Question: I’m 49 and don’t monitor my heart rate when I ride outside. But the exercise bike at the gym has a heart monitor, so I’m trying it. I’ve heard that I should exercise at 40-60% of my max heart rate, but I don’t feel like I am getting a workout when I’m below 60%. I routinely hit 160 bpm and never drop much below 135. Is this okay? — Henry W.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: For starters, realize that heart monitors on exercise bikes are likely to be inaccurate. Unless the unit uses a chest strap (rather than a grip or other type of sensor), you may get misleading readings.
You also didn’t mention whether you’ve been tested (or done a test on a bike or trainer) to determine your max heart rate. Remember that the “220 minus your age” formula is a statistical average with a wide variance and not really very useful.
It’s very likely to be off by a few to a lot of beats per minute for you or any other individual. You need a stress test or a similar means of determining how fast your heart can actually beat.
As for your approach, 60% of max is pretty low — lower than the commonly accepted low-end target for getting aerobic improvement. A better training range is 70-85%. I’d guess that your numbers (135-160 bpm) are about right for you.
Without knowing your true max, the best thing to do is to keep your effort up as you are and ride like you feel. That may be a more accurate approach than relying the exercise bike’s monitor.