Using Recovery Heart Rate for Health

recovery heart rate definition
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Recovery heart rate is a pulse measurement that is taken immediately following intense exercise. Recovery heart rate is used in some fitness tests to evaluate the heart's ability to recover from exercise. The recovery pulse rate may be used to estimate an exerciser's fitness level.

What Is Recovery Heart Rate?

If you take group exercise classes or work out in a gym, you may have heard fitness trainers refer to recovery heart rate.

In many spinning classes, for example, the instructor may ask you to take a recovery heart rate right after the hard part of the class is over. But you may not know the definition of recovery heart rate

Recovery heart rate is simply your pulse rate after exercise. Some fitness specialists refer to it as post-exercise heart rate. The pulse number is used for different reasons in different settings.

In a fitness class, you might take a recovery heart rate in the 3-5 minutes after exercise to make sure that your heart is recovering properly. Many group exercise instructors will recommend that you bring the recovery pulse rate under 100 beats per minute before you get off your spin bike, for example, or move to the floor for stretching. 

Recovery heart rate is also used in popular fitness tests like the YMCA Submaximal Step Test. During the fitness assessment, an exerciser steps up and down on a 12-inch box at a rate of 24 steps per minute.

The test lasts for three minutes. Recovery heart rate is measured for one full minute immediately following the test.

Recovery heart rate should not be used as a fitness measurement in people who are on medications that affect heart rate.

Is My Recovery Heart Rate Good?

So how do you know if your recovery heart rate is normal?

As a general rule, a lower recovery heart rate following vigorous exercise is better. In fitness settings (like an exercise class) trainers like to see your heart rate fall under 100 beats per minute in the first three minutes after exercise.

In graded exercise tests, clinicians like to see a heart rate reduction of at least 12 beats per minute in the first minute following exercise if the patient is standing and a reduction of 22 beats per minute if the patient is sitting. 

There are also charts for recovery heart rate that are used to evaluate your fitness level.  If you do the YMCA step test, you can compare your recovery heart rate to the values listed in these charts:

How to Improve Recovery Heart Rate

If your recovery heart rate is not as low as you'd like it to be, there are a few things you can do. First, you can simply wait a few days. If you are especially tired, if you'd had caffeine during the day or if you are not properly hydrated, your heart rate might be higher than normal.

But if you notice that your post exercise heart rate is typically higher, you may want to talk to your doctor. In many cases, your doctor may recommend that you improve your level of fitness to train your heart to recover more effectively.

But your doctor may also review your health history or recommend a further investigation to see why your heart rate is high.


Nate Brookreson. American College of Sports Medicine. ACSM Certification. "Using Heart Rate Monitoring For Personal Training." July 2015.

American Council on Exercise. Physical Fitness Assessments. Health Coach Manual. 2013