There are several ways of checking your fitness and your progress as you get fitter. If you know how fit you are then you can set yourself goals to get fitter. As you reach these goals along the way it helps motivate you to do more. Keep a note of how you’re doing – in a journal or on your computer or phone – this will help you keep track and motivate you.
Monitoring your heart rate
Your resting heart rate
This is what you need to find out first – what your normal heart rate is when you’ve been resting. A normal resting heart rate should be somewhere between 67 and 75 beats per minute. But it can very a great deal between people and yours will vary depending on what you’ve been doing and how you’re feeling. A number of things can affect your heart rate:
- your age
- your gender
- whether you’re taking medication
- whether you’ve recently had an alcoholic drink
- whether you’ve recently taken non-prescription drugs
- the position you’re sitting or lying in and
- whether you’re feeling stressed or relaxed.
A lower average resting heart rate usually means that your heart is working efficiently and your cardiovascular fitness is good. An athlete training for a competition may have a resting heart rate as low as 40.
There’s a wide range of normal but if your resting heart rate is regularly above 100 or below 60 then consult your doctor, especially if you’ve been feeling dizzy, faint or short of breath.
So how to find out what your resting heart rate is?
You can find out what your resting heart rate is by checking your pulse. Sit quietly for a few minutes before you do it so that your heart rate really is at a resting level. Then you can measure your heart rate by finding your pulse in your neck or your wrist.
To measure your heart rate over your carotid artery, place your index and middle fingers on your neck to the side of your windpipe.
To check your heart rate at your wrist place two fingers between the bone and the tendon over your radial artery, located on the thumb side of your wrist.
When you feel your pulse, look at your watch and count the number of beats in 60 seconds to get your heart rate per minute.
Make a note of the result.
Finding your average resting heart rate
To get your average resting heart rate, stay in the same position and take your pulse several times over a period of 15 to 30 minutes. Make a note of the results, add them together and divide by the number of times you noted the results. For example, if you took your pulse six times and the results were 65, 67, 66, 70, 65, the average is 66 + 67 + 67 + 70 + 65 = 335. Divide this by 5 = 67. 67 is your average resting heart rate.
Your heart rate and the cardio machines
By the time you get on to the cardio machines, having done your warm up and agility exercises, your heart rate should be approximately 10 beats per minute above your average resting level.
Lots of cardio machines that have sensors for measuring heart rate and a heart rate indicator panel. Having entered your age and weight, you’ll get a read out of your heart rate. In the indicator panel you’ll see green, yellow and red zones. You should aim to be in the top half of the yellow zone, but not entering the red zone. If you can’t manage this without getting breathless and lightheaded, build up to it slowly. Start at a lower level for 10 or 15 minutes until you can do it comfortably. Once you have achieved this, go to the next level, try it for 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, then 15 minutes. And so you progress, increasing the levels with time, and so increasing your stamina and fitness. When I started I could manage level 3 on the cross trainer for 4 minutes, and now two years later I’m on level 10 for 15 minutes.
Keep checking your heart rate
Another way of looking at this is to keep checking your heart rate.
In the beginning my resting heart rate was 82 and now it’s about 67. That in itself is a good measure of health and fitness. When I started exercising my heart rate would shoot up as high as 128 beats per minute, and now it only goes up to about 108. Sometimes though I increase my speed to the speed I run at to see how far I can “push it” and even then I can only get it up to about 114).
It is not just about how much your heart rate goes up, but also how long it takes to get back to the rate it was when you started exercising. When you’re fit your heart rate should go up, but return to its starting level within 4 minutes. If it takes much longer (i.e. 10, 15, or more minutes) to return to the starting level then you’re not very fit.
Checking your aerobic fitness: the walking test
To do the walking test you’ll need:
- a watch or something else that can measure time.
- a journal or an electronic means of recording your pulse, timing etc.
Find somewhere you can walk comfortably for a mile (1.6 km). It could be anywhere – a park, a country road, a shopping mall or even on a treadmill at the gym. Ideally it should be reasonably flat with little or no traffic.
- Check the distance by measuring it with a pedometer or using a map.
- After you’ve recorded your heart rate, note the time on your watch and walk as briskly as you can along the mile. If you’re feeling fit and energetic you could jog it or do some brisk walking and some jogging.
- Time how long it takes you.
- Check your heart rate again when you finish, counting how many beats in a minute.
- Record both results – the time it took you to finish in minutes and seconds and your heart rate when you finished.
What your time result means:
- If you couldn’t manage to walk the whole distance you’re very unfit.
- If you walked it but found it very difficult then you’re unfit.
- If you walked it but it took you more than half an hour then you’re not very fit.
- If it took you around 20 minutes then you’re reasonably fit.
- If you did it in 10-15 minutes you’re fit.
- If you can do it in 10 minutes or under you’re very fit.
Repeat this test every so often to see how you’re progressing.
Checking your aerobic fitness – the cardio machines
Cardio machines such as treadmills, cross trainers, rowing machines etc usually have several ways of measuring your fitness level. You can set the machine to measure how fast and far you walk, run, cycle, row etc. On some machines you can also make it more of a challenge by increasing the resistance and/or the incline so that it’s like walking or running uphill.
Most machines will also measure your heart rate so that you can work to your maximum capacity.
If you’re using one of these machines in the gym, but you’re not sure what to do, ask one of the instructors. Try gradually increasing how fast and far you go and the steepness of the climb.
If at any time you start feeling breathless or getting pains in your chest or shoulders, stop immediately and take a rest.
You can measure how well you’re doing by reading your mileage. To check your fitness, set the machine to an average speed and see how far you can walk or run.
- Walking at 1.5 mph/2.4 km/h is a slow amble.
- 2.5 mph/4 km/h is an average walking pace.
- 3 mph/6 km/h is a brisk walking pace.
- Anything greater than 3 mph/6 km/h is very good going and if you can keep this up for at least 10 minutes you’re doing really well.
Tracking your heart rate
- Lots of cardio machines have sensors to keep track of your heart rate
- You can have your heart rate measured at your doctor’s surgery.
- Many doctors’ clinics have heart rate monitors for patients to borrow.
- You can buy a heart monitor or, if you have a smartphone,find an app which measures your heart rate.