How to Measure and Understand Your Resting Heart Rate


You probably already know how important working in your target heart rate zone is if you want to lose weight and a big part of calculating that involves your resting heart rate or RHR.

What is RHR?

Your RHR refers to the number of times your heart beats in one minute while at rest. This number is so important because it says volumes about your fitness level.  As you become more fit, your RHR will decrease as your heart becomes more efficient. 

Your RHR can also be an indicator of problems like too much stress and fatigue.  You can also use RHR to determine whether you're overtraining.  If you have symptoms of overtraining, like feeling constantly sore and tired, poor performance, depression and other symptoms, take your RHR each day.  If it's 5 bpm over your normal RHR over a period of several days, that may be a sign that you need to back off.

Your RHR is also influenced by body composition, drugs, medication, alcohol and caffeine.

What's a Normal RHR?

The average RHR is usually somewhere between 70 to 72 bpm, averaging 60 to 70 bmp in males and 72 to 80 in females.  The reason it's higher in women is because we have smaller hearts, lower blood volume circulating in the body and lower hemoglobin levels.

Here's how the numbers break down:

  • A slower RHR is considered anything less than 60 bpm
  • A normal RHR is considered an RHR between 60 and 100 bpm
  • A fast RHR is considered over 100 bpm

If your resting heart rate is 100 or more BPM, that may a sign of a problem and you should see your doctor.

How to Measure Your Resting Heart Rate

To take your resting heart rate, take your pulse for one minute first thing in the morning.

If you have an alarm that scares you awake, take a few minutes to rest comfortably and let your heart rate slow down.  While you're still lying down, place your first two fingers on your pulse at your neck or on your wrist. 

At this point, you have some options on how many beats you count:

  • Your can count for 6 seconds and then multiply by 10, which has a larger potential for error, but it's easier
  • You can count for 15 seconds and multiply by 4, which is going to be a little more accurate
  • You can count each beat for 30 seconds and multiply by 2
  • You can count each beat for 60 full seconds.  This one is hard because you just might fall back asleep, but if you can concentrate, you'll get the most accurate RHR.
  • Do this every day for 3 days and take the average of all three measurements.

While it's more accurate, you don't have to take your resting heart rate in the morning.  If you're doing it after you've been up for awhile, lie down and rest for as long as you can and avoid any caffeine or anything else that might affect your heart rate.  After you've been resting comfortably, take your pulse as described above, counting the beats per minute for 6 to 60 seconds.

You can take your pulse at your neck or at your wrist.  Just don't press too hard or that may affect the number you get.

Measure your RHR Regularly

Once you know your RHR, measure it every now and then to see how you're doing.  If you feel tired and stressed, your resting heart rate may reflect that, your body's way of telling you to rest, relax or do something different.  To many high intensity workouts can stress the body and the heart, so pay attention to it and back off if you notice your RHR is off.

View Article Sources
  • American Council on Exercise. ACE Personal Trainer Manual, 5th Edition. San Diego: American Council on Exercise, 2014.