I’ve been a moderate exerciser for years. At least I think I’m a moderate exerciser. I don’t really know because I never check my heart rate when exercising. I thought that was for fanatics, people training for elite events like marathons, and men. Probably because the only people I knew who monitored their heart rate were at least two out of three of the above. At first I was a walker – I’d walk anywhere from 30-60 minutes, three to four days a week, on a treadmill, at a fairly slow pace of an 18-20 minute mile. I’d vary the workout with some incline on the treadmill to try to get more exercise. This was pretty easy exercise for me. I could carry on a conversation and had no trouble keeping this pace for an hour or more. Trouble was, this exercise was maintaining my current level of unfitness and weight, but not improving anything. I thought I was pretty fit from all that walking, until I switched to biking. At first I used a stationary bike at my gym. It had a program that randomly varied the intensity of the workout. I was amazed at how hard this exercise was for me – I could barely keep up on the simplest program and had to stop and rest frequently. Then I started biking outside on my Huffy. I struggled to keep my speed at 10 mph, which for average bikers, is pretty slow. If I biked a moderate hill, I had to stop at the top and recover. How could I be so unfit after all that walking I had done for years? I blamed my bike which was heavy, had wide tires not meant for speed, and was not quite the right fit for me.
I kept plugging away at my biking and began to improve. By the end of the first summer, I had improved my speed, and could take moderate hills without stopping to rest, but was still a pretty slow biker. The following spring I got a new bike that was a better fit, had thin road tires, and was 15 pounds lighter than the Huffy. That helped, but still not the answer. By the end of that summer, after biking 1,100 miles, I had improved a little in speed and endurance but was still not where I ought to be. I was still pretty slow and could not keep up with average bikers. When I rode with friends they would graciously slow to my pace, but I was working hard and they were hardly working. Why was I still fairly unfit after all that riding?
So one day this past winter I was talking to my very fit husband about why I wasn’t getting more fit, and he casually mentioned “…and of course you’re checking your heart rate…” Wait – what? I never check my heart rate. He should know that – we bike together all the time. When we get ready to bike I’m always waiting for him while he’s putting on his heart rate monitor. I’m checking my email, checking my messages, checking everything except my heart rate. Why should I do that – that’s for, well, you know.
Well, my irrational and sexist thinking regarding heart rate finally came back to bite me. That same week two others (one of them a woman) made unsolicited comments to me about “…of course you’re checking your heart rate..” so I decided it was a sign. Time to start caring about my target heart rate and see if it really could be the answer to my lack of exercise progress.