I've never been too concerned with target heart rate when exercising. I would always just hop on a piece of cardio equipment and go from there. I've been reading about the importance of keeping within a certain target heart rate based on your exercise goals/desired outcomes.
I don't need to loose weight. I'd really just like to be more toned and loose fat. Most people would probably look at me and say I look fine, but I see the little imperfections, hence, I think I could stand to tone up a bit more.
I'm wondering what my target rate should be (with a fat loss goal in mind) when I do my cardio. I monitored it today on the elliptical and it was in the range of 140-160, and I really wasn't pushing myself all that hard. I'm not sure how accurate those heart rate monitors are on the machines at the gym. I've read that for fat loss, target rate for fat loss should be in the range of 120-140-ish. Is this right?
Here are my stats -
Female, 31 years old, approx 5 foot 6, approx 125 lbs. I try to workout 5-6 days per week.
I'll do 2-3 days of full body weights (gym machines). Typically 1-2 of those weight sessions are on my lunch break, so I really only have about 45 minutes, the other day is Saturday, so I don't really have a time limit. I work my legs (leg press, inner/outer thigh machines, leg curl, leg extension), arms/back (bicep curls, lat pull down, tricep, and chest press), and abs. I do 2-3 sets (depending on time) of 10 reps each on each machine and use a weight that is challenging by the end of the last few reps of each set.
For cardio, I'll do 2-3 days as well. Again, typically 1-2 of those sessions are during lunch breaks, so about 40 minutes max. The other day is Saturday, following my weights - I limit the cardio after weights to about 30 minutes because I'm usually pretty tired. My cardio of choice is the elliptical because I have bad knees. I have a treadmill at home and I don't mind using it, but running tends to bother my knees and back a bit. I run a bit here and there just for a change.
As far as diet - I've always been able to eat pretty much what I wanted - up until the last 3 years or so (age is sneaking up on me!) I try make an effort to eat well. I don't count calories or anything like that. I try to get in my fruits and veggies; lean meats, cheese and yogurt for protein. I eat a lot of Balance protein/energy bars. I drink a lot of water. The only other things I drink are diet soda, coffee, skim milk, and an occassional vitamin water 10.
Well, that's probably way too much info, but I'm just trying to get some thoughts from the folks here about what I should do to make sure I'm exercising efficiently to burn fat and tone up.
Re: Questions about target heart rate & loosing fat
With respect to exercise intensity, the highest intensities are anaerobic, which can only be sustained for short sprints, while lower intensities are aerobic, which can be sustained for longer durations. The threshold is usually around 80% of your maximum heart rate, which the usual estimate is 220 - age (or 189 for you, so the estimated anaerobic threshold is 151 for you). However, there is considerable individual variation in maximum heart rate and anaerobic threshold -- your maximum heart rate and anaerobic threshold may be considerably different from the estimates. If you can sustain a heart rate of 160 for a long duration, then that means that your anaerobic threshold is greater than that.
To maximize calorie burn per amount of time in continuous exercise, you can exercise just below your anaerobic threshold, maintaining it for as long as you have time. An alternative method sometimes used is to exercise at very high (anaerobic) intensity for short sprints, with intervals of very low intensity "active rest" in between (this is called "high intensity interval training" or HIIT).
There is the concept of a "fat burning zone", which is low to moderate intensity exercise, well below the anaerobic threshold. The idea is that a higher percentage of calories burned comes from fat than if you exercise at higher intensities. However, exercising at higher intensities burns more calories overall per unit time, and, within the aerobic range, higher intensity exercise burns more fat calories even if a lower percentage of calories burned come from fat.
Re: Questions about target heart rate & losing fat
I completely agree that intervals are the best way to tone up...and lose weight. If you warm up for 5 minutes and then go as hard as you can for 60 seconds, then back down for 3-4 minutes, then back to maximum output, you should find that you get fitter and leaner faster. I used to be a runner, about 10kms a day and I found that when I was busy I only had time for 20 minute runs. 20 minutes of intervals - jogging and sprinting - was just as effective (actually more effective as far as fitness) than running my usual 10kms.
Also try and vary your routine so your body has to keep adjusting. Sometimes just do one set of all you can manage until you're exhausted rather than 3 sets. See if you can do some body weight exercises like push ups and chin ups. Variation makes your body work harder and works different fibres. Also make sure you get enough rest - a week off every now and again does wonders.
Re: Questions about target heart rate & losing fat
I am not sure you need to change your cardio routine as much as you need to adjust your strength regimen. Not being there to see what you do, I can only guess. However, most people do not push themselves while they are doing the strength portion of their workout. Don't waste your time with the inner/outer thigh machine. It is a relatively small muscle you are working. Try to do free weights more than machines. You get a more effective workout because it engages more muscles. If you have time, and if your gym has it, try to attend a Bodypump class. It is a strength class and is very motivating. It uses the idea of lower weights with lots of reps.