Whether you are trying to lose weight or compete in your first triathlon, a heart rate monitor can be a valuable tool.
These devices typically comprise two main pieces of equipment: a wrist display that resembles a watch and an electrode-studded chest strap. Depending on which monitor you buy, the device may record not only your heart rate, but also the number of calories burned, your running pace, your weekly workout history and other data. Some will even beep when you’ve reached your target heart rate.
Before you throw down the 100+ dollars to purchase one, however, consider the following information from Lisa Fleming, the Personal Training Program Manager at Blink Fitness in New York City.
What You Need to Know
A heart rate monitor may not be the best choice for everyone, according to Fleming.
“Some people don’t push as hard as they would if they’re wearing a heart rate monitor,” she said. “They get anxious about how fast their heart is beating [which] makes their heart beat faster, and then they hold back.”
Heart rate monitors—most often used to track the intensity of a workout—aren’t the only way to gauge effort, Fleming said. With her clients, Fleming often uses a Rate Perceived Exertion Scale. This way, you can tailor your workouts based on how hard they feel. Traditionally, the scale runs from either 1-10 or 6-20, with the lowest number resembling how you feel lying on your couch and the highest number being the effort used to run for your life. A solid workout would include effort at a level 8.
When using a heart rate monitor, it’s important to understand how different heart rates affect results. For instance, it’s a misconception that staying at the fat-burning level will help you lose weight faster.
“In exercise science, we know that different intensities of workouts utilize different substrates for energy,” Fleming said. While this means that working out a lower intensity will burn fat as your substrate, to lose weight you ultimately need to burn more calories, meaning you’ll need to pick up the pace (or work out longer).
Who Should Use One
When people are armed with accurate fitness information and understand how to leverage a heart rate monitor, these devices can be a great addition to a workout. Here’s the gist on how they can be used by different demographics.
People with a health condition or recovering from an injury
If you are rehabbing after an accident, have a heart condition, are pregnant or are working with other limitations or health concerns, a heart rate monitor can help you follow your doctor’s workout guidelines.
Serious athletes may want to know if they are in their target heart rate zone, track their heart rate during training or an endurance event, or carefully log their calories burned. For these people, devices that can also keep track of hydration and energy deficits are very useful.
People Trying To Lose Weight or Increase Fitness
A heart rate monitor can make sure you more accurately log the calories you burn and can keep you on track with the intensity of workouts required to see results.
Whether or not you purchase a heart rate monitor should depend on your unique circumstances, including your fitness goals. Under the right conditions, these devices can be very helpful.