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March 2017
Fitness and sport
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Training improves performance by improving all the connected mechanisms involved in the particular exercise. An important part of training is specificity; training should only really improve the function that is being trained, normally at the expense of the function that, in physiological terms, is the opposite of the one being trained. For example, in running you should improve 'aerobic' functions and this is done at the expense of anaerobic functions. Many different objectives can be reached during aerobic training, but these all require their own, specific training courses.

The most important parameter to check on during training is the intensity of the workload but how can you evaluate the intensity of the workload in objective terms? By measuring the heart rate.

Cardiac output and workload

Blood flow in the muscles increases in proportion to the increase of the energy demanded. This happens by more blood being transported to the muscles that are working and by means of an increase in cardiac output.

The cardiocirculatory system realises these functional changes by increasing the heart rate and rerouting the blood to the appropriate muscles. During such processes arterial pressure is constantly maintained and the heart rate varies depending on which nerves innervate the heart and which hormones are circulating (for example, adrenaline causes an increase and acetylcholine causes bradycardia). These things make up the extrinsic control of the heart rate.

Cardiac output and heart rate when resting

Cardiac output when resting changes according to ones emotional situation, which is affected by nervous impulses coming from the cortex. The average is equal to 5 litres a minute and this does not change for trained/untrained individuals. Cardiac output is calculated by multiplying pulse pressure by heart rate.

For untrained, healthy men the regular cardiac output of 5 litres per minute is obtained by means of 70 beats per minute and a pulse pressure of 71mL. For females, these values are approximately 25% less.

Individuals who are training for resistance sports obtain the same cardiac output with a lower heart rate (for example 50 beat per minute) and a higher pulse pressure (for example 100mL). This is because the heart is bigger.

The heart rate when resting should be measured in the morning, just after waking up..

Heart rate during training

The maximum heart rate for an individual can be calculated with this simple formula:

220 – age (in years)

The intensity of the training can be changed according to the percentage of the heart rate, in particular:

50 - 60 % Very moderate activity (adapted for those who need to re-introduce the body to physical activity, e.g. gentle running)
60 - 70 % Physical activity aimed at LOOSING WEIGHT (activity adapted for regeneration or for loosing weight)
70 - 80 % Intense activity (only for well trained individuals who want to maintain or develop their training)
89 - 90 % Competitive activity (only for those who intend on reaching competitive levels of fitness)

Here is a form to fill in which calculates heart rate according to the type of training carried out:


Age years

Moderate, physical activity

Physical activity aimed at LOSING WEIGHT

Intense, physical activity

Competitive, physical activity

RECOMMENDED heart rate
(approximate minimum and maximum values)

MAXIMUM heart rate
(approximate value)


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