What is a Heart Rate Monitor?
A heart rate monitor, as the name suggests, is a device which tracks your heart-beat and provides a co-relation to the intensity of your exercise. The intensity of your exercise directly affects the results you obtain from your exercise program. It is dependent on raising your heart-beat to a “target zone.” Depending on your goals, you will have different levels of intensity of exercise, and that different “target zones” for your heart beat. A heart rate monitor helps you keep a track of whether your exercise program is up to speed or not.
International athletes use these monitors for purposes as varied as setting optimal pace per meter covered in races, for guarding against dehydration, to measure electrolyte levels in the body, gauging muscular fatigue etc.
What is the “Target Zone”?
The intensity of your exercise program varies, depending on your goals. For example, if a person is trying to lose weight, he will require an exercise schedule of about an hour daily in a specific “Target Zone”. However, a person who is aiming to build Stamina may be better off exercising in a lower “Target Zone” for a longer time interval.
The simplest way to calculate your Heart Rate Target Zone is
HR MAX = 220 – Your Age
Multiplying the answer by 0.50 and by 0.85 will give you a Target Zone between 50-85% of your maximum Heart Rate. Your exercise program will have an intensity level somewhere in this range. However, take a stress test under a medical practitioner's guidance to determine your heart rates, especially if you are under medication.
Depending on the Target Zone, you can achieve different results from your exercise program. Below is a general listing of the various Target Zones and their uses.
90-100%: Used by top athletes to train for extremely brief periods of time to build up speed. Muscular fatigue sets in quickly, as the muscles will generally need a lot of Oxygen.
80-90%: Used to build up Lung capacity, this zone is ideal if you are following an exercise period involving interval workouts or looking to develop consistent speed over a period of time. Your muscles will be tired, and you can expect to be breathing heavily.
70-80%: Exercise programs in this zone are ideal for overall aerobic conditioning, cardiovascular fitness, and body flexibility. You can expect to work up a good sweat as the body burns through its stores of fat and carbohydrates.
60-70%: This Target Zone is considered ideal for weight-loss programs, to develop muscular strength and to enhance endurance. The body burns through stored fat as fuel in this zone.
Thanks to improvements in design, are used by a wide section of the population. From elderly joggers and walkers, to athletes in training; from cyclists and rowers, to trekkers and hikers; and in some cases people undergoing physiotherapy and injury rehabilitation, as also patients who need their heart rates to stay in a safe zone even as they exercise.
Which type to Buy?
Heart Rate Monitors measure the electrical signals from your heart and display them on a screen. The data displayed helps you tune your exercise program to push your heart into a specific target zone. This delivers maximum bang-for-the-buck from your exercise program, in a manner of speaking.
Two types are mainly used these days:
Chest Strap Models: These are the more common style. They consist of two units: A Chest Strap that fastens to your chest, the transmitter receiving the signals from your heart; and a Wrist Watch that contains the receiver, data center, and display.
There are many different types of Chest Strap Models available, ranging from the basic which give you different statistics about your heart rate, to the advanced models which come equipped with GPS to measure distance, elevation and location and / or a FootPod which is tied to the laces of your shoes to track speed, distance and rhythm.
Pros: The Chest-Strap models give you information on-the-run. You do not have to pause to measure your heart-rate as in the case of finger sensors. Apart from ease-of-use, they also tend to be more accurate and usually have more options and features.
Cons: The Chest-Strap models are usually more expensive than finger sensor models. They may also be inconvenient to some users. Beside, some low-end models may also offer interference with other electronic devices.
Finger Sensor Models: These consist of only the WristWatch unit. To measure your heart rate, simply touch your finger to the touch-pad of the unit and the device will be activated.
Pros: The lack of a Chest Strap makes the device simple and easier to exercise with. They are also cheaper as compared to the Chest Strap models.
Cons: These devices are about 95% accurate. They also require you to perform a pause for 5 to 10 seconds when you place your finger on the touch sensor, to generate data, instead of continuously producing information as in the Chest Strap models. Also they do not usually offer features such as distance tracking etc which are useful for Cyclists, Trekkers etc.
Besides offering different pre-programmable Heart Rate Target Zones for different exercise programs, Monitors come with a host of other features as well. Some of these are:
• Sports Watch and Stop Watch
• Heart Rate Recovery Mode
• Fitness Trainers
• Calorie Counters
• Speed, Distance and Rhythm monitors
• Memory Modules
• USB, Bluetooth and WiFi Interfaces
• Bicycle Mounts
Popular Heart Rate Monitor Manufacturers and Models
Polar Heart Rate Monitors are the best known in the world. Polar is a Finnish company which is known for their innovative and feature-filled devices. The Polar FT7 Heart Rate Monitor Watch has a lot of fans.
Timex is a well-known watch company, which has ventured into the business of sports devices. While Timex does produce simpler monitors, its most popular model is the Ironman Triathlon, designed for serious athletes.
Omron is another company which manufactures Heart Rate Monitors. They offer many models geared towards a more casual user. The HR 100C Heart Rate Monitor is one of their most popular models.
Reebok Heart Monitors is another popular product built by the well-known sports goods manufacturer. They have both strap and strapless models available.
Heart Rate Monitors are a great device to help you measure the intensity of your exercise program, and to make sure that you are getting the desired fruits of your labor. It helps you discover an optimum zone of effort, and also prevails you from training too hard to achieve your goals. They also come with a host of features which add fun to your exercise routine. While it is not a necessity for casual exercisers, Heart Rate Monitors are a must-have device for athletes who wish to seriously track their progress.