According to wikipedia

The pulse rate can be used to check overall heart health and fitness level. Generally lower is better ...

Thus I could use my pulse, as a measurement of my fitness.

However, I've heard from two separate sources though, that both; a) The time it takes for the pulse rate to "recover" from vigorous exercise; and b); Looking at patterns of millisecond delays between the heartbeats; gives a better indication of fitness than resting pulse alone.

I'm wondering, what method(s) gives a an accurate measurement of my fitness, without being "expensive".


4 Answers 4


There are a couple of ways to use heart rate to estimate fitness.

  1. Take it as soon as you wake up in the morning. Lower heart rates are better.
  2. Take it immediately after stopping exercise (Such as a run) and then again a few minutes later.

Both of these will require tracking, so that you can get a good estimation of your heart rate over time. If you notice that your heart rate is starting to rise in the morning, then you are either becoming less fit, or there is some other stress happening in your life. If your heart rate starts taking longer to recover, then again you are either losing fitness or having other stress.

Heart rate is decent as a general trend detector, but you can't really use it to say "Hey, heart rate of 50, I'm fit!", as there are many things (diet, hydration, stress, lack of sleep, heat, cold, etc) that can affect your heart rate. Watch you HR for trends and use that as a general guide.


The relationship between your: resting, maximum and recovery rates has been shown to correlate with your bodies ability to consume Oxygen (VO2max), which itself correlates with the conversion of fats and sugars to ATP, to fuel your muscles. So a few pulse measurements is a fairly commonly used and easy means to assess / estimate fitness. Have a read of "101 Evaluation Tests" for a selection of the more common tests devised to exploit these relationships eg. Rockport walking test, 1.5 mile run, 12 min run, the Harvard, YMCA Queen or Tecumseh Step tests....

Note: The equations all produce ESTIMATIONS, not absolutes, but can be a useful means to measure changes in your fitness over time.


I'm wondering, what method(s) gives a an accurate measurement of my fitness, without being "expensive".

if you can count your pulse, or have access to a smartphone with a working camera, there are free App's around that will use the phones camera to attempt to measure your pulse (or), and / or also do the maths for some of the various tests. If you don't mind spending a few pennies a heart rate strap can be picked up relatively cheaply, which will permit for a continuous rate to be logged, to allow you to perform even more tests.


The two main things you can keep track of are


I guess one way would be to go for a jog, and maintain a decent heart rate zone while keeping a certain pace on the jog.

If you can maintain pace X while in heart rate zone Y, but previously could only measure pace A while in heart rate zone Y, then your fitness has improved.

Runkeeper pro (paid) has lots of metrics for measuring and comparing this sort of stuff.

  • So if I go for a run today and can run 7:00/mile at heart rate of 130, and tomorrow my heart rate is 145 at the same pace, am I less fit than today?
    – JohnP
    Nov 14, 2013 at 14:35
  • @JohnP all other things being equal, yes.
    – muzzamo
    Nov 15, 2013 at 23:55
  • Sorry, but that answer is actually no.
    – JohnP
    Nov 16, 2013 at 4:47

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