Going for a jog. Shooting hoops. Running stairs. Pumping iron. These forms of exercise have one thing in common: They all do a great job of raising your heart rate. That’s a critical component to any worthwhile workout because an elevated heart rate does several things for you: First, it helps you lose weight. The higher your heart rate, the more energy your body will expend, and the more pounds you’ll shed. Secondly, it helps you burn fat. Getting your heart rate up to just 50 percent of its maximum means that roughly 85 percent of the calories you burn will come from fat. So even if you’re just walking fast or bike-commuting to the office, you’re still getting fit.
So what target heart rate should you be hitting when exercising? There are actually five heart rate zones that experts focus on when designing workouts, ranging from an easy warm-up zone to an all-out sprint zone. While the easy zone won’t do much for your calorie burning and the max heart rate zone is too intense to sustain for more than a few seconds. The intermediary zones of hard and very hard provide the biggest bang for your buck.
To improve your fitness, the most important thing is that once your heart rate is up, you keep it up. That means minimal rest between sets, and maximum effort for each move. Follow this workout to hit your target heart rate — and keep it there — for 20 minutes.
1. Climbing stairs
Find a stairwell or stadium with at least 4 flights of stairs. Race to the top, then jog back down, five times.
2. Jumping jacks
To get the max heart rate benefit from this exercise, make sure you raise your arms overhead each and every time. Aim for one jack per second. Go hard for one minute, then rest 30 seconds. Repeat two more times.
3. Jumping rope
It may remind you of your childhood, but there’s nothing easy about jumping rope. Skip the bounce and jump only once per revolution, requiring you to spin the rope faster and work a little harder. Start by jumping 30 seconds with 10 seconds rest, and progress to one minute of jumping followed by 20 seconds rest. Do 3 times.
(Photo by dylan nolte)
4. Butt kicks/high knees
Sprint drills will raise your heart rate, but they also require space. Instead, practice your quick feet and fine motor skills by moving your legs as fast as you can vertically, hiking knees high for 20 seconds, followed by 20 seconds of kicking your heels to your butt as many times as you can while running in place. Rest 20 seconds. Do 5 sets.
From standing, bend your knees, crouch down to the floor, place your hands on the ground, and jump your feet back so you are in an extended plank position. Jump feet forward toward your hands again, push off the floor and jump into a vertical position. Do as many as you can for 30 seconds. Rest for 10 seconds. Repeat 5 times.
They aren’t typically considered aerobic moves, but these all-over body strengtheners can really raise your heart rate if you do them all-out without rest. Drop and do 20 pushups, then flip over to your back and immediately do 20 sit-ups. With both, you’re aiming for a 1-1.5 second timeframe per move. Do 5 sets.
The right way to use a heart rate monitor
The latest crop of monitors ranges from basic to super high-tech. To start, you need to choose from the chest-strap variety (a sensor on a strap around your chest electronically detects your pulse and sends a signal to your wristwatch, which then displays the info) or a wrist monitor (takes your pulse via a sensor on the back of a watch). While chest straps provide the most accurate reading, some people prefer the convenience of the simpler wrist version.
A basic monitor will track workout time, and show your high, low, and average heart rate during the session. More sophisticated models will allow you to program a desired heart rate range pre-workout, so you can monitor whether you are staying within the targeted zone.
Some will also track how long it takes your heart rate to return to normal after an intense aerobic bout. That’s key because length of recovery is equated with how fit you are (the faster your pulse can return to its baseline, the fitter you are getting).
To figure out your ideal heart rate for different types of workouts, check out the recommendations from the American Heart Association, then program your monitor to make sure your workout falls within the parameter that’s best for you.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.