Heart Rates: Part III

It’s another typical day at the gym. You hop on the treadmill and almost mechanically, you type in your age, weight, time and desired intensity. Somewhere on the screen, it displays how many calories you’ve burned. But how accurate is that?

Reports suggest that cardio machines, such as treadmills, ellipticals, and stationary bikes, overestimate calories burned by 15-20%. Talk about a margin of error!

Personally, I’m a calorie counter. It’s an approach that leaves little room for cutting corners.  As such, a 15-20% potential error isn’t going to cut it. How can you narrow in on your true calorie count and increase overall exercising accuracy? By using a heart rate monitor.

I always thought there was only one type – a chest strap with a sensor and a wristwatch – but I was wrong. There’s a second model on the market and instead of a chest strap contraption, it’s a finger sensor. Both models have pros and cons and depending on your fitness goals, one may be more suitable for you.

Chest Strap Model
According to REI’s website, this model is the most common. Packages include a chest strap, corresponding sensor and wristwatch. Some people find the strap to be a nuisance or uncomfortable; I personally don’t even notice it anymore while working out.

Max purchased my Polar FT7 as a Christmas present last year. It’s not the most expensive monitor on the market, but it’s not the cheapest either. It meets my basic needs which are offering continuous heart rate information and better accuracy than finger sensor models.

I have to say, looking back, working out pre-monitor was just downright unsatisfying; I’d go through the motions – a little treadmill action here, some time on the elliptical – but nothing focused or purposeful. That’s probably why I was a yo-yo dieter in my past life. I’d be completely dedicated to a workout regime and when I didn’t see results I’d give up. Working out post-monitor has been both fulfilling and exhilarating.

I like hard facts and concrete data and that’s exactly what my heart rate monitor gives me. With just a glance at my watch, I can tell if I’m not running or biking or swimming fast enough or if I need to slow down because I’m working out in the wrong heart rate zone. It lets me know how intense my workout is and how many calories I burn spinning or trail running – information that’s unavailable outside of a gym.

Finger Sensor Model
I’m not as familiar with these as I’ve never used one, but according to REI’s website, these models consist of a wristwatch where you touch your finger to the sensor and it gives you a reading. The data is only estimated to be 95% accurate though and while this monitor offers greater ease of use and comfort, you have to stop your workout entirely in order to get any information.

If I’ve got a good stride, the last thing I want to do on a 5 mile run is stop for 15 seconds to get my heart rate. Lame.

Just about anyone can benefit from using a heart rate monitor – runners, walkers, swimmers (yes, most models are water resistant), hikers, bikers, skiers, boarders. You get where I’m going here. If you love to exercise and want to get an accurate reading on how well you’re working out and staying in your optimal heart rate zone, you’re going to need a heart rate monitor.

What do you think? Will you be running out to REI or your local sport store to purchase a heart rate monitor?


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