Fitness Articles

Listen to Your Heart Rate Monitor

The Importance of this Training Tool

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Imagine you’re driving on a country road. You’re enjoying the ride and noticing the cars that you pass along the way, excited to get to your destination. Suddenly you see those familiar red and blue lights flashing in your rearview mirror and you pull over to the side of the road. When the officer approaches, she asks you how fast you were going and you have no idea—you weren’t paying attention to your speedometer. Or even worse, your speedometer is broken! Whether you’re new to driving or have been doing it for decades, it’s hard to guess how fast you’re going without using that handy meter. Are you moving too slowly or just right? Should you match the speed of the other drivers around you, or are they being too risky? Is your speed conserving fuel or will you run out of gas before you reach your destination?

Exercising without accurately monitoring your intensity is like driving a car without a speedometer. It poses uncertainty (is your intensity level appropriate?), risk (are working too hard for your body to handle?), and health concerns (is your speed improving or hurting your health?).

In the world of fitness technology, using a heart rate monitor is the most accurate and convenient way to assess your exercise intensity (provided that you are not pregnant or on any medication that may affect your heart rate). Plus they offer a host of other benefits, such as calorie burn calculation and training guidelines. Read on to find out how a heart rate monitor (HRM) can help you reach your health and fitness goals and why SparkPeople’s fitness experts consider them to be excellent investments and tools for every person who exercises.

What is a heart rate monitor?
A heart rate monitor is an electronic device that allows you to continuously monitor your heart rate while exercising. Typically it consists of two elements, a comfortable chest strap and a wrist receiver. The chest strap is adjustable to accommodate a variety of sizes. You strap it around the chest, and it picks up your heartbeat and transmits it to the receiver, which usually doubles as a digital watch. The receiver then displays your heart rate (among other things) during your exercise session.
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About The Author

Nicole Nichols Nicole Nichols
Nicole was named "America's Top Personal Trainer to Watch" in 2011. A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, she loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Her DVDs "Total Body Sculpting" and "28 Day Boot Camp" (a best seller) are available online and in stores nationwide. Read Nicole's full bio and blog posts.

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Member Comments

  • SHARSS
    I just received a PolarFt1 from Amazon and it's going back. Why? 1. The settings were screwed up. All I cared about was seeing my heart rate. 2. The colon is blinking with no way to turn it off. Naturally, this has already been using up battery. It's made in China and been using battery juice since it left the factory in China?

    No thanks. - 9/4/2013 10:26:57 PM
  • Great article. Need to get one. - 6/28/2013 4:20:51 PM
  • I also had a polar HRM watch but i was not able to understand it , it was alt lease 2 yrs i had it and decide that i had to have somebody try to set it for me
    I had to replace the bateries but the it got replace but he did not understand it either

    Finely i had it set and it was not any good to me i still did not understand it , all i wanted
    was to find out how much calories i was burning while i was doing exercise

    Why do they make those watches so complicated it must be about 5 to 7 yrs ago
    and i had pay 125$ at the time. would somebody would know of a watch that is simple
    to set all i really want is how much calories i burn, while i do exercise - 1/7/2013 2:15:07 AM
  • GOTONANCY1
    Informative. Excellent read. Thanks for sharing this HRM article - 5/3/2012 6:30:39 AM
  • I also have the Polar ft4 ....I've had mine 4 years and replaced the battery for the first time this year !!! You can do it yourself (or take to jeweler) it takes regular watch battery so don't send it in. I would NEVER exercise without it ever !!! I don't need the laps, or extras tracked. I only need the time and calories burned but this allows me to be so accurate and helped me to lose weight !!

    All my fitness is now tracked manually so I know exactly where I am. I've even worn mine all night to see calories burned throughout day and it was only 20 calories from what my dr. metobolic testing was !! Very accurate !! I have the front plastic and the back half elastic. Very comfy !!! - 3/4/2012 12:18:21 PM
  • I have to jump on the Polar bandwagon as well. I use the Polar ft4. It is a wonderful, mid-priced HRM. I bought it based on ease of use - I really only want a HRM to monitor my heart rate and tell me how many calories I'm burning, so I didn't want to pay for extra bells and whistles that I wouldn't use. It cost about $90, the strap is comfortable and adjustable, and I bought my wrist monitor in a pretty pink color. It is not so bulky that you can't also use it as your regular watch. You can program all your stats in there and change as you lose or gain weight so you always have an accurate read of how many calories you've burned, and it stores that data in there as well in case you move from doing cardio to lifting at the gym and want to record calories separately. You can also change the battery yourself on this model which is so convenient. It also seems to display my heart rate on the cardio machines at the gym too so I can keep the setting on my wrist monitor on calories burned to monitor both simultaneously. I would definitely recommend this monitor to anyone. - 3/2/2012 2:36:57 PM
  • GIANT-STEPS
    I got an Omron HR-100C for Christmas. What can I say, cheap, works well, and has user replaceable batteries. The last HRM I owned was twice as expensive and needed the chest strap back to the company for battery replacement! Only time will tell if the unit is durable though. - 2/2/2012 5:52:12 PM
  • the comment is helpful but i would like to hear more about the actual monitors themselves. i did get a little bit of help from the comments also though! - 12/28/2011 12:15:43 PM
  • HEIDISO
    I can't wear a heartrate monitor. I purchased one after reaching a goal and just loved it. I thought it would be a great motivational tool to keep me exercising in the right direction. But after about 1 month the thing died. I figured it was just the battery since I drain watch batteries on a regular basis. But no I totally fried it, I put in a new battery and still no power. So I just keep doing what I'm doing and push forward without that gauge as a reference. - 9/22/2011 12:17:47 PM
  • RONDUA82
    I just bought m first HRM (SIGMA - I'm not sure if this one is available in the States) and checked it right away at my Zumba class. I was surprised how many calories I burned! Wow! The HRM helped me to monitor my pulse which went way to high at some point. I knew when I needed to slow down. I think I will be using it during all my workouts. - 7/27/2010 3:11:29 PM
  • great article. fyi REI has a spread sheet of features of the models they sell. it helped me purchase mine. - 3/14/2010 2:09:31 PM
  • Hi, like Ladybug-Dr I would very much like to see an article comparing the different models out there from low to high end to help in finding just the right HRM for me. I would like to add this to my "rewards" list to help me benefit more from my workouts.
    I have no knowledge what so ever about HRM and this article gave me an good basic overview.
    Please let me know more about HRM so I can make a great decision without a lot of trial and errors and extra cost. - 3/12/2010 9:25:12 AM
  • Right now, I am trying to decided which one to get. Hopefully, I will find one I would like to use. - 11/6/2009 9:56:12 AM
  • I just bought a Polar FT40 and so far I like it. I was surprised to see that the calories I'm actually burning are much lower than the fitness tracker on this site says. I also found out that most of my workout is spent in the fitness zone rather than in the fat burning zone, which is where I really need to be. I'm excited that I'm going to be able to monitor my efforts and progress much more closely. Thanks to this HRM, I think I've finally discovered why I'm not burning any fat. - 8/18/2009 9:26:36 AM
  • BODYBUDDE
    Thank you eveyone for all the input. I was seriously considering a Bodybugg and how to save enough to get one. I had a polar several years ago, but I had a hard time getting the strap positioned properly to get a reading. Hopefully they have improved and it will work this time. Coyuld it be tghe operator ?? ^_^ - 8/4/2009 7:44:02 PM
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