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Q: Last week a client had to take a break between sets of exercises, and that’s when she asked me “Am I out of shape? My heart rate still gets super high when I workout… I thought that would stop as I got into better shape, right?”


A:  No way!  You are in great shape.  The heavy breathing and high heart rate only mean you are working hard AF.  And the fact that you caught your breath enough to ask me that question in about 30 seconds means your heart is super healthy.
 
A healthy and fit cardiovascular system are responsive.  By responsive I mean that they can quickly respond to the demands of your muscles.  For example, if your muscles – especially your lower body muscles – are working really hard they need fuel and oxygen.  Lots of oxygen and fuel and they need it fast. 
 
If your cardiovascular system (and autonomic nervous system) are healthy and fit they will rise to the occasion and deliver the fuel and oxygen ASAP.  Additionally, your heart rate will also go back down quickly between sets of exercise.  Healthy hearts (1) go up quickly, (2) have the ability to get very high, and (3) come back down quickly as well.
 
By contrast, an unhealthy and unfit cardiovascular system has a heart rate that (1) rises slowly – too slow to fuel the needs of hard working muscles, (2) lowers slowly – it has a hard time shifting gears from work to rest, and (3) doesn’t go very high – you want your heart to have the ability to beat rapidly, and decades of sedentary living cause our hearts to lose this capacity.
 
There is an old myth in fitness that the fitter you get the less your heart rate goes up.  This is only true if you do exactly the same exercises at the same intensity levels on day 1 and day 365… but, if your don’t challenge your body it will not change for the better… and that also sounds super boring.
 
So, in summary, the client who asked the question had (1) just completed a pair of very challenging lower body exercises.  Our leg muscles are the largest in the body, and therefore consume the most oxygen and cause the greatest spike in heart rate. (2) She was also pushing herself hard enough to improve her fitness… so, of course her heart rate was high her muscles needed it to be. (3) Her heart rate came down enough in 30 seconds that she could easily ask me this multi sentence question without gasping for air… in other words, she is doing awesome!
 

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