It's no wonder you're slightly at a loss when it comes to trying to decide what heart rate monitor to purchase – there are literally hundreds of styles, all with different functions and sports applications which range from a basic heart monitoring aid at entry level to an on-board computer suitable for monitoring performance of world-class sports people.
What Is Your Heart Rate Monitor Going To Be Used For?
When assessing what heart rate monitor you're likely to need, it's essential to think beyond the most obvious factor – price, and to consider instead what your sporting goals are now and are likely to be in one years time . There is nothing worse than investing in a $ 50 monitor with basic functions for jogging around your neighborhood, only to find that it is not capable of monitoring the more complex things you find yourself wanting to do and know about six months down the line.
A good place to begin is to ask yourself the following questions:
- What sport (s) are you going to be using your monitor for?
- Do you prefer / need to view your workout on a wrist monitor, on your equipment screen, or on a PC screen? Is that likely to change over time?
- Do you / will you need basic, moderate, or complex data about your workout performance?
- Do you / will you need to track distance and / or speed?
- Will you be tracking distance over a fixed area eg treadmill, stationary bike, track or velodrome, or will you be out on the road / open country / water?
- Do you / will you need to monitor your performance continuously or at intervals during your workout?
- Do you intend to monitor your workout performance over time?
- Do you / will you need to gather your workout data for analysis or relay to a coach?
- Do you / will you need your monitor to double up for use an outdoor navigational tool containing functions such as altimeter, compass and barometer?
It is possible to buy a monitor which has the capacity to "grow" in function in accordance with your needs, so you might want to consider investing in one of these, buying additional accessories as and when you need them.
Chest Strap v. Strapless Heart Rate Monitors
The most basic decision you will need to make when choosing what heart rate monitor best suits your needs will be chest strap or no chest strap?
Chest Strap Heart Rate Monitors
Most frequently used type of heart rate monitor. They detect heart rate via a chest sensor worn around the chest and send the data to the viewing monitor using wireless technology. They will give accurate ECG continuous heart rate monitoring through a session. They are available in both analog and digital forms (digital provides a more robust signal).
- The wearing of a strap means that your monitor can provide you with constant information about what your heart is doing.
- Certain models can be used to interface with your gym equipment ie the information from the chest strap can be relayed wirelessly to your treadmill, stepper or stationary bike for on-screen viewing.
- Chest strap heart rate monitors rely on maintaining a good contact between the electrodes on the strap and the user's chest. Some activities such as swimming prevent this constant bond and as a result the heart rate reading is obstructed.
- Analog chest straps may be prone to "crosstalk" interference when used in close proximity to other users ie your signal may be interfereed with when others are also using HRMs at a distance of less than 3ft / 1 meter from you, eg in a gym or during a race. There is less risk of this happening with coded transmitters.
- While most HRMs are water resistant 20-100 meters, this only means that they will not be damaged by being worn in water. They can not be used to continue measure heart rate while swimming because the water interferees with the transmission of analog radio waves.
- If you need continuous monitoring of your performance while under water, you should consider purchasing the Suunto Smartbelt, which when used with Suunto software can store and relay an accurate reading of your workout without a wrist monitor being used.
Will provide an on-demand reading when you place your finger (s) on the monitor sensors. For accurate reading, avoid the cheaper motion / optical monitors which take a reading purely from blood pump, opting instead for a calibrated monitor which takes an ECG reading of your heart rate via the electrical circuit set up between your fingers, the watch and around the chest.
Strapless monitors do not provide constant reading, so they can not be used to compile accurate data about your overall workout. It is possible to purchase dual mode monitors which will be used in both strap and strapless modes.
What Heart Rate Monitor – Range Of Functions Available
- Avoidance of crosstalk
- Target Training Zones – Pre-set targets to work towards fat burning, cardio-vascular and stamina-building fitness. More complex monitors will have more target zones.
- Heart Rate Zone Alarm – Tells you when you have moved above or below your target training zone.
- Time Spent in Heart Rate Zone
- Maximum / Minimum / Average Heart Rate
- Calories Burned Calculator – Will estimate how many calories you burn during a workout using variants including age, sex, height, weight and workout intensity.
- On-board Workout Program – Built in workouts.
- Fitness Test – Allows you to take a short test to measure your fitness improvement over time.
- Heart Rate Recovery Measure – Will assess how long it takes your heart rate to recover after a session. Useful in assessing progressive progressive building.
- Countdown Timer – For Interval training – eg sprint for 1 minute before easing back down.
- Distance / Speed Calculator – Choose an "accelerometer" which measures speed and distance using sensor technology on a "foot pod" or "bike pod" or GPS, which uses satellite technology. Runners and cyclists using a treadmill and / or track may find that an accelerometer attached to a trainer or bike best suits their needs, while those engaged in sports that take them over varying terrain, including cross-country skiing, skating and kayaking may prefer GPS . Both systems have been proven to be equally accurate (about 97%).
- Chest Strap / Strapless
- Continuous / Interval Monitoring
- Heart Rate Measure Over Lap / Split – useful for assessing heart rate at particular points in workout eg how does HR during mile / lap 1 compare with that in mile / lap 5.
- Downloadable To PC – Allows training data to be assessed, viewed visually and compared with workouts over a defined period in order to assess training goals and achievements.
- Bike Mount – For viewing the monitor from a bicycle.