There are several ways to measure your exercise intensity: target heart-rate checks, perceived exertion and talk test, and heart rate monitors which have increased in popularity due to ease of use and relative accuracy.
For many years, measuring exercise intensity using the target heart-rate method and pulse check was the standard in group fitness and exercise videos. In more recent years, the easily-applied perceived exertion check and talk test has become more prevalent in both.
Today, heart rate monitors are becoming the new standard for goal-oriented and serious-minded exercise enthusiasts. Not only do they provide immediate and fairly accurate feedback but they can also track your progress and improvements in fitness over time.
The Target Heart Rate Method
The “Target Heart-Rate” is the level at which it is recommended to be working in order to challenge the cardio-respiratory system and to be working in the “training” or “aerobic” zone. Within this zone, your body burns a higher percentage of fat calories, therefore it is commonly referred to as the “fat burning zone”. (However, research has shown that higher intensity training results in an increased overall caloric burn – see intensity training.)
If you are just getting started with cardiovascular exercise, it’s a good to know your “normal” or beginning heart rate, which will help you monitor your overall gains in your cardiovascular fitness.
Prior to your exercise session, first check your normal activity heart-rate. After you have gradually increased the level of intensity in your work effort, you should check to see where you are working within your training zone. At the peak of your intensity effort, measure your heart rate, then as you decrease intensity back to normal, check your heart rate again. The amount of time from peak activity back to normal heart rate is your recovery time. By measuring how long it takes for you to recover will give you an idea of your improvement in cardiovascular fitness. The fitter you are, the faster your heart-rate will recover back to normal.