In the past, a crucial piece of data was missing in cardiovascular training. Before the use of heart rate monitors and the data they provide, teachers were unable to determine accurately the intensity of students’ exercise; this left them with only two components, frequency and time, from which to determine students’ total training load. We know, however, that a determination of total training load requires data on frequency, intensity, and time (FIT).

Frequency is how often you exercise.
Intensity is how hard you exercise, or in which heart zone you are exercising.
Time is how long you exercise.

Intensity was previously measured through perceived exertion, or how hard people believed they were exercising—which was really just a guess. Now we have an accurate measuring instrument for intensity: the heart rate monitor.

Students need to understand that all heart rate data are relative, not absolute. Relative, in this case, means that any given heart rate reading has no meaning unless it is compared with absolute heart rate. Relative heart rate measurements are most valuable when expressed as a percentage of maximal heart rate (MHR), or the maximal number of times your heart can beat in one minute. Knowing that a student’s current heart rate is 60 percent of her MHR (a relative number), for example, is much more useful than a straight heart rate measure of 150 bpm, which is an absolute number. By using relative rather than absolute measures, students can assemble a body of personal heart rate data. This body of data enables them to determine their own hearts’ response to certain quantities and types of exercise, from which they can develop individualized heart zones training plans. Preliminary assessments include the following:

  • Ambient heart rate
  • Delta heart rate
  • Resting heart rate
  • Recovery heart rate
  • Maximal heart rate

Each of these measurements is unique, and some identify fitness improvement. Students can compare their results with those of prior assessments to determine whether their currenttraining quantity is sufficient to help them reach their health and fitness goals. Other measurements, such as recovery heart rate, are repeated periodically and consistently to help students identify changes in their metabolic responses to cardiovascular fitness training.

The frequency at which each of these tests should be performed varies widely. Some assessments are a good indicator of responses to various kinds of stress and should be performed daily. For example, some instructors have their students record ambient and delta heart rate readings every time they use a monitor. Not only is this great practice for using the monitor, but it also gives students an opportunity to identify and analyze personal changes in their readings. Indeed, many students are surprised at their bodies’ response to stress, such as lack of sleep or an argument with a friend (i.e., a prolonged elevated ambient heart rate). Teaching students to measure and analyze changes in heart rate raises their awareness about their bodies and the internal changes brought on by emotional, physical, mental, and social stress.