A heart rate monitor (HRM) obviously monitors your heart rate. However, by inputting your age, height, exercise frequency, etc, you can more accurately count calories burned during exercise. You can also safely push yourself to a higher intensity if you’ve hit a plateau or training boredom. The HRM is a useful tool to find your proper goal of heartbeats per minute. In saying that, there are circumstances where you will have a target heart rate you should not exceed because of pregnancy, heart conditions, etc. A HRM is useful for ensuring you stay under that specific heart rate. However, if you are taking certain heart medications, you’re heart rate may not be a good indication of exertion. Contact your doctor or myself with questions.
Other exercise tracking devices include pedometers, GPS tracking devices and movement trackers (i.e., bodybugg or Nike Fuel band).
Walkers and joggers: A HRM allows you to determine a target heart rate that allows for a challenging, yet safe, exercise session (see Understanding Target Heart Rate Zones below). By striving for an aerobic zone on your HRM, you can get more out of your walk or jog than you would during a leisurely walk.
Runners: During race training, there are intense training days and easier sessions. A HRM helps you train in your peak target zone during intense workouts and keeps you in your aerobic base during easier workouts. Some HRMs even track nutrition, i.e., dehydration and nutritional deficiencies. Some models deliver more feedback via a shoe insert.
Cyclists: Use a HRM to track your training during endurance, tempo and interval rides. It is helpful whether you use a road bike, trail bike or stationary bike, especially during those tough hill climbs! Similar to running, some models deliver more feedback via a cadence sensor or foot pod.
Hikers, climbers and skiers: Hiking or climbing up, use a HRM to condition for a peak ascent (meaning track compared to previous climbs). While careening down the mountain, skiers can track their thrills while carving through powder.
Weight-loss goals: HRMs help with regular exercise and sometimes track dietary or nutrition levels as well. As mentioned above, most models will accurately count and display calories burned during a workout; many can help you maintain your target heart rate for maximum efficiency (see Understanding Target Heart Rate Zones below).
Injury or illness rehabilitation: The immediate feedback from HRMs is valuable for physicians and patients recovering from an injury or an illness, including a cardiac incident or heart condition. HRMs can facilitate a gradual return to full strength and endurance exercise in a safe controlled manner. Because it is lightweight and unobtrusive, a HRM is easy to wear during normal activities and during exercise. Recently, there have been a number of HRM companies that are allowing physicians to continuously monitor the heart rates of their patients via an online platform. Gotta love technology!
As mentioned above, a HRM helps you maintain the most efficient target heart rate for your specific goal. Essentially, the HRM is your pacer, telling you when to speed up or slow down. Some higher-end models will warn you if you are above or below your target heart rate using a digital display and/or an audible tone.
According to Wikipedia, target heart rate is “a desired range of heart rate reached during aerobic exercise which enables one’s heart and lungs to receive the most benefit from a workout. This theoretical range varies based mostly on age; however, a person’s physical condition, gender, and previous training also are used in the calculation.” Target heart rate is based off your maximum heart rate (HRmax). HRmax is the calculation that Wikipedia refers to in the definition. The simplest HRmax calculation is:
HRmax = 220 – your age.
Unfortunately, this simple calculation only takes into account your age. We all know that people’s fitness levels can vary even within the same age range. If you’d like information on how to use the more complicated, but more accurate, formulas (such as the Karvonen method) please contact me. If you’re not interested in having a completely accurate HRmax, you can use the Target Heart Rate Calculator provided by the Mayo Clinic. Another way to avoid the complicated formulas is by using a chart offered by the American Heart Association as a general guideline. However, the best option is always to perform a stress test under a physician’s supervision to realize your actual HRmax and safe target heart rates.
|Target Heart Rate Zone,
|Avg. Max Heart Rate, 100%|
The column for Target Heart Rate Zone above has percentages listed (50-85%) meaning you are targeting a specific zone that 50% to 85% of your HRmax. This percentage, or zone, depends on your fitness goal. A brief description of each zone is listed below from the Walking Site:
Most HRMs use a complicated formula, similar to Karvonen’s formula, to calculate the ranges for your heart rate target zones. When first setting the HRM, it will ask you for all the information it needs to calculate heart rates specific for your age, height, fitness level, etc.
There are a number of HRM devices including chest straps, finger sensors, shoe sensors, foot pads, etc. If you have questions about which will work best for you, please contact me. Most quality stores should have a model that you can try on to ensure it reads for you. For example, my preference is the fabric chest strap because the plastic chest strap is usually too wide and I do not get a consistent reading.
My take on using a HRM is that they are helpful for motivation and intensity increases. They are most important for anyone who has a heart rate they should not exceed due to health reasons such as heart conditions or pregnancy. If you need some extra motivation, you should invest in some sort of tracking device for calorie tracking or to push yourself to improve on your time, distance, etc. As I started writing this article, it occurred to me how much there is to cover on this topic. If you’d like more information about specific HRM, or other tracking devices, the pros and cons, or the different features for any tracking devices, please contact me.
Happy heart tracking!