Your Exercise Heart Rate (Part 2): The Two Easiest Ways to Take Your Pulse

abstract-art-blur-1038727Your pulse is important to gauging just how hard you’re exercising.  As I mentioned in Part 1, many people are turning to personal trackers to track their heart rate.  There is nothing wrong with that.  I wear my Fitbit nearly 24/7.  In fact, I already know that if mine dies today, I will be getting a Fitbit Versa!  In the future, I will be posting a review of the latest fitness trackers I recommend.  But, for now, I’d like you to learn how to take your pulse with no fancy equipment.

Here are the two easiest ways to take your pulse, as well as someone else’s.  These methods use the radial and carotid pulse sites, or your wrist and neck.  For both methods, use your index and middle finger to feel the pulse.

Once you’ve practiced the two methods below, you will count the beats for 10 seconds, starting with zero.  Once the 10 seconds are up, take that number and multiply it by 6.  Or, if that’s too difficult, take it for 15 seconds and multiply by 4.  A clock or watch with a sweeping second hand is the easiest to use for this.

I do not recommend using 30 seconds or even a minute while exercising.  However, when finding your resting heart rate, I do recommend using a full minute.  It is much more accurate for a resting heart rate.

pulse from forefronthealthcomRadial Pulse

The radial pulse is found on the inside of your wrist, just below your thumb.  There are two landmarks which I have found work best.

First, feel along your inner arm, starting at the middle of the base of your palm.  You will feel one rather big tendon and a smaller one alongside it.  They feel like very tight rubber bands.

Second, starting at the base of your thumb, feel for the hard bone which runs up your arm on the thumb side.  There should be a more prominent part of it just below your thumb.

Now, place your two fingertips (index and middle) softly between these two landmarks.  You will feel a spongy-like area.  Lightly press your fingertips here and feel the beat.  It may take some practice.  If you push too hard, you will restrict the flow of blood and not be able to feel it too well.  And, if you don’t press hard enough, you may not be able to detect a beat.

checking corotid pulse gooleimagesCarotid Pulse

The carotid pulse is found on the side of your neck.  Use the same-side hand for whichever side you wish to take your pulse.  Right hand for the right side and left hand for the left side.  Again, use the fingertips of your index and middle fingers to feel for your pulse.  The two landmarks which I have found work best here are the following.

First, feel for your throat column.  Got it?  Good.

Second, feel the big neck muscle (It’s called the sternocleidomastoid or SCM.) which runs a bit diagonally from just about behind your ear to the collarbone (clavicle) in the front of the base of your neck.

After you’ve found the two landmarks, place your fingertips in the valley between them, just under your jaw.  You should feel a pulse there.  If not, adjust the pressure slightly.

Remember not to push down hard on this artery or rub it for any length of time.  This artery supplies your brain with blood.  If you rub it, sometimes even lightly, or mash down on it for too long, the heart rate can drop, and you risk losing your balance, blacking out, or worse.

The ‘worse’ is pretty rare but very possible.  If you happen to have a blood clot nearby, you can dislodge it.  In this location, the path it will take is toward your brain.  This can cause blockages and be dangerous.  For these reasons, I always recommend starting with your wrist to find your pulse.

How to Find Your Resting Heart Rate

Your resting heart rate (RHR) is important for many reasons.  It is a baseline for your health and can also be an indicator of your future health.  For a normal adult, RHR is usually between 60 and 100.  Generally speaking, people who are in very good cardiovascular shape, like runners, have lower RHRs.  Runners often have RHRs in the 40s.

People who have a higher RHR, near the top end of the range, are more likely to have a current or future cardiovascular disease or condition.  In fact, studies show that a higher RHR is linked with early death, even up to three times the risk for an early death.  The good news is that with exercise, even small amounts, you can lower your RHR and improve those odds.

Here’s how to find your RHR.  First thing in the morning, before you get out of bed, find your pulse and take if for a full minute.  (If your alarm jolts you awake, wait a couple of minutes before you take it.)  Write that number down.  Then, do this for at least two more mornings.  Figure the average of these numbers, and that is your RHR.

Remember, as you get into better shape your RHR will most-likely go down.  So, you will need to find your new RHR periodically.

One More Method for Taking Your Pulse

In the last post, I mentioned a possible third method for some of you.  Here it is.  If you are part of the small group of people who can do this, you can feel your pulse without touching any pulse points.  Sit quietly for a minute.  Simply focus and feel for a beat-like or thumping sensation in your chest.  Can you feel yours?

If you can do this, great!  It takes practice to do this consistently and is sometimes difficult to do during exercise.  For example, if you’re running or walking, the impact of your feet on the ground or treadmill can make it very difficult to feel your pulse without using your fingertips on a pulse point.

If you are one who can feel your pulse without touching any pulse points, it can be a very useful skill.  For example, when used with meditative calming techniques, it is an effective tool to use to help bring your heart rate down in a stressful situation.  When you can focus on your breathing and also feel your heart rate, you can have much better control of your physiological functions and thereby reduce your stress.

So, until the next post, choose whichever method you prefer and practice, practice, practice!

Coming up next:  Your Exercise Heart Rate (Part 3):  Target Heart Rate Zones (THR) and Exercise

Thanks for reading.  As with all the exercise information on this site, please get a check-up with your doctor before you begin an exercise program.  And, please sign up to follow  This will help me to continue to provide fitness information to everyone.  Thanks!  Karen

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