No heart rate monitor, use this method to stay in the “fat burning zone”

 Not everyone has the extra cash around to blow on a heart rate monitor type watch.  Also, not everyone wants to have to observe and check a heart rate monitor while they are battling through a workout.  So are they to just stay home.  Heck no.  There is another method that can be used to determine if you are working hard enough, too hard, or not hard enough.  It is called the perceived exertion method. Since I have lost the HR strap for my watch, I have resorted to using this method along with running pace to determine my current workload.  You can do it too and I will teach you how today.  This post is in response to a comment I received on my little article about using heart rate monitors.  It brings up a valid and beneficial question.  Here is the comment:

“A fantastic article, very informative and useful. I don’t think I can afford to purchase a heart rate monitor right now, is there any other way that I can gauge heart rate? I’ve heard a little about perceived rates of exertion, but I’m not very familiar with this. Perhaps you could fill us in, maybe in a follow up post?”

So if you don’t want to watch a heart rate monitor or manually monitor your heart rate with you fingers, here is what you can do instead.  It is not a perfect science, but over time you will get the hang of it and be on your way to better health and fitness.



Here are the run4change how-to’s of perceived exertion:

  • The common talk test:  If you can talk to an exercise partner while you exercise.  You will be breating harder but you can carry on a conversation.  This is the level that I call endurance training.  It isn’t the most comfortable thing to be talking like this, but you definitely CAN talk.  I think your HR is aroun 60-70% if you can talk comfortably.
  • Singing test:  If you can sing along with you Ipod, you may not be working hard enough.  Singing takes more oxygen so if you can do it comfortably then you should pick up the pace.
  • Burn test:  If your legs are buring during your cardio, you are working harder than you need to.  Anyway, if you legs buring, you probably can’t carry on a conversation.  You legs only burn when your muscles have no more sugar left to burn which means you are getting anaerobic.  You want to stay aerobic with you exertion.
  • Huffing and puffing is a sign that your exertion is high.  That’s no problem but you don’t need to be exerting yourself that intensely to lose weight, but it will increase your fitness.

Also keep in mind that as your fitness level increases, the percieved exertion method is not as useful.  It is always useful for normal cardiovascular exercise, but if you are wanting to work more intensely (example: speed and hill training for runners, etc) toward a time specific goal it may not be the proper method.

Short percieved exertion explanation: this link has a more down to earth chart and explanation.

How to use the percieved exertion method by about.com sports medicine.

8 Responses to “No heart rate monitor, use this method to stay in the “fat burning zone””

  1. 1 Geri
    January 13, 2009 at 5:03 am

    Thanks again!

    • 2 run4change
      January 13, 2009 at 5:39 am

      No problem. This really is a good way to adjust your intensity. It is a skill though, and it takes time. Good luck and thanks for asking the question, I have a feeling that a lot of people will benifit from this post.

  2. 3 Angela
    January 13, 2009 at 6:22 am

    J, since I’m new at running, (well jogging really) my legs pretty much always burn. Isn’t that typical for newer runners? Or am I confusing muscle pain for the lactic acid burn?

    • 4 run4change
      January 13, 2009 at 6:40 am

      Are you sore? Lactic acid buld up in your legs will cause soreness for the next 2 days typically. I am not talking about stiff, tight, and generally painful legs. I am talking about the burn that you feel like when you lift weights. Not sure if you lift weights or not, but that is a pretty good comparison for the burn. As you run more, your lactate thresh hold goes up. That is the point where you legs are unable to remove the garbage out of your muscles will you run. That is when the burn happens. I suppose in the beginning you may have the burn. I never thought of that and I just can’t remember for the life of me about my legs at first. I had months of cardio and leg work before I started running though so maybe they were in a little bit of shape by that time. Also, I have notoriously skinny legs and not butt, always have. I think even at 307 lbs my legs were in pretty good shape. I get it from my dad.

  3. 5 Angela
    January 13, 2009 at 7:29 am

    My target heartrate is 120-138, but when I’m running it’s at 147. My first trainer told me to stay in the target to burn fat, (I’m 106 pounds from goal) and he was having me do 60-90 minutes of target heart rate cardio 4 times a week. But my current trainer says she wants me doing a mile 4 times a week, as fast as I can push it, and we’ll build up the distance later. It irritates me getting this conflicting information, but I do seem to be burning more fat now than I was before. I respect and value your opinion because you’ve been where I am, where these trainers have not. Thoughts?

    • 6 run4change
      January 13, 2009 at 7:48 am

      Ok, this is “THE” big question. I have wondered about it a million times. Here is the bottom line. Burning more calories than you take in will cause weight loss. THis is a fact. You can burn calories anyway you or anyone else would like. Way a long time ago, I had a trainer have me do the intense exercise too. It works. From what I have learned and many trainers these days disagree maybe, long aerobic exercise is the best. The guy who invented the word aerobics researched this and found it to be true. All exercise will eventually bring about weight loss if you eat less than you burn. Long and slow (HR in the 60-76% zone) will teach you body/muscles to use fat as energy. This was always my goal because I wanted to run a long ways someday. I wanted me body to get right into burning fat as soon as possible during my run. Now, my body knows that it is supposed to burn fat primarily because that is what I have taught it to do. Some people would be intimidated with the high intensity to the point of not even starting. I would have been. There is nothing wrong with what the trainer is asking of you. It will work. You say that they told you that you will build up the distance later. How far is the distance going to be later. RUnning 6 miles as hard as you can 4 times a week is a big draw on your running muscles and even the olympians don’t do that. They do have their speed work, but long slow running is a huge part of even the 1500 meter/1 mile competitors. I hope this is helpful and not more confusing. Sorry if it is more confusing. Obviously I am a big supporter of long slow distance.

  4. January 13, 2009 at 11:57 pm

    Thanks for the guidelines. I think they’ll be helpful.

    @run4change: Yeah, funny how the basics work, isn’t it.

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