Why Use a Heart Rate Monitor?
Using a heart monitor is the most accurate way of measuring both your heart rate (pulse rate) and your exercise intensity.
Getting your heart rate just right is important in terms of making the most of your workout for the following reasons:-
if you don’t raise your heart rate high enough it means you are not making as much progress as you could be (if any) in improving your fitness. A heart rate monitor shows you whether you are working at the right intensity to achieve your fitness goals.
Burning Fat and Losing Weight
There is an ideal heart rate range at which you burn fat more effectively, which is actually less intense than that recommended for maximum fitness improvement. A heart rate monitor can keep you exercising in that fat burning zone.
On the other hand, if you prefer a more intense exercise routine, this helps with weight loss too because, in the end, the more calories you use during your workout the better and some monitors will show you how many calories you are burning.
Raising your heart rate too close to your maximum heart rate can be dangerous if you are unfit. A heart rate monitor will alert you if your heart rate goes above or below pre-set limits.
Being able to see your progress and effort helps keep you on track during your exercise session. Measuring and logging your progress after each workout helps you see that your fitness is improving well before there is any tangible difference in how you look and feel. This can spur you on to keep going.
The average heart rate of an adult male is around 70 beats per minute at rest (75 for a female) but this can vary a great deal with some very fit individuals having a very low resting heart rate. The heart rate rises quickly with either effort or stress and settles down again more quickly the fitter you are.
Which type of Heart Monitor to Buy?
Gone are the days (less than 20 years ago) of having to be wired up in a lab to continuously monitor heart rate changes – sophisticated heart monitors are within reach of everyone and completely wireless these days.
Whether you are marathon training, preparing for a particular sport, fat burning or just wanting get a bit fitter there is a whole host of makes and models of heart rate monitors which will help you achieve your target heart rate at every point in your exercise session and ultimately your fitness goals.
And that can be a real problem – because how in the world do you choose?
Hopefully we can point you in the right direction so that you get just the right make and model for you. You’ll find a few points to consider below, but if you want detailed advice on this why not download our FREE independent 15 page Consumer Guide on Choosing the Right Heart Rate Monitor. We are happy to recommend the best make and model for you as we do not sell or manufacture heart monitors ourselves.
Chest Strap or Strapless?
Standard heart monitors come with an elastic chest strap which you wear next to your skin. This transmits a signal to the monitor which you wear on your wrist like a watch. The chest strap transmitter continually sends signals about your heart rate so that you can see your heart rate in real time.
For those who find a chest strap uncomfortable, (although most people hardly notice wearing one during a workout), there are strapless heart rate monitors such as the Mio Shape heart rate monitor.
These do tend to be less accurate than those with the chest transmitter and some strapless monitors (in particular those with motion / optical sensing) have been found to be unreliable.
An effective strapless heart rate monitor generally works by placing two fingers on small metal sensors on the heart monitor and you may have to stop exercising from 4 to 12 seconds to take your pulse rate.
However using a strapless heart rate monitor is still easier than heart rate monitoring using just your fingers, your pulse and the second hand on your watch!
Heart Monitor Watch functions?
Many heart monitors include a normal and / or stop watch function.
A heart rate monitor watch may also be designed so that it can be worn all the time as a sports style watch although you would not want to wear the chest transmitter continually.
The additional functionality in a heart rate watch is useful in any case – it means you don’t need to wear a watch as well as you heart rate monitor during exercise.
Do You Need GPS?
Some heart rate monitor watches include sophisticated GPS (Global Positioning System) technology.
GPS watches allow for accurate transmission of speed and distance and are fantastic for working out how far and how fast you have run or cycled especially if you are off road and have no other means of measuring.
Of course this makes GPS heart rate monitor watches among the most expensive type but if you do a lot of running, cycling etc you may find it well worth the additional expense. (And then there are just those of us who just like gadgets and like to have the latest and greatest – I am often first in the queue there).
GPS heart rate monitors are less effective if you exercise in areas receiving a poor signal (chiefly high-rise urban areas where tall buildings shadow the signal and areas where there is dense tree coverage). Foot Pod is a technology which has been developed for these situations. There are even heart rate monitors which include both GPS and Footpod sometimes as an optional accessory such as in the Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS.
Heart Monitor manufacturers
Polar heart monitors are the best known heart rate monitors in the world. Polar is a Finnish company who are dedicated to the manufacture of these monitors and they are often innovative in bringing out new functionality and tools.
Omron Heart Rate monitors are manufactured for the well-known healthcare company Omron as part of their range of health monitoring equipment. They are generally simpler than the sportier models which are designed for athletes and fitness enthusiasts.
Timex is the well-known watch company who have branched out into producing heart monitor watches. The most popular range of Timex heart rate monitor watch is the Ironman Triathlon designed for serious athletes although Timex do produce simpler heart rate monitor watches too.
As a well-regarded sports manufacturer a Reebok heart monitor is well worth consideration too. Reebok have a range of heart monitors mainly suitable for amateur athletes and fitness enthusiasts and they also produce a strapless model for those who don’t like the idea of wearing a chest strap.
Best Selling Heart Rate Monitors
Omron hr 100c heart rate monitor : The hr 100c Omron heart rate monitor is a very simple and inexpensive heart rate monitor that has all the basic functionality you probably need and it is within reach of most people. If you are just starting to get fit or just thinking about trying a heart rate monitor this is a great buy. For more information see our detailed fact sheet: Omron hr 100c heart rate Monitor
Polar f6 heart rate monitor watch: This Polar heart rate monitor is a best seller because it has plenty of the more sophisticated features at a good price and in a range of colors. Of course it also helps that it comes from the leading manufacturer in heart rate monitors. For lots more information see our detailed fact sheet on the Polar F6 heart rate monitor watch and also take a look at other models in our section on Polar Heart Rate monitors.
Using a heart rate monitor
You’ll find instructions accompanying all heart monitors. They vary a bit because of all the different functionality available on each make and model – you’ll need to read the instructions to find out how your heart rate monitor with GPS or the stop watch facility on your monitor work, for example.
Strapless Heart Rate Monitors
Most strapless heart rate monitors work when you place two finger tips on the sensors on the wrist monitor and leave them in place a few seconds. You will generally have to pause in your work out for about 10 seconds to do this.
Heart Monitors with strap
For a basic heart rate monitor with strap you wear the transmitter chest strap so that it fits comfortably round the chest (just under the bust line for women) – tight enough so that it does not slide down but not so tight that it feels constricting.
You then dampen the area of the transmitter which is next to your body with a few drops of water or a little conductivity gel to aid transmission, and pop the watch part of the monitor on your wrist.
Most chest strap monitors have a means of setting your target heart rate or range and can give an audible signal to let you know if you are out of your desired heart zones.
That’s Ok if you are exercising out of doors but it can be a bit irritating to others at the gym so you may want to turn it off there and just keep an eye out to make sure you don’t overreach your max heart rate and stay in the fat burn heart rate zone or the fitness zone – whatever you are aiming for.
Do You Have a Heart Rate Monitor?
If you have a heart rate monitor, why not share your experiences and let others know what you think – good or bad? You can have your say on our Heart Rate Monitor Review page. You will be helping others make the right choice as well as keeping manufacturers on their toes!