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Fitness advice: How to use a heart rate monitor to burn more fat

Do you find it hard to motivate yourself whilst training on your own? Or do you feel like you could have worked harder in your training session? Then maybe you should do what I do and use a heart rate monitor.

These gadgets have been around for years, and they are amazing training tools. The information you get is immediately useful, and can really take your training routines up a few notches.

People tend to associate heart rate monitoring with cardio and endurance sports, but while it is indeed important to pay attention to the HR for activities like this, you can use the information for all kinds of things.

I always use a heart rate monitor with new clients to give me more of an insight into their fitness and recovery times, which means I can give them far more tailored sessions (you can see me use them regularly on my Instagram @harrythomas_uk).

There are so many things you can look at when it comes to heart rate training, but today I’m going to talk about rest time. The majority of our clients come to us for weight loss and muscle transformation; focussing on rest time will increase the intensity of your sessions, and can completely transform your workout.

Heart rate zones

Your heart rate is one of the best indicators of how hard your body is working during a workout. It’s a trackable number, so it is a lot more measurable than just judging things on how hot and sweaty you get, which is subjective.

If your heart rate took 50 seconds to return to “resting” after a particular exercise a month ago, and today it’s 35 seconds, then you can see a definitive improvement. It also means I can be fairly sure whether they have been doing their fitness homework between sessions!

We all have a resting heart rate and a maximum heart rate. You can quite easily take your resting heart rate, by taking your pulse or using a blood pressure machine. There are also some simple calculators online to work out your maximum reading, such as subtracting your age from 220 (this is obviously a ballpark figure, but it’s a decent enough place to start).

Knowing these two numbers, allows you to then split your heart rate into five zones: maximum (red), hard (yellow), moderate (green), light (blue) and very light (grey). Depending on your goal, you can determine which zone you need to spend most of your training time in. Some sessions might be spent in “moderate” if you’re working on endurance, but that’s not to say the odd session in the light zone will harm your progress.

No grey zone for weight loss

No1 Fitness specialises in transformations, and we’ve achieved some amazing results over the years. To lose body fat and get in great shape, you have to burn more calories than you consume. One of the things that I notice when I walk around gyms, is that people do not work hard enough, especially when their goals is to burn fat. They spend too much time resting, which is even more worrying when they’re with a personal trainer.

I’ve pointed out to many of my trainers that they’re not working their clients hard enough when the main goal is to shift fat. If they disagree. I’ll ask them to strap a heart rate monitor onto the client. Ten times out of ten, their heart rate is in the rest zone.

The rest zone is where your heart rate should be when you’re walking or stretching, so spending the majority of a workout in this zone isn’t going to shift a lot of fat: the heart never lies.

One of the rules at our studio for our transformation clients is a no grey zone approach. Paying attention to the client’s heart rate during the main part of the session is key. Some people recover much quicker than others, and a rest time of, say, 60 seconds, can be too much.

When you’re resting, keep an eye on your heart rate as it drops. As soon as it reaches the grey zone, its then time to go again. This alone, can up the number of calories you burn by a huge 300 a session.

Remember, this for the main part of your workout. If you’re stretching or cooling down, there’s nothing wrong with being in the grey zone.

There are lots of heart rate monitors out there, but my favourite right now is the Polar H10, which as well as recovery times, will help you track calories burned, heart rate interval, and anaerobic heart rate training zones. Pick one up and see how much you’ve been slacking off in the gym!

• Harry is a PT and co-owner of No1 Fitness. To book visit


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