What is a Heart Rate Monitor?
Overview of Heart Rate Monitors
Heart rate monitors can be very simple devices, or they can be like personal training computers that you wear on your wrist.
The most basic heart rate monitors might display only your heart rate, although these simple instruments are less common now that technology allows so much more.
At the other extreme are fitness monitors that have integrated GPS units, are able to tailor training programs based on heart rate and fitness, work with accessories that track time, speed, and split times when running and a host of other advanced functions.
Most common, useful and not prohibitively expensive models are somewhere in between. To decide which is right for you, list the most important functions that you need to have. For runners, the essential features might be geared more toward a watch that displays speed and split times. For those doing a variety of exercise or those who are trying to lose weight, the heart-rate based calculation of calories burned is going to important.
Almost all commonly used heart rate monitors utilize a chest strap with sensor that transmits the heart rate to the wrist unit. The computer then uses this information, plus user-input data to calculate other data.
Timex offers this model that performs very basic functions. Other manufacturers available through this link make similar watches.
Inexpensive options provide basic heart rate monitoring.
A basic heart rate monitor will track and record your average and maximum heart rate during activity. This one from Timex does not track calories or other data, but is good for someone who wants an inexpensive device to track heart rate only.
This model from Suunto is geared toward mountaineering and includes an altimeter, barometer, compass and other wilderness-useful functions.
More advanced "wrist-top computers" give more data than most people realistically use!
Some of the more advanced devices monitor a wide range of variables and have GPS capability and will even suggest heart rate based training programs. They may be able to report altitude or elevation changes as you work out. The information can be downloaded to a computer program and used to improve further training sessions.
Using the Polar FT60 as an example, let's review some of the available features on heart rate monitor watches. From this, you should be able to get some idea of the scope of commonly available functions and decide which are important to you.
If the FT60 is not right for you, there are many other models available out there. Some are water resistant, some are geared toward runners or mountain climbers. The diverse selection means you should be able to find just the right device for you based on your needs and your budget.
A Closer Look at Heart Rate Monitors
Example: The Polar FT60.
Men's models and other colors are available by clicking through this link.
This particular model is beyond basic. Some of its features include:
- Heart Rate: This watch tells you what your heart rate should be in different 'zones' of exercise. This is age based, but this watch goes beyond that. It adjusts your recommended heart rate zones based on your fitness level via a fitness test admistered by... the heart rate monitor itself. Amazing!
- Calories burned: To me, this is the most useful and valuable function of this watch. If you use the calorie counters on the machines at the gym, you may be in for a rude awakening. For me, I find that the machines OVERestimate my calories burned by up to THIRTY percent!! That's huge. The FT60 and other Polar watches actually use your data (age, height and weight like the machines, but also data from your fitness test and your "OwnZone" heart rate to calculate the calories burned. I cannot stress enough how important this can be (learned personally) to be effective in losing weight and improving fitness. They call this "OwnCal" and it really does matter (at least it does to me).
- Training Guidance: The FT60 has integrated training programs that guide you to and through your workouts. By informing you of your heart rate, max heart rate, percent of max heart rate, you can gather information about the effectiveness of your workouts. In fact, the monitor will do it for you! The "Training Load" and "STAR Training" functions help you reach your goals and evaluate your effectiveness so far.
- Other Notes: Water resistant to 30m, alarms for heart rate zones, user-changeable battery, comfortable and (relatively) low profile chest strap, large memory storage (up to 100 files) of data on the watch for quick reference, weekly workout summaries, compatible with GPS (sold separately).
Further, this data is all transferable to your computer so you can see it laid out in a training diary for ease of interpretation.
This heart rate monitor is actually pretty well priced for all the functionality and is why I chose it for myself over all of the others out there. I have owned other Polar heart rate monitors before and loved them. This one does (finally) have a user-changeable battery which used to be the only gripe I had with my previous models- it was a pain to send it in for battery changes. Now, I'm completely happy.
The FT4 provides a lot of the data that most people require. Like the FT60, it gives heart rate, max heart rate, and calories burned (OwnCal) based on that information.
It doesn't provide training guidance, but does help you stay within target heart rate zones, is still water resistant and stores up to 10 training files.
If you just want a heart rate monitor that gives heart rate and fairly accurate calories burned data in an affordable, but reliable device, this may be the one for you.
Other Brands and Models
Personally, I am most familiar and satisfied with the Polar brand. Suunto makes a very good heart rate monitor as well. They can be quite complex and expensive, but are worth the money with excellent reliability and customer service. If you are looking for running or mountaineering specific devices, they have some excellent choices.
Garmin also has several models available. These are GPS based and the upper-end models are geared mostly to serious runners. They have a lot of accessories that can be sold separately as part of a package, so check out a few models to make sure you aren't paying for something you don't really need.