Sandpoint_071118At Northwest Personal Training, we have recently implemented a new system called Fit-Metrix which tracks our clients’ heart rate during workouts, time in each training zones, calories burned and more. As trainers, it allows us to immediately adjust workout intensity based on our clients’ goals and their body’s response to the exercise. It also allows us to reward points to clients based on workout consistency and intensity. We can even use Fit-Metrix to host challenges where clients compete to see who can get the most points during a specific time frame. It has been extremely motivating and will translate to better results!

The fitness industry is realizing that technology helps people stick to their goals. Whether it’s a Fit Bit, a pedometer, an Apple watch or a Polar Heart Rate monitor, measuring and tracking performance helps to increase consistency. In my classes, I’ve noticed clients pushing a little harder and coming in more frequently so they can earn their points. Humans respond well to these types of friendly competitions.

Let’s understand the physiology of Cardiovascular Conditioning and Heart Rate Training. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends aerobic exercise like walking, jogging, swimming, cycling or fitness classes for 20-60 minutes, 3-5 times per week.  Sounds straight forward.  But how do you know if you’re working too hard or should be breaking more of a sweat during your cardio workouts.  How do you know if you are exercising in the right intensity zones?  This is where monitoring your heart rate comes in.  Traditionally an intensity of 70 percent of your maximum heart rate was thought to be the ideal.  But this one-size-fits-all approach might not provide the best results for everyone.

We are now finding that a more custom-designed approach is more effective and here is how to go about it:

Step One: Find Your Zone

First, you have to determine which of the following zones fits your goals: general health, weight management, aerobic conditioning, advanced conditioning or a combination of all four. It’s important to note that most of us would benefit from training in all zones.

Zone 1:  General Health

A great deal of research indicates that being active at a lower intensity, up to 60 percent of your maximum heart rate, consistently and for a total of 30 minutes on most days, reduces the risk of developing many chronic diseases.  Low intensity activities like walking, gardening, household chores or easy cycling will achieve this. If someone does not need to lose body fat and they are not training for a sporting event, this may be all they need to do to stay healthy.

Zone 2:  Weight management

If your goal is to reduce body fat and you have been relatively inactive, you will need to train at a level of 60 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate.  This is still within your comfort zone and allows you to exercise at a steady pace for a long enough time to burn off a substantial number of calories.

Zone 3:  Aerobic Conditioning/Weight Management

If your goal is to improve your cardio-vascular conditioning for better stamina and endurance, you should train within a zone of 70-80 percent of your maximum heart rate.  This is a better fat burning zone if you are already fairly fit.  This zone represents a more vigorous level of activity.

Zone 4:  Advanced Conditioning

If you are in top shape and training for a sporting event like a 10km race, a triathlon or tennis, you will need to include some workouts that are 80-90 percent of your maximum heart rate.  This level of training is challenging – it would be the intensity you would hit if you were racing. This zone is also a fat burning zone if you are extremely fit.

Zone 5: High-Intensity/Anaerobic Conditioning

This is a very challenging zone to sustain for extended periods of time. You would use this zone for completing High-intensity interval training – fast and hard. This level of training is both physically and mentally demanding so it is not something you would do on a daily basis.  And it is not for everyone.  Only the really fit should consider working in this range.  This zone is also a fat burning zone if you are extremely fit.

Eventually, your exercise program will include workouts in each of these ranges – short and hard to long and easy. Next, you need to determine whether you’re in the right zone during any given workout. It takes a bit of math so get your calculators – but trust us – this type of scientific approach will ensure you’re not wasting any time and getting great results. If you aren’t great at math, head to this page and submit your information, and your zones will be instantly calculated.

Step Two:  Determine your Estimated Maximum Heart Rate (MHR)

  • Females = 226 – your age
  • Males = 220 – your age

Step Three:  Determine your Resting Heart Rate (RHR)

Before you get up in the morning, measure your heart rate for one minute.  Be sure to wait a few minutes after the alarm has gone off, so your heart recovers from being startled.  Do this 3 days in a row and take the average.

Step Four:  Determine the low end of your training zone:

Low end of training zone = [(MHR -RHR) x _______%] + RHR = __________ beats per minute

Step Five:  Determine the high end of your training zone:

High end of training zone = [(MHR -RHR) x _______%] + RHR = __________ beats per minute


A 40 year old inactive woman wants to lose body fat and has a resting heart rate of 70 beats per minute. She’ll want to workout between 60-70% of her max heart rate.

  • Her estimated maximum heart rate (MHR) = 226 – age (40) = 186
  • Low end of training zone =[(186 -70) x 60%] + 70 = 140 beats per minute
  • High end of training zone = [(186-70) x 70%] + 70 = 151 beats per minute

In doing the math, we see she needs to train at a heart rate of 140 to 151 beats per minute.

Once you have determined your optimal training zones for each workout, the best way to ensure that you are in the correct zone is to invest in a heart rate monitor. Prices vary – you can purchase a Polar monitor for under $100 (our clients love the arm strap – easy and convenient), an Apple Watch for about $400 and prices can increase from there based on how advanced the technology is. Wearing a monitor will allow for an accurate, quick analysis of your heart rate and the ability to easily intensify or reduce the intensity of your workout if you are not in the right zone.

Yours in health & fitness,
Sherri McMillan

Note: As an avid Columbian reader, you can redeem a 2 week pass at her world-class training studio to help get you started.  Contact 360.574.7292 for more details.


GFHalf2017Join us for Girlfriends Run for a Cure Half Marathon, 10K & 5K on Oct 14th, 2018!

Recruit your best girlfriends and help raise funds for Breast Cancer Treatment, Research & a Cure while your walk or run along a beautiful course!






Sherri McMillan

Sherri McMillan

Sherri McMillan, holds a master's degree in exercise physiology and has been inspiring the world to adopt a fitness lifestyle for more than 33 years. She has received numerous industry awards including 2010 CanFitPro International Presenter of the Year, 2006 IDEA Fitness Director of the Year, 1998 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year, 1998 CanFitPro Fitness Presenter of the Year and 2005/2006 ACE Fitness Educator of the Year - Runner up. She is a fitness trainer, fitness columnist for various magazines and newspapers, author of five books and manuals including "Go For Fit - the Winning Way to Fat Loss" and "Fit over Forty" and the featured presenter in various fitness DVDs. She has presented hundreds of workshops to thousands of fitness leaders throughout Canada, Australia, Mexico, Jamaica, New Zealand, Germany, England, Spain, South America, Asia and the U.S. She is the owner of Northwest Personal Training in downtown Vancouver, the founder of WHY Racing Events & WHY Community, participates in various community fundraisers and can be found running, biking, or hiking around the community. Find more information at

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