As you probably know, I’m an advocate for using a heart rate monitor to measure intensity and track your progress against pace, speed or power.
I am also a fan of monitoring resting heart rate (RHR) each morning, to see how your aerobic fitness is responding to training and how you’re recovering from your last hard session.
Whether you prefer a hi-tech or low-tech approach, it’s super simple to measure RHR, so you have no excuse for not to be doing this.
Once you understand how to interpret the numbers, you can use RHR as a tool to make decisions about when to keep pushing in training or when to ease off because you’re still recovering.
So, how do you measure it?
Determine Your Resting Heart Rate
- Measure your RHR first thing in the morning right after you wake up
- If you have woke to the beep, beep, beep of an alarm, give yourself a couple of minutes to relax before taking your measurement
- Keep a digital watch or something with a stopwatch on your nightstand
- As soon as you wake up, find your pulse on your neck or wrist. Alternatively, you can use your heart rate monitor or a pulse oximeter (my personal method)
- Use the watch to time 20 seconds. Count the number of times your heart beats in that 20 seconds
- Multiply the number times your heart beats in 20 seconds by 3 and you have your heart rate in beats per minute (bpm)
- Record this number in an app, notebook or spreadsheet
You Know Your RHR, Now Use The Data
Now that you know how to measure RHR, it’s important that you understand how to use the data to your advantage.
After you have been tracking your heart rate for a week or so, you should begin to see a relatively consistent RHR number.
Generally speaking, the lower the number, the fitter you are. The average adult will have a resting heart rate of 60-100 bpm, while athletes are likely to have a much lower bpm, somewhere in the range of 40-60.
Mild variations to your RHR are normal so if you see a variation of 3 – 5 bpm, it’s usually nothing to worry about.
Where you need to take note and use caution is when your heart rate reaches 7 or more bpm above normal.
In this situation here’s what I used to do when I was racing, and what I recommend to the athletes we work with:
- When RHR is between 7 – 9 beats above normal, remove all specifics and do all training in your easy zone until RHR returns to normal. Consider dropping your volume too if you feel overly tired
- When RHR is 10 beats or more above your normal level, take a day off until RHR returns to normal
Besides offering ways to monitor fitness and fatigue, a lower resting heart rate RHR is linked to some very big health benefits including a reduced risk of heart disease.
Considering this simple evaluation takes less than a minute to perform and offers such useful information, there is no reason that you shouldn’t be tracking your RHR.
As time passes, you’ll begin to see how training and life stressors affect your RHR and interpreting the information gets easier.