Monday, July 5, 2010

Heart rate shopping: my Lifecycle, spinning class, road bike show down.

2009 and 2010 have been the years in which I have finally embraced cardiovascular exercise.  I've been good about hitting the weights for the better part of the past 10 years (since I joined WW).  Further, I'm a fairly prolific walker, so I have been able to secure my move-around exercise that way.  However, I could never seem to force myself to really embrace the art of raising my heart rate (except during frightening movies).  I always felt that it was a missing piece of the exercise version of myself that I wanted to be.

Sometime around late 2008 and early 2009, I rediscovered my mild romance with two wheeled exercise devices, otherwise known as bikes.  I had purchased a nice road bike in the summer of 2007, but I am guessing that I took it out a grand total of three times (maybe) that summer.  

About 18 months later, I started to see the light.  I began to partake in periodic spin classes and occasional solo trips on the Lifecycle.  Last summer, I started to take my bike out in earnest, and I discovered that I really enjoyed the whole being-outside-and-get-a-workout thing.  I'm now good for some sort of meaningful cardio exercise about five times per week.

All of my cardio consists of some variant of a bike:  1) Lifecycle, 2) spinning class or 3) road bike.  While I get something out of all three, I have always suspected that they were not created equally in terms of work expenditure.  I get a good sweat with all three, but I think I always knew that the Lifecycle was not nearly as demanding as the spinning class or the road bike.

About two weeks ago, I finally buckled and bought a Garmin heart rate monitor (FR60 for those who are shopping -- I like it!).  There is nothing like data to get a view into the truth of your life.  It can be in the form of counting POINTS or it can be in tracking your heart rate.  What I found with my new fangled HRM was not surprising, but it was still eye opening.

First, a quick review of my heart rate basics, based on my age according to CDC physical activity guidelines:

  • Moderate intensity activity = 88.5 bpm (50% of max) to 124 bpm (70% of max)
  • Vigorous intensity activity = 125 bpm (71% of max) to 150 bpm (85% of max)
Vigorous activity roughly corresponds to what is referred to as the aerobic zone (70% max to 80% max) while anything north of that would be in the anaerobic zone.  

OK, so without further adieu, here is what I discovered:
  • Lifecycle:  45 minutes at an average of 137 bpm and a maximum of 159 bpm.  This works out to an average of 77% of my age-adjusted max heart rate (MHR)
  • Road bike:  73 minutes at an average of 144 bpm and a maximum of 164 bpm.  The average was 81% of my MHR.  
  • Spinning class:  50 minutes at an average of 150 bpm and a maximum of 171 bpm.  This is an average of 85% of my MHR.  
So what are my conclusions:
  1. Value accepting punishment from a teacher:  The effect of having my good friend Emma (the spinning instructor from the depths of Hades) hammering on me works out to about a 9% increase in average heart rate vs. the Lifecycle.  Further she was able to push me way into my anaerobic zone for extended periods of time.  
  2. Duration counts:  The road bike trip was the calorie consuming winner.  I put in 62% more minutes on my bike than I did on the Lifecycle, yet my average heart rate was still 5% higher.  
  3. Time to man-up on the stationary bike:  I clearly need to up the average resistance on the Lifecycle.  Points #1 and #2 demonstrate that I can clearly push myself harder.  
My other conclusions are that:
  1. I am truly a geek for spending this much time analyzing all of this stuff.    
  2. The old adage of What Gets Measured Gets Done is true.  Having the heart rate monitor is giving me useful information that will be hugely helpful in taking my exercise to the next level.  Which is good.    
Any thoughts or tips on how you use heart rate monitors for the benefit an HRM newbie like myself would be great!  




  1. Whoo hoo on the spin class! I am also a spin instructor from Hades but it wasn't always so. When I first joined Weight Watchers the idea of exercise terrified me. Putting on my shoes was hard enough at 376 pounds and 5'6". So I started walking on the treadmill in my basement. 20 mins was enough to kill me at a 1.2 mph pace. I continued to work the program, changed up my routines as I got bored and finally heard about a heart rate monitor. The benefits were amazing! Sometimes in a class you find yourself with an instructor who may be getting bored- check your heart rate monitor to see if you are working where you want to be. On occasion you will feel like you are working really hard only to check the monitor to see differently which allows you to adjust. In the spin class I love to create intervals of highs and lows and then push it to the anaerobic threshold (where you think you may toss your cookies) and then bring it back down but I also realize the class members are responsible for adding or subtracting tension as they choose to. I can facilitate the change but can't "require" them to follow the instructions. I can always judge my workout based on how I feel AND what the monitor says. I am accountable in one more situation. When I was training to walk a half marathon I added a GPS unit. I was able to tell heart rate as well as total calories burned. For me 13.1 miles equaled 1400 calories burned! Data, not estimates and points that could be accurately tracked. Heart rate monitors are another tool in being accountable, becoming physically fit, and living a healthy lifestyle. Now, If they could invent one that works underwater I will be all set for the 3 water aerobics classes I teach each week :)

  2. I was easily addicted to my HRM (Heart Rate Monitor) as a Christmas present in 2006. Almost 4 years later, I'm still using the Polar F6, which is waterproof. Designed for use by Triathletes, and I have worn it in the pool with excellent results. I've worn out one battery, easily replaced at a watch store, and am looking forward to wearing out this one, too. I cycle as much as I can, and a pedometer just wasn't going to work while on a bicycle. HRMs are here to stay, get yours today!

    Dave, what could you do about having WW connect with a popular HRM company and offer these in the meeting room as another tool. I'd be interested in using a WW HRM.

  3. Ah, Emma made another appearance! Am seeing a relation between how hard the class is, and Emma getting a blog shout out! That must have been a hard class on Friday!

  4. Trixie thanks for the info on the Polar 6. I will check it out.

  5. I, too, have been using my Polar F6 with great results - being able to more accurately count calories/APs helps get over plateaus, and also lets me compare my fitness level week-to-week. I'm surprised WW doesn't have a partnership with a HRM company. . . great idea!

  6. Just got a HRM the other day and love it. It's nice having the information there at your fingertips, no stopping, counting, calculating, etc. I've worn it to my Zumba class once so far, and it proves what I already thought-that class is kicking my butt! haha. I maintained approx. 80% HR(occasionally more, but I backed off a smidge if it got too high) the whole time, and according to it, burned almost 1000 calories! Not bad for an hour. :-) It just keeps me honest, and accurate when I'm calculating AP for the day. :-)

  7. What gets measured gets done - I agree. I used a Nike+ most of last year to measure my walks! Then winter and no more long outdoor walks so moved to a Wii and added an HRM to know how intense I was - some small surprises but overall a good experience. The used the HRM to validate the Nike+. Reasonably close. Now though I use my iPhone and Walkmeter (using the GPS) to measure my workout. I prefer a measure mention system that create logs to assist in reviewing my progress.

  8. I would love to see Weight Watchers come out with an HRM for the members that calculated activity points as well, like the pedometer but better! Any chance you can make that happen, David? That would rock! I love the adage What gets measured gets done. I've never heard that one before, but I believe it!

  9. I bought a relatively inexpensive HRM (no chest strap) and you are absolutely correct on the "what gets measured gets done" thing! I started out just using it during Spinning classes, but have now taken it to HipHop and a couple other cardio classes. Now need to strap it on during walks and run-walk interval days to make sure I'm not 'phoning in' those work-outs either!

  10. The other helpful bit of knowledge from WW is that 100 calories burned aerobically equals 1 point. It wasn't until I got my Polar F6 that I realized I had been overestimating my activity points and eating them. No wonder I stopped losing! Some people use the set points assigned to activities, like spinning for a certain amt of time is 9 points. No way! It would be a wonderful idea if everybody could get a HRM through WW. It's really needed because estimating activity points the present WW method just is not accurate.

  11. Dave, also a Spinning Instructor and outdoor rider as well as a Weight Watcher Leader. Your results with the heart rate monitor are right on. I have been using one for 10 years plus. It is a awesome tool. I teach two classes back to back Monday Wednesday and Fridays in the early morning and then ride outside on the weekends and whenever I can at night. We are getting ready to do a 100 mile ride this weekend that we have been training for. Having a certain date and ride for a goal reinforces that value of goal setting the mental attitude of doing whatever it takes to make sure you meet that goal on that date. If we had not gradually built of our miles over each weekend, we would not be ready. This is our 8th summer of doing century rides and I love it. I highly recommend it. I love the idea of WW teaming with Polar for a heart rate monitor that figured points. That would be awesome. "If you dream it, you can achieve it!"