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Teach students to use a heart rate monitor

This is an excerpt from Heart Education With Web Resource by Deve Swaim.

Lesson Plans

The following lessons guide students in learning to use a heart rate monitor. The activities familiarize them with a wide range of data output.

Heart Rate Improvement

The body adapts to external and internal patterns of stress and recovery. Exercise stress can be determined from the output data of a heart rate monitor. These data, as understood through the HZE program, help students assess their fitness improvements. Improvements can be quantified by comparing heart rate changes from week to week. Improved heart rate values indicate a positive adaptation to the exercise stress.


Students will monitor their individual adaptations to exercise stress in a quantifiable and meaningful way by doing the following:

  • Learning to make various heart rate assessments
  • Measuring changes in heart rate as a result of adaptations to their individual programs
  • Comparing their fitness improvements to the average improvement of the class


  • One heart rate monitor per student
  • One circuit station for each assessment
  • Heart Rate Improvement worksheets
  • Weekly Logs


1. Tell the students that they will complete three self-assessments and record the data in their Weekly Logs. These measures will be taken multiple times over the course of the unit to look for adaptations in their personal fitness levels.

2. Explain that to see quantifiable improvement, students should compare all their measurement results, not just certain results in isolation.

3. Explain that comparing heart rate assessments with the class average is not a measure of quality or meant to inspire competition. Rather, this comparison will provide awareness of the variables among students of similar age and environment. (Reinforce the notion of individual differences and variability factors among students.)

4. Set up the following three circuit stations using the Heart Zones Education Circuit Training cards provided on the web resource (circuit training text can be found in appendix C):

  • Delta heart rate test
  • Recovery heart rate test
  • Ambient heart rate test

5. At least twice per week, for three weeks, students complete the three assessments and record the results in their HZE Weekly Logs.

6. Students calculate the difference between the first week's results and each subsequent week's results.

7. Provide a weekly log for the class so that students can record their changes each week.


Students write a short reflection on the comparisons of their data over time, noting the changes they observed, what may have caused the changes, and what the changes mean for their physical and emotional health.

Internal and External
Heart Rate Influences

Using heart rate as an indicator of exercise stress results in a reliable assessment. But, certain factors influence each student's response to physical activity. These sources of error, which cause heart rate to be a variable rather than absolute measurement, include both internal stress (e.g., emotion, nutrition, hydration) and external stress (e.g., sounds, humidity, temperature, distracting events).

Internal stress caused by emotional changes may result in a heart rate change that is not correlated to physical fitness improvements. The emotional triggering of muscle contractions in the form of tension, strain, or anxiety results in accelerated or depressed heart rates, which can be seen in the output data of a heart rate monitor. The direction of heart rate response is usually predictable, albeit unique to each person. This lesson teaches students how to use heart rate monitor data to see the relationships of their own unique responses to various conditions.


Students will recognize their individual responses to various stressors and will measure cardiac response to those stressors with a heart rate monitor.


  • One heart rate monitor per student
  • Selected music
  • A short story that stimulates emotion
  • Stimulating foods (e.g., chocolate, ice-cold drinks, high-sugar foods such as candy)
  • Internal and External Heart Rate Influences worksheets


1. Explain the internal and external stressors that can cause heart rate numbers to change but that do not elicit a training effect.

2. Tell students that they are going to measure their hearts' responses to several internal and external stresses. Reemphasize that all students will respond in their own ways.

3. Play music that may increase heart rate (e.g., rap, rock and roll, certain types of classical). Then play music that may decrease heart rate (e.g., New Age, children's music). Students measure their heart rate responses to each type of music.

4. Read a suspenseful short story, during which students record their heart rates every 60 seconds.

5. Elicit a change in body temperature by having students sit in the sun and then move into the shade. Have students measure their heart rate responses to each temperature change.

6. Certain foods can elicit an increased heart rate response, whereas others are relaxing to the heart. If feasible, have your students check out their monitors during the lunch period and measure their ambient heart rates during the meal. If not, have some stimulating snacks on hand to experiment with in class.


Students complete the Internal and External Heart Rate Influences worksheet. They then compare their results to identify the difference in heart rate response between internal and external emotional and physical stress.


Students brainstorm other self-tests to measure heart rate response to various internal and external conditions. They might try foods of different temperatures and measure their response (e.g., hot and spicy foods vs. cold or frozen foods). Be sure to explain that heart rate responses caused by food consumption will affect heart rate for an extended time. Thus, they will have to allow time for the initial response to wear off before testing another sample.

Learn more about Heart Education: Strategies, Lessons, Science, and Technology for Cardiovascular Fitness.

More Excerpts From Heart Education With Web Resource