At Unite Fitness we spend a lot of time talking about, and tuning into, perceived exertion.  Perceived exertion is how hard you feel like you are working. We believe that everyone should know how to tune into his or her body and to listen to it regularly. We coach our cardio intervals using our version of a perceived exertion scale, which allows us to coach a room full of people at different fitness levels, challenging everyone from beginners to the most seasoned of athletes.

But recently I went through a little bit of an existential crisis when I saw a picture of a white and gold dress on Facebook, and looking at the same exact picture on the same screen, Juliet saw a blue and black dress.  It turns out that many factors can influence what you perceive to be reality.

But what does that have to do with training?  It comes back to perceived exertion, and really who’s to say that what I perceive as my max is really my max?  Maybe my perception of a 90% sprint is different from what is really happening.   How much more effective could my workouts be if I could really quantify my results in a meaningful way?  As we learned from the white/gold or blue/black dress debate, your perception could be different from the person standing next to you.  So how can we be sure we are really getting the most from our workouts?


Enter the heart rate monitor: a way to measure the intensity of your workout. In a world where wearable technology is helping people everywhere quantify their physical exertion over time, the heart rate monitor has seen some nice upgrades recently to make it a useful device to track your workouts.  It is nice to have a quantifiable metric to look at when comparing workouts from day to day.  Whether the comparison is treadmill vs. bike at Unite, or comparing different styles of workouts such as bootcamps or spin classes, I’m able to compare apples to apples, when measuring their effectiveness for me.  That being said, I’ve taken my trusty HR monitor with me to every workout I’ve done for the past few months to measure my workouts, and here is what I’ve learned:


Heart rate and caloric burn is just one of many metrics that can be used to get a complete picture of your workout, but it is a good equalizer without much hassle when comparing different workout methods and machines. For example, one thing the heart rate monitor doesn’t measure is the after-burn, which is the sustained after-effect of an intense training session.  One 20-minute incredibly intense power-endurance workout might not produce an impressive in-workout caloric burn, but the body will spend the rest of the day working to recover the muscles, not to mention the strength gains associated with that workout.


Workout Intensity

Get the most out of each interval.  We know interval-training works, but if you complete a 20 second sprint at the same speed and intensity of a 10 minute run, you’re not doing it right.  The key to interval training is to really make the intervals work by getting the intensity up.  The shorter the interval, the higher the intensity needs to be.  By using a HR monitor, I’m able to check in real time how intensely I’m moving.  If my HR is only in the 150s at the end of a 100% sprint, I know I need to crank it up before the next one. The HR monitor gives me some external motivation to go harder if I need to, or to verify that I’m at my real maximum output if that is the case.


Improves your weaknesses

Bike vs. treadmill vs. rower –  The age old debate. Which is best?  The frustrating answer is that they all are great, and there is no best, just different.  We wouldn’t have them as options at Unite if they weren’t all useful.  When on the bike, I previously had difficulty getting my heart rate as high as I could on the treadmill.  My legs would burn out before I could get my heart rate up.  The monitor helped me learn that I needed to improve my muscular endurance on the bike to match my cardiovascular endurance.  After a few months of concentrated effort, I’m pushing much bigger numbers and getting my max heart rate up on the bike, just like I can on the treadmill. Without the HR monitor, I would not have been able to detect this weakness, but have become a more all-around athlete because of it.


Track workout days and length

We all lead busy lives.  For many, the first thing to get cut out is the workout.  It’s also easy to delude yourself into thinking you worked out enough this week.  Using the HR monitor, I’m able to easily get a visual representation of my weekly and monthly workout days, and time in workouts. This is a pretty simple, yet extremely effective way to make sure I stay consistent.


Don’t get caught up in the numbers

It is important to note that it is extremely easy for certain personality types to get caught up in the calorie counting game.  That is not what this is about.  I am simply using the HR monitor to manage my workout intensity.  I don’t count calories when I eat, choosing to focus on food quality over quantity.

The Verdict

The Unite Workout consistently allows me, personally, to burn consistently between 800 and 1100 calories per workout, more than any other workout I’ve done, either on my own or in a group setting.  Your results will undoubtedly be different based on an infinite number of factors.  But 8 years after I did my first workout at Unite Fitness, I remain confident that you will not find a more effective or complete workout for optimizing all aspects of health in 75 minutes, and now I have a little data to back it up, thanks to my heart rate monitor.

Which device to get?

I personally recommend the Wahoo Tickr X, which is the device I use thanks to it’s accuracy, ease of use, on board memory, and ability to sync with pretty much any fitness tracking app you already use.  The Polar H7 is another great option, which has the added benefit of syncing with the treadmills and bikes, so you’ll be able to get real time heart rate data while in a cardio session at Unite.  I chose the Wahoo because it has memory that will save your data, untethered from your phone.

-Coach Mackie