Why Tracking Strain With Heart Rate is Only Good for Cardio

You get off the treadmill after 20 grueling minutes of sprint intervals. Your blood's pumping. You're gasping for air. Your Atlas Multi-Trainer tells you that your heart rate shot through the roof. That was one hell of a workout, right? 

After your cardio sesh, you hit the free weights for presses, lunges, and all things in between. Your muscles burn but your heart rate was, well, underwhelming, to say the list. 

Clearly, this means that your treadmill sprints gave you a better workout than the free weights, right? 

Not so fast.

cardio equipment

Tracking Strain With Heart Rate

The Good

As the Mayo Clinic notes, one of the main benefits of cardio is that it strengthens your heart. When you stress your heart with cardiovascular exercise, you teach it to work more efficiently. 

This means that over time, it won't have to work as hard to pump blood through your body. In other words, cardio makes your heart more fit. 

This is why tracking strain with heart rate is an appropriate approach for cardio. If you got your heart pumping and put it to the test with either endurance or interval training, then your heart rate will reflect this and you can use it to measure the progress of your workouts. 

Strength Training: Why You Need Hypertrophy

If we can measure cardio using heart rate, what's the equivalent for strength training? 

woman doing back squat

It's not quite as straightforward, because your heart rate might hardly fluctuate during your programming even though your strength training is doing its job. (To be clear, though, strength training can absolutely make your heart rate spike.)

This is where hypertrophy comes in.

"Hypertrophy" refers to the growth of muscle cells. If you guessed that this isn't going to happen on the treadmill, then you guessed correctly. For muscle hypertrophy to occur, you need to be engaging in strength training of some kind — whether it's bodybuilding, powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, or some other sort of weight or resistance training.

It Gets a Little More Complicated, Though

It's not as simple as lift weights, increase muscle hypertrophy. There's one more element we have to consider: volume.

man doing overhead press

The loads you lift should get progressively heavier over time. Why? Simple. The loads that are challenging for you today might very well be a total snooze-fest three months from now.

Remember the basic process of muscle growth. When you lift weights, it creates tiny tears in your muscles. As those tears heal, your muscles grow. When strength training stops being challenging, your muscle hypertrophy slows down. You need to be working with loads intense enough that those muscles will continue to sustain tiny tears.

This is why you'll need to increase volume over time. This is how you'll maintain muscle hypertrophy, and hypertrophy is how you'll measure your strain and progress.

woman doing weighted lunge

Okay, So How Should I Adjust My Volume Over Time?

Great question! Here's the frustrating answer: We can't tell you, because for any given person there is a number of variables that will affect how they increase volume over time. 

For instance, let's look at Olympic weightlifters. They often base their sets and reps off of their one-rep-max for a given lift. The higher the percentage (read: the heavier the weight in relation to the 1RM), the fewer reps they're going to do at that weight — and the same goes for the inverse.

Bodybuilders and powerlifters will sometimes do something a little more straightforward. They'll simply add weight to their exercises until they begin to fail reps, at which point they'll pick a challenging weight that they can still sustain, until increasing the load, reps, or both.

powerlifter doing heavy deadlift

There are countless ways to go about adjusting load and volume across time, but the point is this: For muscle hypertrophy to happen, the volume has to increase as you get stronger.

How Atlas Wearables Makes it All Easier

Your Atlas watch offers a number of features that make it incredibly simple to track your strain for both cardio and strength training. For cardio, you can go to Insights, and then tap on the workout you want to view. Under Exercises, scroll sideways until you see Heart Rate. 

When you tap on this, it not only shows you your heart rate range for the entirety of the workout but also the range for every individual round of movements. 

Now, let's move to strength training. There are a few things you should know here.

Your 1RM

For starters, let's talk about you 1RM — an important measure of progress. If you don't yet know yours, don't worry, because Atlas uses a custom algorithm to compute your estimated 1RM.

woman doing bench press

You can then use this number as a Load Target for future workouts. Whenever an exercise program in the app asks you to perform something at a percentage of your 1RM, Atlas will automatically find that number for you. No calculator required.

Load Used, Reps, and Volume

All three of these metrics are important in tracking muscle hypertrophy. And if you follow the same steps from earlier that you used to find your heart rate during a workout, you'll see these three measurements.

Load will show you the weights you used for each movement (and the total range of weights). Reps will show you how many times you did each movement (and the total range). Volume is a calculation of the number of reps you performed multiplied by the weights you used.  

Progress Charts

As you now understand, it's not only one workout we're paying attention to. It's the progress we make over time.

With Atlas Wearables, you can compare your performance for one workout with other times you performed that workout in the past. 

man doing sled pushes

You can also compare your progress for an exercise over time.

Muscle Activation

Lastly, we want to remind you that with Atlas, you can record exercise muscle activation. This is estimated based on the exercise that you do and the volume of the set. The more reps and the higher the load, the bigger the impact on muscle activation and fatigue.

For various types of training, different kinds of tracking will be necessary. Tracking strain with heart rate is excellent for cardio, but strength training takes a more unique approach. Increase your volume over time and track muscle hypertrophy with the help of your Atlas watch, and you'll see significant improvements.

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