Fitness: Use Breathing as an Indicator of Optimal Exercise Intensity

Fitness: Use Breathing as an Indicator of Optimal Exercise Intensity

Dick Moss, Editor, PE

The traditional method for monitoring exercise intensity is to take a heart rate. This allows students to determine whether they're exercising within their Target Heart Rate Zone—the intensity that will most effectively improve their cardiovascular system.

However, many students aren't good at checking their heart-rate: they either can't find their pulse fast enough or make any of a number of pulse-taking errors. Plus, in order to take a pulse, students generally have to slow down, which disrupts the exercise routine and may also give a false reading.

Fortunately, there is an easier way to monitor
exercise intensity: have your students listen to their breathing.

Lower Range
Your students can determine the lower level of their Target Heart Rate Zone (their aerobic threshold) by listening to themselves—when their breathing becomes audible, they are at that lower range of the zone.

Upper Range
When are they working too hard? When they're breathing so hard they can no longer carry on a conversation—that is, they are beginning to gasp. That shows they've passed their anaerobic threshold and lactic acid is building up in their bloodstream.

Breathing Study
This information was confirmed by Robert Goode, a respiratory physiologist at the University of Toronto. He performed a study on 30 subjects pedaling on stationary bikes. Their heart rates were checked when they were first able to hear themselves breathe.

He found that this point corresponded very well to the lower range of intensity for improving cardiovascular fitness. Even better, this level of intensity changed depending on the age of the subject. For example, it corresponded to about 110 bpm for a 65 year-old, and 150 bpm for a 20-year old.

1. The American Fitness Institute, Be Your Own Personal Trainer, Kindle Edition - Amazon Digital Services, 2011.
2. Joe Taylor (Editor), “Heavy breathing.” Active Living, May 1997.
3. Phyllis Gorney Cooper (RN, MN), Editor, for the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America, Aerobics: Theory and Practice, HDL Publishing, 1987.

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© 2011, Physical Education,

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