the elastic strap with the Polar logo facing forward right where your bra line would be immediately under your sternum. Most all cardio machines, including Life Fitness, Precor, Technogym...etc. will pick up the Polar signal and you should see your heart rate appear in the heart rate box on the machine the entire time without ever having to touch the sensors on the machine, so it's always visible. I love these heart rate monitors!

    I'm going to have to beg to differ with Jessica with all due respect...sorry Jessica! Yes, the MHR is a generic type formula that is based solely on age, and I think I mentioned in my response above how many people have different issues where they run high, etc. However, the Target Heart Rate Zone that I talked about has been shown in tons of studies to produce the most results as far as not only fat loss, but also increasing endurance by increasing the anaerobic threshold and also the VO2max. I don't know everything, but I just figure that if the American College of Sports Medicine recommends using it based on all of the research and if tons of pro athletes do, then there must be a reason. I find it extremely helpful when training clients and they see more results when they use it as a helpful tool in learning how to exercise to the highest intensity they can while also exercising safely. Just a personal opinion I guess.

    "If you want something you've never had, you must do things you've never done!"

  • Heart Rate monitoring is absolutely of value.  I would agree with that.  The articles and studies specifically site percentages based upon someone's individual ability levels.  It does not use the mythical formula of 220-age.  It used that individual person based upon different situations and their unique heart rate.  There's an abundance of information on that.  So fat loss at certain % levels, yes, but using the formula, no.  Your 90% may differ from mine, even if the same age. 

    Jessica Mighty Max ~ 2013 Body-for-LIFE Champion ~ Champion is a VERB!

  • I realize that the true MHR of each person may not end up being exactly 220-age. But unfortunately, most people don't have access to the correct devices to measure their VO2 max and true MHR necessarily, so for those people, it makes sense to use something rather than nothing. That is exactly why the RPE scale is used as a matter of fact. Was just suggesting that the HR is a nice addition to the RPE scale....of course it's still not as accurate as using true VO2 max and HR testing procedures.  I appreciate the input.  Love learning what other people have to say! :)

    "If you want something you've never had, you must do things you've never done!"

  • If someone simply goes by how they feel they will be fine.  Using monitors is a great tool for next level intensity, but for the typical BFL HIIT, no formula or monitor is needed.


    Jessica Mighty Max ~ 2013 Body-for-LIFE Champion ~ Champion is a VERB!

  • Thanks so much for the great explanation. I just signed up today and was on my way to the gym and was sure I would mess it all up. But this helped a ton. Now if I can figure out the who superset concept and the intervals I will hopefully be on my way! Thanks again

  • I'm hitting 192 when I'm at my 10 level (was hitting 197 when I first started) and I'm 30 and weigh 187 just for an example.  So the 220-age works in my case.  I'm using a chest strap wireless monitor BTW