Your resting heart rate (RHR) is one of the best indicators of your level of fitness, resilience and cardiovascular health. A lower resting heart rate indicates that your heart is able to pump more blood per beat, and thus does not have to beat as frequently to keep up.
The common advice to lowering your resting heart rate is to just “exercise.” I see a lot of people advocating this and other copy-and-paste sounding tips. But there’s nothing specific about that at all. Not all exercise is going to lower your resting heart rate.
Before we get to how you can lower your RHR, there are a few topics that need to be understood:
How to Properly Measure Your Resting Heart Rate
First things first. To lower your resting heart rate, you need to be able to accurately measure and track it over time.
Your heart rate is affected by many things throughout the day. Any form of stress, physical or mental, can increase sympathetic nervous system activity and increase your heart rate.
For this reason, to get an accurate resting heart rate, you should measure it first thing in the morning, before you drink your coffee or start scrolling social media. Ideally, you should measure it in bed within 5 minutes or so of waking up.
Use a Heart Rate Monitor
The most accurate way to measure your resting heart rate is with a heart rate monitor. A chest strap, like the Polar H10, is going to be the most accurate. If you’re serious about lowering your resting HR, get a HR monitor.
You can also use wrist sensors, like a fitbit or smartwatch, which are slightly less accurate but still better than trying to measure your pulse with your fingers.
This can become part of a daily routine where you wake up and immediately check your resting heart rate. Free apps like Elite HRV can keep track of your HR data over time for free.
Keep Track of Your Resting Heart Rate Over Time
If you want to lower your resting heart rate, you need to keep track of it on a regular basis. This way you can see if your resting heart rate is trending in the right direction.
Using free apps on your phone, you can easily measure and save your daily HR data to analyze. This takes approximately 3 minutes of your time each morning.
Stroke Volume and Cardiac Output
There are 2 important concepts to understand in regards to lowering your resting heart rate:
Stroke volume can be defined as the amount of blood your heart pumps with each beat. If your heart can pump more blood per beat, it will need to beat less frequenty.
Cardiac output can be defined as the total amount of blood pumped by the heart over one minute. So, stroke volume x heart rate = cardiac output.
If you increase stroke volume, your heart rate can decrease while still pumping the same amount of blood. This means your heart will have gotten stronger and more efficient, resulting in a lower RHR.
Which Athletes have the Lowest Resting Heart Rates?
If you want to know how to lower your resting heart rate, you should take a look at which athletes tend to have the lowest RHR.
Endurance athletes can have resting heart rates in the low 40’s, which is a direct result of the cumulative adaptations to their training.
Athletes in endurance sports demonstrate the lowest resting heart rates, so logically you would want to take a look at how they train to see how they got there.
Endurance athletes typically train with 80% low/moderate intensity, and 20% high intensity aerobic exercise.
How to Work Out to Lower Your Resting Heart Rate
I think most people know that regular exercise can lower your RHR. Few, however, understand the correct methods and how they actually work.
1. Cardiac Output Method
The cardiac output method uses moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise performed for 30-90 minutes, 3-5 times per week.
The most important thing to understand is that you must keep your heart rate within a specific range to reap the cardiac output benefits from the training.
Improving your cardiac output abilities will result in a lower resting heart rate. In order to reap those benefits, you must train specifically for them.
Here’s a snapshot of how to improve resting heart rate through cardiac output workout sessions.
- 30-90 minutes of continuous exercise
- Heart rate 130-150 beats per minute for the duration
- 3-5 sessions per week, depending on your fitness level.
- Can use any cardiovascular activity: running, elliptical, circuit training, etc…
Benefits of Cardiac Output Training
This form of training has many benefits, both for performance and for overall health.
A lower RHR has been shown by multiple studies (1) (2) to decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease. A stronger heart is simply under far less stress than a weaker heart struggling to supply the body with oxygen and nutrients.
Some of the benefits of improved cardiac output:
- Lower resting heart rate
- Increased size of the left ventricle of the heart
- Improved recovery abilities
- Improved endurance
- More energy
- Lower risk of heart/cardiovascular disease
A 2018 study demonstrated that improved aerobic fitness results in a lower risk of dying from all causes. This study showed that there was no upper limit to this benefit. Basically, the better your aerobic fitness, the less chance you have of dying, period.
2. Yoga, HRV and the Nervous System
Studies have shown that regularly practicing Yoga can result in a decrease in resting heart rate similar to that seen in endurance training.
Yoga download is an excellent resource for high quality Yoga instruction you can do from home. They boast over 250,000 active users, and you can use their service for as low as $10/month.
Yoga lowers our resting heart rate over time by improving the function of the nervous system. Specifically, regular Yoga practice has been shown to improve Heart Rate Variability (HRV). HRV is a measure of how your body is dealing with stress, and has a strong correlation to cardiovascular health.
Can HIIT Lower Resting Heart Rate?
High intensity interval training on it’s own will not lower your RHR as effectively as the cardiac output method.
It can definitely serve a complimentary role, however. HIIT workouts force the heart to work much harder, improving your body’s ability to use oxygen and strengthening the power of the heart muscle.
To lower your RHR, you need a high frequency of training, usually at least 4-5 days per week.
HIIT is a great training method, but should be used in a complimentary fashion with your higher frequency cardiovascular training.
The Best Overall Approach to a Lower Resting Heart Rate
The best overall approach to lower your RHR is:
- Focus on cardiac output training, using moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise, 3-5 days per week, for 30-90 minutes per session. Keep the heart rate around 130-150bpm.
- 1-2 HIIT sessions/week can be added in to build aerobic power, strengthen the heart and possibly build muscle as well.
- Yoga and other forms of active stretching and relaxation can also be used, as they improve our body’s ability to deal with stress, and promote an environment conducive to improved overall fitness and a lower resting heart rate.
Lowering your RHR has enormous upside: Improved fitness, more energy, lower risk of mortality and improved performance.
Using methods shown by research to lower your HR at rest will bring you results within a couple of months. Cardiac output and Yoga are the two methods that, when brought together, can dramatically improve your fitness and health.
I hope you enjoyed this article, and as always… I hope it helped you get a little closer to that best version of you! Please leave a comment and follow my blog for more great articles.
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