Follow your heart

Women don’t sweat. They glow.

Do you remember hearing that statement in the 1980s? That’s when I first heard it and it made me laugh then almost as much as now.

A towel is mandatory in a cycling class, running leaves me soggy and I’ve been known to drip on the floor in my core conditioning class. I glow all right — bright red.

It amazes me people can “work out” and emerge with makeup intact, hair in place and faces unblotchy. I can’t help but wonder if they’re working hard enough.

Intensity is a tricky thing. Too much and you’re not walking pain-free for days; too little and you’re not accomplishing what you went for in the first place. The magic formula lies somewhere in the middle.

Correction: middle to top.

Speaking in heart-rate percentages, beginners on the cardio machines should be aiming for 40 to 60 per cent of their maximums. Healthy individuals who have some cardio training should aim for 60 to 70 per cent. Those with a higher fitness level and consistency on their side should concentrate between 75 to 85 per cent and higher.

The trick is figuring out what that means in the real world. It’s as easy as taking a maximal heart-rate test, subtracting your resting heart rate, multiplying by your target percentage and adding your resting heart rate back in.

Is that all?

The really tricky part is the test to determine maximal heart rate. I’ve tried to simulate it by doing hill repeats at top speed until I nearly made myself sick. It’s just not something that would encourage people to return to the gym if that was thrown at them on their first visit.

So what are the alternatives? The Karvonen formula takes 220 minus your age to get your projected maximal heart rate. You can then subtract your resting heart rate, which should be measured before you get out of bed in the morning, from your maximal heart rate and apply the percentages to get your zones.

Be cautious, however, as this is an average. We love to be individuals and our hearts are the same. Everyone’s max does not fall into the formula, and maximal heart rate is not affected by fitness or lack of it. Pretty much the only factor affecting maximal heart rate is age. As we age, it drops.

But again, it could be different to the person next to you who is the same age.

Resting heart, however, is affect by your fitness level. As perhaps a little too-competitive people, my husband and I compare resting heart rates during peak training seasons, taking readings before we’re even fully conscious in the mornings.

One of the best ways to figure out your ticker is to wear a heart-rate monitor and just keep track through the day. Make notes… “82 sitting at my desk, 90 getting up to get coffee, 130 when my boss said the deadline has been bumped up.”

Unfortunately, stress cannot be counted as prolonged cardiovascular activity, even if your heart is hammering in your chest and sweat is popping out on your brow.

More helpful would be to know what your heart rate is when you’re walking easily, walking briskly, jogging slowly, running fast or sprinting. Using these markers, you can get a better idea where to aim your aerobic sessions.

Of course, if you’ve never even seen a heart-rate monitor chest-strap or you avoid touching those metal grips on the cardio machines, you can judge intensity without even knowing your magic numbers.

Perceived exertion involves rating your level of exertion on a scale of one to 10, according to how you perceive it. It goes like this: 1) resting; 2) working at your desk; 3) getting dressed; 4) easy stroll; 5) brisk walk; 6) brisk walk – late for appointment – can still talk; 7) jogging – still talking; 8) fast running – heavy challenge – barely talking; 9) sprinting – no talking; and 10) all-out effort – severe exhaustion – not a happy place (of course, due to the lack of talking).

As you can imagine, perceived exertion is subjective and can change from day to day and mood to mood, depending on how motivated you are that day.

Heart rate is harder to fool. But perceived exertion is useful for those who don’t fit into the charts on the cardio machines. When it says you’re working at 40 per cent and you can no longer say your name, chances are the chart doesn’t apply to you. The same goes for if it says you’re working at 90 per cent and you could recite your life story.

We all want good value from our investments. The time we invest in fitness is just as important. Intensity is the currency. Expend a little more and reap the rewards. And those of you who can’t walk the next day, save a little for the next workout.

Shawn Wenger is a BCRPA registered personal trainer and weight training instructor and an ad designer at Kamloops This Week. She runs her own personal training business called Fitness For Mortals. E-mail for information.

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