What to Know About Heart Rates


The most common places to measure heart rate using the palpation method is at the wrist (radial artery) and the neck (carotid artery). Other places sometimes used are the elbow (brachial artery) and the groin (femoral artery).

To take your resting heart rate at the wrist, place your index and middle fingers together on the opposite wrist, about 1/2 inch on the inside of the joint, in line with the index finger. Feel for a pulse. When you find a pulse, count the number of beats you feel within a one minute period. You can estimate the per minute rate by counting over 10 seconds and multiplying this figure by 6, or over 15 seconds and multiplying by 4, or over 30 seconds and doubling the result. There are obvious potential errors by using this shorthand method.

You should always use your fingers to take a pulse, not your thumb, particularly when recording someone else's pulse, as you can sometimes feel your own pulse through your thumb.

A heart rate monitor or ECG/EEG can be used to get a more accurate heart rate measurement. This is particularly important during exercise where the motion of exercise often makes it hard to get a clear measurement. These methods are also useful when you wish to record heart rate changes over short time periods.

Resting heart rate (the number of beats per minute) should be taken after a few minutes (2-5 minutes) upon waking whilst still in bed. Give you body some time to adjust to the change from sleeping before taking your pulse. Changes to resting heart rates can indicate adaptation processes, or just a normal responses to the previous days training load.

Resting heart rates can also be affected by ensuing illness and overtraining. Once a normal resting heart rate has been established it becomes easy to determine your physiological state. If your resting heart rate is 10 beats per minute or greater above normal then please let your coach know, and if it persists you may want to see your doctor.

As you get fitter, your resting heart rate should decrease. This is due to the heart getting more efficient at pumping blood around the body, so at rest more blood can be pumped around with each beat, therefore less beats per minute are needed.

It is possible to use the manual method for heart rate measurement during exercise, though better results can be obtained using a heart rate monitor or similar device.

The heart rate during exercise is an indicator of intensity. As you get fitter, your heart rate should decrease for any given exercise workload.

Maximum heart rate is the highest number of heart beats per minute (bpm) when exercising maximally. This can be measured during a maximal exercise test. As the heart rate will begin to decrease as soon as exercise is completed, max heart rate is best measured using a heart rate monitor or EEG.

Maximum heart rate can also be predicted using a formula. Take your age away from 220. This figure is only an estimate, and is usually within 10 beats of your true maximum heart rate.

You can use the percentage of maximum heart rate as an indicator of exercise intensity. Many exercise programs use percentage heart rates to set training loads.

Normal resting heart rates ranges anywhere from 40 beats per minute up to 100 beats per minute. Ideally you want to be between 60-90 beats per minute, with the average resting heart rate for a man being 70 beats per minute, and for a woman 75 beats per minute.

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