Close up of a smartwatch displaying the heart rate monitoring function.

SCI Workout Consideration #3 – Heart Rate

An increase in heart rate is a normal and typical response to exercise. Your heart rate will increase with exercise intensity until it reaches a maximum heart rate based on a number of factors (including age and gender); however, the magnitude of the heart rate response during exercise can vary significantly among individuals with and without SCI.

What Issues Are Posed With SCI? 

Your heart rate response to exercise is directly related to the level of the spinal cord injury.

T7 Injury or Below: Individuals with SCI at T7 or below, typically display heart rate responses similar to individuals without SCI.

Paraplegia: The maximum predicted heart rate for individuals with paraplegia is suppressed. Current guidelines from NCHPAD recommend keeping exercise intensity at or below 70% of your maximum heart rate.

Quadriplegia: The maximum predicted heart rate for individuals with quadriplegia is 100 to 125 bpm. Current guidelines from NCHPAD recommend keeping exercise intensity between 50-70% of your maximum heart rate.

How to Reduce Risk When Exercising 

The most effective way to make sure that you are training in a safe range based upon your injury is by monitoring your heart rate during exercise using an electronic heart rate monitor or by taking your pulse.

The rate of perceived exertion (RPE) scale is another way to gauge if you are working at an appropriate level of intensity. The RPE scale can be used alone or in conjunction with heart rate monitoring and is based upon how hard you feel you are working, on a scale from 7 (Easy) to 20 (Very, Very Hard).  The goal is to exercise at an intensity of about a 10-14, depending on your level of SCI.


Next Up…

#4 Skin Breakdown

Further Reading 

Get Moving: Exercise and SCI

NCHPAD – Spinal Cord Injuries

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