I've had several folks ask me about heart rate monitors lately. I don't consider myself an expert in these little devices, so I had to do a little research. And by research, I mean I asked a few trainers and searched the medical literature.
For those of you not familiar with these devices, also referred to as Personal Wellbeing Technology (the Dr. Dorks always like to come up with their own names for this stuff), they normally consist of two components: a strap that goes around your chest and then a watch-like receiver. They range from $50-200 depending on what bells and whistles you want. The basic ones just measure heart rate. The fancy ones can measure calories burned, can be adapted to a bike mount and measure cycling speed, can come equipped with GPS to measure running/walking distance, and can connect to an on-line training diary to keep track of it all.
There seems to be three types of people that may really want to consider using this Personal Wellbeing Technology as part of their fitness program:
- Newbies. For a person that has never exercised before, it's really hard to know if the exercise is at an intensity that is beneficial to health. These little things may really help folks realize how hard (or more likely, how NOT hard) they are working out. One trainer I spoke with said he recommends them to new clients and asks that they wear it for about 6 months. He wants them to learn how they feel when they are working out at different intensities so that they can eventually accurately predict their heart rate without the device.
- Techies. For people that LOVE little electronics and are into logging their training in an on-line diary, these heart rate monitors are great. They can be a real motivator and at the end of the day, that's the goal with physical activity...keep doing it most days of the week until you drop dead. If all it takes is a little heart rate monitor, then totally worth it!
- Sickies. And by that, I mean people with a medical condition that should not be working out over a certain intensity.
Now here is my own list of folks that should probably not wear a heart rate monitor:
- Chafies. If you are one that is inclined to chafe, then the strap around your chest might result in some rough patches. There are other options out there though. Check out this monitor that is built into the sports bra.
- KISSies (KISS = Keep it simple stupid). Depending on the exercise, you may not want another piece of equipment on you. For example, if you already are going running with an iPod, cellphone, and GPS, do you really need to carry one more piece of electronics on your body? If you're swimming and have a cap, goggles, and potentially other equipment, do you really want to wear more stuff?
- Mini-Wristies. If you are a small-framed woman or just have a small wrist, you may want to go physically try on a heart rate monitor before you buy one. The receiver is HUGE! There are several versions specifically for women, but even these seem big on my wrist. Best not to spend the money until you're sure it's wearing during exercise.