Monthly Archives: June 2013

What Is A Heart Rate Monitor?


The wireless heart rate monitor for fitness training was invented in 1977, in order to help the Finnish National Cross Country Ski team train. This type of  technology has recently gained lots of attention from the fitness community. Because of this, I decided to write a bit about what a heart rate monitor is, what it used for, and what to look for when looking to make a purchase.

Fitness isn’t just about quantity. It’s also about the level of intensity at which you conduct your activity. Different levels of intensity, for different amounts of time, may make reaching certain fitness goals more likely. For example, instead of picking an arbitrary amount of time to  do a sprint interval, and pre determined rest period, you would use your heart rate monitor to specifically tell you when you are in the target heart rate zone you are looking for. Therefore, instead of resting or lowering the intensity of exercise based on time, you would use the information feedback from your heart rate monitor to guide you. If you have a heart rate range you would like to stay in, your heart rate monitor would tell you when to raise or lower your intensity based off of your current heart rate. This makes your workout more efficient, because you are able to better personalize your program, and not just go by periods of time or intensity that are based off of general programs.

To simplify this concept: the HRM goes “Hey, step your game up, you wuss!!!” or “Yo, ease up, so you don’t die. Thanks.” This is done by giving you visual feedback, audio feedback, or both. Many people like this.  You tell your device what your goal is, and just go for it. It’ll tell you what you need to know. Granted, you still need a well put together program, hopefully created by a qualified fitness professional. But this type of device can be a great asset.

You’re convinced this is cool technology that you may want to look into. But, how does it work?

Heart rate monitors work by measuring electrical signals from the heart, and displaying that information on your device.

There are generally two type of heart rate monitors. Chest strap, and finger sensor models.


Chest Strap Models: This type of HRM continuously wirelessly sends heart rate information from a fastened chest strap, to a watch (or other device). As with any technology, there are different models that vary with different functionality, and therefore, price. The more advanced models have GPS capabilities, as well as send a coded signal so as to not get interference from other HRMs in your surrounding area. The accuracy of this model is generally regarded as better than the finger sensor models.

Finger Sensor Models: This is usually a watch style device. You place your finger on its touch pad, for feedback. Since there is no chest strap, this is an easier model to use. It may be more comfortable, since it doesn’t require putting anything else on your body. These models are usually cheaper, as well. Though the data is generally regarded as pretty accurate, finger sensor models can still be less accurate than chest strap models. Finger sensor models often require one to stop exercise, in order to get a reading. There are different models for this type of device as well, which carry with them different capabilities.


Target heart rate zones. The more advanced models will offer more target heart rate zones, therefore, theoretically, giving one more specific options for their fitness goals.

Sport watch type features. Stop watch type features, lap/split times, etc.

Recovery heart rate. This feature tells you how long it took for your heart rate to return to normal.

Time in target zone. This can be helpful, as different goals require different amounts of time in different target heart rate goals.

Calorie counter. Estimation of calories burned during exercise. Keep in mind this is just that, an estimation. However, this can help with certain goals, such as weight loss.

Distance and speed. This would generally be tracked by way of GPS and or foot/shoe sensor.

Battery replacement. Some devices have removable batteries one can easily change. Other models require one to recharge the specific unit.

Since I haven’t personally tried these types of devices in the fitness realm, I can’t give advice as to what one specific models to pick up. However, has ranked a few models that you may want to look at. They list what features are available on what models, as well as the price for each model. This can help in your decision.

On Counting Calories Burned:

These devices may have the option of counting calories burned through exercise. The best they can give is an estimate. It’s tough to know the actual accuracy of these readings, as many factors play a role in the science of calorie burning . In my opinion, the information about calories being burned should be used as a rough idea, not to be taken too literally. We should still focus on eating good quality food, and making adjustments for our specific goals, regardless what the device may say one burned during a workout. If need be, one would want to meet with a nutrition professional, to get better personalized help.

I want to reiterate that using technology to aid in fitness, is great. However, I caution one to not worry more about what the best kind of equipment is out there, than making sure that one has a sound fitness program. Tweaks and adjustments are awesome, and should be looked at, but only when one is already following some sort of program. It is all too easy to get caught up in a million options, without actually starting a program.

You may be thinking, “I wanted you to tell me what to buy, and you didn’t!!” Well, sorry to disappoint, my friend. The better you understand a product or type of technology, the better you are able to find what works best for you. That is how I wanted to help in this capacity.

Which HRMs have you tried? What did you like? What didn’t you like? Let us know in the comment field!!!

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