Monitoring your heart rate during exercise can help you gauge the intensity of your workouts, and checking your resting heart rate can provide insight into your state of recovery and overall cardiovascular efficiency, but what about your heart rate recovery?
What is heart rate recovery (HRR), and what does HRR tell you about your cardiovascular health and aerobic fitness?
This article will discuss heart rate recovery, what HRR indicates, and what a good HRR value is.
More specifically, we will cover:
- What Is Heart Rate Recovery?
- How to Calculate Your Heart Rate Recovery
- Why is Recovery Heart Rate Important?
- What is a Good Heart Rate Recovery?
- How to Improve Heart Rate Recovery
Let’s jump in!
What Is Heart Rate Recovery?
Heart rate recovery (HRR) refers to the difference between your highest heart rate reached during a workout and your heart rate shortly after you stop exercising.
Typically, the post-workout heart rate is taken one minute after the workout stops to calculate heart rate recovery.
Your heart rate recovery value is measured in beats per minute.
For example, if your heart rate reaches a maximum of 170 bpm during your workout and your post-workout heart rate drops to 120 bpm 60 seconds after you stop, your HRR is 170 – 120 = 50 bpm.
Your HRR value can be used as an indication of your aerobic fitness, and it can provide insight into your cardiovascular health and future risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality.
Essentially, heart rate recovery value is a way to quantify the ability of your heart to recover to your resting heart rate after it has been elevated during physical activity.
The greater the difference in your peak heart rate during your workout and your recovering heart rate one minute after you stop exercising, the better your aerobic conditioning and heart health. This quick turnaround indicates that your heart can re-establish its resting pace shortly after exercise, indicating a highly efficient cardiovascular system.
How to Calculate Your Heart Rate Recovery
There are two metrics that go into determining your heart rate recovery: the peak or highest heart rate that you reach during a workout and your heart rate one minute after you have stopped exercising.
In general, if you want to get a more accurate assessment of your heart rate recovery value, you should perform a steady-state aerobic workout or a progressive workout such that your peak heart rate is the one that is achieved very close to the end of your workout before the cool down.
It is typically advised to reach a peak exercise heart rate that is at least 70% of your age-predicted (or known) maximum heart rate. You can use the simple equation 220-age to get a ballpark estimate of your maximum heart rate.
For example, if you are 40 years old, your maximum heart rate is 220-40 = 180 bpm, so you should aim to achieve a peak heart rate during exercise of at least 126 bpm when trying to measure your HRR.
When you choose to use a HIIT workout, you might hit a higher peak heart rate at one of the early or middle intervals in the workout. This can confound your results because your heart rate might drop lower later in the workout, and then you will not get a true picture of how quickly your heart rate returns to resting levels from the highest rate it reaches.
Once you have finished the intense part of your workout before the cool down, stop and rest for one minute. Then, take your recovery heart rate.
From there, calculating your heart rate recovery is quite simple. Subtract the recovery heart rate taken one minute after exercise from the peak heart rate reached during your maximal point of exertion for the given workout.
Keep in mind that it doesn’t need to be an all-out effort-level workout for the HRR value to have merit.
Rather, even just comparing your heart rate during moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (aiming for a minimum of 70% of your max HR) to your recovery heart rate one minute after the workout is over can provide a lot of insight into your cardiovascular fitness and health.
Why is Recovery Heart Rate Important?
Overall, your heart rate recovery provides insight into your heart’s ability to recover after being stressed during exercise.
Researchers believe that your HRR can be useful for stratifying your risk for future heart disease or cardiovascular events because it provides insight into how well your heart is functioning. Studies suggest that an abnormal HRR (defined in the study as an HRR of 12 bpm or less) may predict your mortality risk from cardiovascular events.
A poor heart rate recovery value can be a sign that your autonomic nervous system is not functioning optimally. The autonomic nervous system is a branch of the nervous system that controls involuntary functions such as heart rate and breathing and is chiefly involved in slowing down your heart rate back to resting levels after exercise or stress.
Additionally, a low HRR number is often seen in individuals with hypertension, type 2 diabetes, atrial fibrillation, coronary artery disease, and heart failure, as well as those with other known and not yet diagnosed risk factors for heart disease.
What is a Good Heart Rate Recovery?
Of course, as with most biometrics, it is helpful to have an idea of a benchmark for a good HRR.
Overall, the faster your heart rate is able to return to normal levels after you exercise, the better. If it takes a while for your heart rate to trend back down, it can be indicative of poor fitness or potential cardiovascular disease risk.
Unfortunately, there isn’t an official heart rate recovery chart that can tell you your expected heart rate recovery based on age, sex, and fitness level.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, for the general adult population, a good heart rate recovery after one minute of rest following exercise is 18 beats or higher.
So, for example, if you reach a peak exercise heart rate of 150 bpm, your heart rate after one minute of rest should be no more than 132 bpm.
Endurance-trained athletes often have considerably higher values, which is indicative of their level of aerobic conditioning.
Enhanced Medical Care has HRR results interpretations, but for recovery heart rates taken two minutes after exercise rather than one.
According to this data, an HRR less than 22 means that your biological age is slightly older than your calendar age. An HRR of 22-52 means these two “ages” match, while an HRR of 53-58, 59-65, and 66 and higher means that your biological age is slightly, moderately, and significantly younger than your calendar age, respectively.
It’s important to note that numerous factors can affect your heart rate recovery number besides just your level of aerobic fitness.
Age also contributes to your heart’s ability to quickly return to resting levels after being stressed by exercise or some other factor.
The type of exercise that you perform as well as the exact protocol you use to measure your HRR matter as well.
For example, some methods of assessing heart rate recovery take measurements as quickly as 10-30 seconds after exercise rather than waiting a full minute, whereas others wait a full two minutes.
There isn’t necessarily one standardized protocol.
Additionally, if your HRR is measured during an exercise stress test, your provider or technician may have you perform “active rest,“ in which you are still moving around during the minute preceding the recovery heart rate measurement, or “passive rest,“ in which you are resting in a still and quiet position, typically lying down.
Generally speaking, it can be helpful to measure your heart rate recovery on numerous occasions and with different types of exercise (running, elliptical, weightlifting, swimming, rowing, stair climbing, etc.) to get a better well-rounded picture of your usual HRR number.
How to Improve Heart Rate Recovery
The best way to improve your heart rate recovery is by getting consistent aerobic exercise.
To meet the guidelines for physical activity for adults set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the British Heart Foundation, you should aim to accumulate either 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity cardio exercise per week.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), your target heart rate should be between 64-76% of your maximum heart rate for moderate-intensity physical activity and between 77-93% of your maximum heart rate for vigorous-intensity physical activity.
If you have a history of a prior cardiac event, you may benefit from a cardiac rehab program, and research suggests that cardiac rehab after a heart attack or heart surgery can help improve HRR values.
If you are concerned about the slow return of your heart rate after exercise, you should speak with your doctor or cardiologist about getting an exercise stress test to further examine the function of your heart and its ability to meet the demands during exercise and then recover afterward.
If you are interested in more information about your heart rate we invite you to take a look at the following guides:
What’s A Good Resting Heart Rate?