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How fit are you, really? Your heart rate has the answer

Do you believe that you’re fit by the way you look or the way you exercise?  Beliefs aside, your heart rate can tell you exactly what your fitness level is, says personal trainer, exercise therapist and keynote speaker Bobby Whisnand. 

You’d think in a world where there’s countless new exercise programs, endless social media fitness articles, and a fitness instructor around every corner, that we’d have this whole fitness thing all figured out. The truth is… we’re not even close.

Despite all of the recommended exercise measurements – amount of weights lifted, sets and reps, distances ran, body fat percentages, weight gained or lost, personal records and food/supplement intake – we’re missing the most telling measurement of all:

What’s going on in our hearts both in and out of exercise?

If you truly want to dig deeper into your fitness, there are some heart rate variables you can easily measure. These variables will tell you whether your heart is doing what it should, when it should:

  • heart rate before, during and after exercise
  • heart rate when you’re not exercising
  • heart rate when you’re asleep

Your heart speaks volumes to you  you just have to learn to listen, understand, and react accordingly.

Kind of sounds like a relationship, doesn’t it? Well, my friend, that’s exactly what it is: The most important relationship you’ll ever have.

Let’s take a closer look at the most telling heart rate variables that show if you and your heart are really on the same page.

Your heart rate before, during and after exercise

It’s obvious your heart rate changes over the course of your exercise session, but just how much is it changing and are these changes normal?

Taking heart rates before, during, and after your exercise session will give you hard measurable numbers for which to compare from one workout to the next and these are easy and convenient to take if you use a heart rate monitor.

I measure my heart rates with my Polar A370 for all of my exercise sessions including both weight training and aerobic workouts. Here are the exact times I measure heart rates and other variables during all my exercise sessions:


Before I start my workout, I always sit down, take several deep breaths, relax, and clear my mind for about 1–2 minutes. After this, I start my Polar heart rate monitor on my wrist and off we go. The key variable here is my resting heart rate while being in a totally relaxed state before I do any warming up or exercising at all.

Now, once I start my exercise session, my heart rate takes on an entirely new meaning.


This is where things get interesting. For me personally, I record my heart rates after each resistance exercise and write them in my workout log. Most people do not record heart rate during weight training but they would be surprised about what they find. In fact, I have had many weight training sessions where I have been in the aerobic zone for most of the workout.

For both my weight training and cardiovascular workouts I take and record several variables like duration of workout, average heart rate, max heart rate, total time in fat burning zone, calories burned, and total time in my aerobic zone. Again, all of these measurements are taken by my heart rate monitor and all I have to do is push a button and everything takes care of itself. Pretty simple, right?

So, now you can see what your heart is doing before and during your workouts but there’s more…


Oh yes, maybe the most important measurement yet: how does your heart rate respond after your exercise session is done?

Believe it or not, this is where you can see just how fit your heart really is.

Typically, a healthy heart will immediately start dropping its rate once exercise has stopped but an unhealthy heart or an unconditioned body will cause your heart rate to remain high after exercise has stopped.

Typically, a healthy heart will immediately start dropping its rate once exercise has stopped, whereas an unhealthy heart or an unconditioned body will cause your heart rate to remain high after exercise has stopped.

This could be a sign of a serious health issue, it could mean your exercise intensity was too high, or it could mean a case of deconditioning.

After my workouts, I do as I did before I started my exercise session: I sit down, take deep breaths, relax, clear my mind for a few minutes, and then look at my heart rate.

Now, what about when you’re not working out? Do you need to keep track of your heart rate then, too?

Your heart rate when not exercising

I admit this is rarely done, but it’s another strong indicator of fitness.

A really neat thing to do is to pick a day and wear a heart rate monitor from the time you get up till the time you get home from work and look at the readings. In addition to the same readings you get when you work out, you can see how many steps you’ve taken, calories burned across the day, and even see if you’ve met your activity goals for the day. You can check your heart rates at work, after lunch, when you feel stressed, and any other time of the day.

That’s a lot of heart rates, but there’s still another great time to measure what your heart is doing.

you’re heart rate when you’re asleep

This is the most interesting heart rate I’ve ever taken and it will tell you a lot about your heart health.

Sleep is your body’s chance to recuperate and it’s also the best time for your heart to recuperate as well. I like to wear my monitor while I sleep at least once a week and compare the readings to those both in and out of my workouts.

Of course, your heart rates during sleep are considerably lower, but this is a strong indicator of how good or bad your sleep really is.

So, once you have these essential heart rate readings recorded with your monitor, what do you do with them?

I simply plug my monitor into my computer and download all readings and activity into the Polar Flow web service. By doing this, I can see daily, weekly, monthly, and even yearly heart rate readings. And the biggest benefit of all is that I can see if my heart is truly getting healthier or if I need to change things with my exercise program.

Your heart rates will vary according to age, type of exercise, your level of conditioning, health issues, medication, exercise goals, and exercise environment. You can ask your doctor where your heart rates should be or do the research yourself: you can get started by doing a simple field test to find out your maximum heart rate and then use it to calculate your heart rate zones.

know your heart

It’s very common for most people to measure their level of fitness by how their body looks and how they perform during their workouts when, in fact, the real measure of fitness is largely ignored by most people.

Knowing your heart rate during your workouts, when you’re not exercising and when you’re resting or sleeping can lead you to optimal wellness. It can also give you the peace of mind that your heart is a strong as the rest of you.

After all, having a fit looking body is one thing, but having a strong and healthy heart is EVERYTHING!

Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals or physicians. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.

If you liked this post, don’t forget to share so that others can find it, too.

Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.

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