Resting Heart Rate

What's a normal resting heart rate for an athlete and how is it measured?

resting heart rate
Measure resting heart rate. (c) Karl Weatherly / Getty Images

Resting heart rate (RHR) refers to the number of times a heart contracts in one minute (beats per minute or BPM) while at complete rest. The normal heart rate depends on your age, gender, and health and can vary greatly for both athletes and non-athletes.

In general, a person's resting heart rate indicates their basic fitness level. The stronger the heart, the more blood it can pump during each contraction, and the less frequently it needs to beat to get adequate blood flow (circulation) and oxygen to the body tissues.

A well-trained athlete can have a very low resting heart rate and pump more blood than an unconditioned individual.

The amount of blood pumped out of the left ventricle of the heart with each contraction is called the stroke volume. Although some conditions can affect a person's stroke volume, endurance, and high-intensity cardiovascular exercise training often increases stroke volume. A larger stroke volume results in a lower (resting) heart rate.

The range for resting heart rate is quite large, but an average resting heart rate for a healthy person is about 60-75 BPM. Athletes may have resting heart rates values as low as 40-50 BPM. If your resting heart rate runs 80 or high on a regular basis, you may want to have a check up with your doctor. For most people, the resting heart rate will decrease as the heart becomes stronger and more efficient.

How to Measure Resting Heart Rate

To determine a resting heart rate, it's ideal to measure your pulse for one full minute immediately upon waking and before you get out of bed.

You can palpate an artery and count the number of beats you feel in one full minute, or you can use a heart rate monitor. The easiest place to palpate an artery for taking a pulse is at the wrist. Place two fingers on the inside of your wrist to find your pulse, and using a timer, count the number of beats you feel for one full minute.

Resting Heart Rate as a Sign of Overtraining

Athletes are wise to keep a record of daily resting heart rates to help determine overtraining or failed recovery from a tough workout. After several days and week of measurements, any marked or sudden increase from the average heart rate may indicate a lack of complete recovery. This is an important indication that you may need more rest, a lighter workout or some time off to prevent illness or injury.

Read more: Overtraining Syndrome

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