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What’s A Good Heart Rate Recovery? HRR Explained

Another heart rate metric to gauge your physical fitness.

As runners, we love metrics, especially heart rate metrics. Many of us use heart rate zone training instead of pace or rate of perceived exertion as a method of run training.

Monitoring your heart rate during exercise can help you gauge the intensity of your workouts, and your resting heart rate can provide insight into your state of recovery and overall cardiovascular efficiency.

But what about your heart rate recovery (HRR)? Is this a helpful metric for runners?

Heart rate recovery measures your heart’s ability to return to baseline after exercise. It’s the difference between your peak heart rate reached during a workout and your heart rate shortly after stopping exercising.

So why is it important for us to have this data? Let me show you.

The word recovery with a heart as the o.

What Is Heart Rate Recovery?

Essentially, your 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. 

Typically, to calculate heart rate recovery, the post-workout heart rate is taken one minute after the workout stops.

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 indicate your aerobic fitness and provide insight into your cardiovascular health and future risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality.1Qiu, S., Cai, X., Sun, Z., Li, L., Zuegel, M., Steinacker, J. M., & Schumann, U. (2017). Heart Rate Recovery and Risk of Cardiovascular Events and All‐Cause Mortality: A Meta‐Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies. Journal of the American Heart Association6(5). https://doi.org/10.1161/jaha.117.005505

‌The greater the difference between your peak heart rate during your workout and your recovering heart rate one minute after you stop exercising, the better your aerobic conditioning, exercise capacity, and heart health will be.

This quick turnaround indicates that your heart can re-establish its resting pace shortly after exercise, indicating a highly efficient cardiovascular system.

The face of a sports watch shows heart rate.

How Can I Calculate My Heart Rate Recovery?

Two metrics determine your heart rate recovery: the peak or highest heart rate you reach during a workout and your heart rate one minute after you stop 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 achieved very close to the end of your workout before the cool down. 

It is typically advised to reach a peak exercise heart rate at least 70% of your age-predicted (or known) maximum heart rate. The simple equation 220-age can give you a ballpark estimate of your maximum heart rate.

For example, if you are 40 years old, your estimated 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.

A person looking at their sport watch.

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 it returns to resting levels from the highest rate it reaches within that first minute.

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. This is most easily done with a heart rate monitor.

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.

A person taking their pulse and looking at their watch.

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 your HRR can help stratify your risk for future heart disease or cardiovascular events because it provides insight into how well your heart functions.

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 indicate that your autonomic nervous system is not functioning optimally.2Peçanha, T., Silva-Júnior, N. D., & Forjaz, C. L. de M. (2014). Heart rate recovery: autonomic determinants, methods of assessment and association with mortality and cardiovascular diseases. Clinical Physiology and Functional Imaging34(5), 327–339. https://doi.org/10.1111/cpf.12102

The autonomic nervous system is a branch of the nervous system that controls involuntary functions such as heart rate and breathing. It is chiefly involved in slowing down your heart rate back to resting levels after exercise3Gourine, A. V., & Ackland, G. L. (2019). Cardiac Vagus and Exercise. Physiology34(1), 71–80. https://doi.org/10.1152/physiol.00041.2018 or stress.

Additionally, a low HRR number is often seen in individuals with hypertension, type 2 diabetes, atrial fibrillation,4Jolly, M. A., Brennan, D. M., & Cho, L. (2011). Impact of Exercise on Heart Rate Recovery. Circulation124(14), 1520–1526. https://doi.org/10.1161/circulationaha.110.005009 coronary artery disease, and heart failure, as well as those with other known and not yet diagnosed risk factors for heart disease.

A person taking their heart rate recovery manually.

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 to see how your physical fitness stacks up. 

Overall, the faster your heart rate returns to normal levels after exercise, the better. If it takes a while for it to trend back down, it can be a predictor 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,5Cleveland Clinic. (2022, July 18). Heart Rate Recovery: What It Is and How to Calculate It. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/23490-heart-rate-recovery for the general adult population, a good heart rate recovery after one minute of rest following exercise is 18 beats or more.

For example, if you reach a peak exercise heart rate of 150 bpm, your post-exercise 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.

A person taking their heart rate recovery after working out.

Enhanced Medical Care6Improve Heart Health by Knowing Your Recovery Heart Rate. (2013, January 20). Enhanced Medical Care. https://enhancedmedicalcare.com/2013/01/20/improve-heart-health-by-knowing-your-recovery-heart-rate/ has HRR results interpretations but for recovery heart rates taken two minutes after exercise rather than one.

So, what is a good 2-minute recovery heart rate?

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 or overall health. 

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 you perform and the exact protocol you use to measure your HRR also matter. 

For example, some methods of assessing heart rate recovery take measurements as quickly as 10-30 seconds after exercise7van de Vegte, Y. J., van der Harst, P., & Verweij, N. (2018). Heart Rate Recovery 10 Seconds After Cessation of Exercise Predicts Death. Journal of the American Heart Association7(8). https://doi.org/10.1161/jaha.117.008341 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, the protocol may vary.

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.

A person walking while looking at their watch.

How to Improve Heart Rate Recovery

The best way to improve your heart rate recovery time is through consistent aerobic exercise.

To meet the guidelines for physical activity for adults set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention8Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, June 2). How Much Physical Activity do Adults Need? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. and the British Heart Foundation,9Understanding physical activity. (2022). Bhf.org.uk. https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/publications/being-active/understanding-physical-activity# 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, your target heart rate should be between 64-76% of your maximum heart rate for moderate-intensity physical activity and between 77-93% for vigorous-intensity physical activity.

If you have a history of a prior cardiac event, you may benefit from a cardiac rehab program. Research suggests10Elshazly, A., Khorshid, H., Hanna, H., & Ali, A. (2018). Effect of exercise training on heart rate recovery in patients post anterior myocardial infarction. The Egyptian Heart Journal70(4), 283–285. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ehj.2018.04.007 that cardiac rehab after a heart attack or heart surgery can help improve HRR values.

Are you concerned about the slow return of your heart rate after exercise?

If so, speak with your healthcare professional about getting an exercise stress test to further examine your heart’s function and its ability to meet the demands during exercise and then recover afterward.

If you enjoyed this guide, check out this next article on heart rate variability:

References

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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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