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Aerobics/Heart Rate Recovery

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Question
Dear Brandon,

I am a 40 y/o male, and I exercise very regularly.  My question today is about heart rate recovery. I've read that one should get his HR up to a fairly high level, stop then check HR 1 min later (some say check it 2 minutes later--so there was some discrepancy there too). This was too get some idea of how healthy one's heart is.  

Anyhow from rest, if I start doing some intense shuttle sprints and a series of jumps (for about 60 seconds), I can get my HR up to about 160-165 bpm.  It requires more work to get that HR from rest, however it gets there more easily if I've already been working out.  Anyhow after I stopped, my HR dropped about 47 bpm in the 1st minute...which is apparently very good HR recovery.

Flashforward to today.  I did some HIIT on my bike.  7 all out sprints for about 20 seconds, with about 45 seconds rest in between).  After my last spring my HR was 165.  However this time it only dropped 20 bpm after 1 min.  I know it was because I was sprinting quite hard, quite often.  But in that other trial where I just did shuttles and jumps for 60 seconds, my HR got just as high, but it dropped MUCH quicker.  Seems intuitive.  Overall I hadn't done nearly as much work.  

So which HR recovery should I be using to test?  The one where I just do 1 rep, or the one where I just came off a much more taxing, intense workout?  Because the recovery time are significantly different.

I'm not sure this question can even be answered but I thought you might be the one to ask.  Although it's cardiac related I'm not sure that a cardiologist would know as much about this as a fitness guru.  

Thank you,
James

Answer
Hi James,

There are a lot of possible reasons why your recovery would be different for the 2 exercise sessions. Typically heart rate recovery is defined by the difference between your exercise heart rate and the rate 1 minute post. For those two sessions, some of the differences could be muscle activation, hydration levels, and duration of exercise. All of those can cause a difference in recovery. Based on your 2 numbers and effort levels I would recommend using the bike as your test.  It seems that the bike created a more taxing effort which would give you a better understanding of you max level to recovery.

One other option would be to exercise at 85% of your max (about 153 bpm) for 30 minutes and then check your recovery. You should be around the same drop as you were with your bike test.  

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Brandon Briggs, MS

Expertise

I can answer questions about cardiovascular fitness, pulmonary & cardiac rehab, weight training, and corrective exercise.

Experience

I have a Master's in Exercise Science and I am a certified Exercise Specialist. I have been working in Cardiac Rehab for 3 yrs and also doing personal training for 3.

Education/Credentials
NASM Corrective Exercise Specialist, ACSM Certified Exercise Specialist

Awards and Honors
Graduated from CalU with a MS in Exercise Science and Health Promotion with 4.0

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