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One of the greatest training tools I’ve come across throughout the years is my heart rate monitor. I’ve relied on my trusty Polar (I’m currently on my third one, a FT60) for the last six or so years, and I really can’t imagine training without it.
So, why do you need a heart rate monitor? Technically, it’s not a necessity … but it’s a great way to keep track of a number of stats, benchmarks, and numbers that can be crucial if you are truly serious about improving your training and fitness level. They are great for all kinds of training – running, Spinning, group fitness classes, even weight training.
Some of the most common measurements recorded by a heart rate monitor include:
- Heart rate (obviously). Depending on your goals, or the type of training you are focused on each day, your heart rate range may vary. As a general rule, you want to stay between 65% and 85% of your maximum heart rate (see my post on this here). However, there are instances in which you may be outside of this range, such as when performing high intensity interval training. Monitoring your heart rate can tell you not only how hard you are working, but can also help you in determining rest times between exercises, sets or intervals.
- Calories burned. Let’s be honest: the calorie counts on your cardio machine are notoriously incorrect. Because a heart rate monitor uses your own biology to determine calories burned – in addition to the information you provide, such as age, sex, height or weight, and possibly resting heart rate or VO2 max – it is a far more reliable number than the averaged calculations displayed on your trusty treadmill. Many heart rate monitors can also sync into your cardio machine of choice, displaying your actual current heart rate, in realtime, right on the machine, without having to hold onto any specific part of the machine.
- Exercise duration. This is a great function if you are an outdoor exerciser – how many times have you gotten home from what feels like a nice, long run, only to find you were only gone 20 minutes? No questions here. Many will even go beyond recording time, listing other factors, such as time spent in each zone, average time in zone, etc. Many will also provide weekly totals, or have the option to review multiple daily or weekly results.
Ready to see what a heart rate monitor can do for you? Consider a few factors before you make the investment. Know what you plan on using it for, and the most important features for you and your goals – there are so many options out there, from the basic model, all the way up to the high-end, GPS-enabled, talking, sync-able model. Also think about what model will be most comfortable for you – the most reliable ones come with a strap that goes around the chest, and a wrist unit, similar to a watch, which “talks” to the strap and records your data. The strap can take a little getting used to, but after a week or two, it will feel as strange to go without it as it did when you first started wearing it (ladies, it may be a little easier for you to get used to – it almost feels like the bottom of a tight sports bra).
A heart rate monitor really can make a big difference in your workout regimen. By using this gadget to help to track a number of crucial factors – heart rate, calories burned, time in zone, daily/weekly results, and much more – you may find your workouts become more efficient, and you start to see greater results. I can’t even remember what it was like to work out without mine!
Are you getting out of your workout what you put into it? Seeing the results you want to see … or find yourself wondering what you’re doing wrong? It could be a matter of perceived versus actual intensity – and luckily, it’s one of the easiest factors to check, and if necessary, fix, throughout your workout. Monitoring your heart rate is one of the fastest and easiest ways to determine exactly how hard you are pushing your body throughout your workout.
The generally accepted formula for calculating heart rate is:
220-Age=Maximum Heart Rate
For example, my maximum heart rate would be 220-31=189. From here, you can calculate your zones. There are five generally accepted zones, from recovery (50-60%), up to interval/speed (90-100%), as the chart shows. Depending on your goals, you may fall into a number of zones during your workout, and throughout the week (if we went easy all the time, we’d never get anywhere … and if we went hard all the time, we’d end up burnt out and potentially injured). I usually try to keep my heart rate during cardio around 85% (the rate at which many experts suggest for maximizing fitness and encouraging a higher overall calorie burn) – which for me is about 160 beats per minute.
One quick note … don’t obsess over staying in the “fat burning zone.” You may burn 150 calories in 30 minutes, with 120 of them being from fat … but you’re much better off working at a harder level, burning more calories – say 300 in 30 minutes – even if you’re burning less “fat calories,” because you’re still burning far more overall calories. You want to ideally spend most of your cardio time in the “Improved Fitness” zone as shown above (60-90%).
Many treadmills and ellipticals have technology that will calculate these numbers for you (and include the chart right on the interface) – all you have to do is hold on to specially designed handles for a few seconds. For the most accurate reading, I definitely suggest invest in a heart rate monitor. My trusty Polar is as much a necessary part of my gym attire as my tank and knee pants. Stay tuned – by request, there is more on these phenomenal gadgets coming soon!