What Is the Difference Between Heart Rate & Pulse When Dealing With an Elliptical Machine?

Your heart rate indicates your intensity level on the elliptical.
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When you're huffing and puffing on the elliptical machine, you may stop every once in a while to check your pulse -- or use the silvery sensors on your equipment to do the work for you. Finding your pulse helps you determine your heart rate, which tells you the intensity of your cardiovascular workout. And with a bit of number crunching, you can use this information to help make the most of your cardio session.

Heart Rate versus Pulse

    The terms "pulse" and "heart rate" are often tossed around interchangeably, and while they are closely correlated, they aren't exactly the same thing. Heart rate refers to the number of times that your heart beats in 60 seconds. In contrast, pulse refers to the bulge that occurs in your arteries after your heart beat propels a surge of blood through your system. Since you can't see your heart in action, you must rely on your pulse to find your heart rate. At rest, a healthy heart rate for adults is 60 to 100 beats per minute. On the elliptical machine, your heart rate will go up as your body works harder to deliver blood to your muscles.

Checking Pulse

    After a few minutes on the elliptical, pause your workout to check your pulse. Do this the right way by placing two fingers on either your radial pulse point, which is on your wrist between the bone and the tendon, or on the carotid artery of your neck, just beneath your jaw and to the side of your windpipe. If you choose the neck, keep a very light touch; placing pressure here can trigger receptors that tell your heart to slow down, according to the American Council on Exercise. Once you feel your pulse, count for 10 seconds, then multiply the number times six to find your beats per minute, or bpm.

Using Heart Rate

    Once you have your heart rate, put the numbers to good use by gauging the intensity of your elliptical workout. Subtract your age from the number 220 to get your maximum heart rate; so at 26, your maximum rate is 194. For moderate cardio, aim for 50 to 70 percent of maximum, or 97 to 135.8 bpm at age 26. For vigorous cardio, go for 70 to 85 percent of maximum, or 135.8 to 165 bpm at that age. Typically, the elliptical machine provides moderate cardio if you pedal at a brisk rate using a light-resistance setting. By pedaling faster or increasing resistance, you can easily bump it up to a vigorous workout. Greater intensity is tougher, but it can equal a shorter routine: you need 150 to 300 minutes per week of moderate cardio, or just 75 to 150 minutes per week of vigorous cardio, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


    Be savvy about built-in pulse sensors on ellipticals by comparing the readings with your own to test accuracy. According to IDEA Health and Fitness Association, heart rate monitors on cardio equipment often come with a margin of error. What's more, it can be dangerous to rely solely on your heart rate without listening to your body. If you feel as though you're already exerting yourself heavily, don't increase the speed or resistance just to meet heart rate goals. And if you're new to exercise or have any health problems, see your doctor before hopping onto the elliptical machine.

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