DPT-303.1-PT Essentials – Static Testing – RHR

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Resting heart rate (RHR) is the amount of times your heart rate beats every minute at rest. Resting heart rate averages about 60-80 (Heyward, 2002) and is measured in beats per minute (bpm). Men average about 70 bpm, whilst women average about 75 bpm (Cotton, 1997). Generally, lower readings indicate higher levels of aerobic fitness.  However, hereditary factors also play a very significant part, so do not rely on RHR as a reliable indicator of fitness.

In middle-aged, sedentary individuals, the resting heart rate can exceed 100 bpm, whilst in contrast, highly trained endurance athletes can have resting rates between 28-40 bpm (Wilmore and Costill, 1999).  The table below lists the different RHR categories:

Resting Heart Rate (bpm) References
Normal60 – 8060 – 80
Special Attention³ 90³ 90
Medical Referral³100³ 100

Adapted from Heyward, 2002 and Cotton, 1997


A RHR of less than 60 bpm is called bradycardia.  Causes include:

  • well conditioned athletes
  • hypothermia (low body temperature)
  • hypothyroidism (low thyroid function)
  • hyperkalaemia (level of potassium in the bloodstream is higher than normal)
  • myocardial infarction (damage or death of heart tissue)
  • genetics
  • certain drugs (betablockers)

(adapted from Simmons et al, 2001)


A RHR of greater than 100 bpm is called tachycardia.  Causes include:

  • exposure to alcohol, caffeine, or nicotine
  • stress, anxiety or arousal
  • heart failure
  • pulmonary embolism
  • hypovolaemia (abnormal decrease in blood volume/blood plasma).
  • hypermetabolic states (such as fever or a raised body temp)
  • certain drugs (adrenaline, ephedrine, atropine)
  • poor cardiovascular fitness levels

(adapted from Simmons et al, 2001)

Resting Heart Rate – Method of Assessment

(Adapted from Franklin, 2000)

  1. Ensure that that your client has rested for 5 to 10 minutes in a seated or supine position, prior to measuring heart rate.
  • Locate the correct site of the carotid or radial artery. These are the most commonly used sites, although RHR can be taken at any arterial site (such as the temporal, femoral, brachial, and dorsalis pedis).
  • Use the tips of the middle and index fingers. Do not use your thumb; it has a pulse of its own and may produce an inaccurate count.
  • When palpating the carotid site, do not apply heavy pressure to the area. Baroreceptors in the carotid arteries detect this pressure and cause a reflex slowing of the heart rate.
  • Allow 30-60 seconds for your client to get used to your measurement. Many clients will feel slightly apprehensive at the beginning of this check, which may affect results if taken immediately.
  • If you start a stopwatch simultaneously with the pulse beat, count the first beat as zero. If the stopwatch is already running, count the first beat as one.
  • Count pulse for 60 seconds, record the result and repeat. 
  • If your results are significantly different, repeat for a third reading.
  • Ensure all pre-test procedures are followed, and ascertain whether there is any identifiable cause of tachycardia or bradycardia (see above).
  1. The ideal time to take RHR is first thing in the morning, before getting out of bed. Clients can be instructed to take their own RHR and to monitor any changes.

Anatomical Sites of Peripheral Pulse(adapted from Latin, 1998)


Taking the carotid pulse  

The common carotid artery sites are located on both sides of the front of the neck. Each are in the groove formed by the larynx (Adam’s apple) and the sternocleidomastoid muscles (muscles on the side of the neck) just below the mandible (lower jawbone).


The radial artery courses deeply on the anterolateral (thumb side) aspect of the forearm and becomes superficial near the distal head of the radius (directly in line with the base of the thumb). 

Taking the radial pulse


Located on the anteromedial aspect of the arm in the groove formed by the bifurcation of the triceps and biceps brachii muscles, approximately 2-3cm above the antecubital fossa.

Taking the brachial pulse

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