Heart Rate Monitors are one of the most universal fitness accessories. Whether you’re just starting out and looking to burn fat as efficiently as possible, or you’re an experienced, regular trainer looking to tailor your training to bring those small but significant performance benefits, everyone can benefit from using a heart rate monitor whilst training. Yet with a wide-range in terms of features and price, how can you identify the right heart rate monitor for you?
There are a couple of different heart rate monitor systems on the market, and this blog will focus on the most common, which monitor your heart rate through a strap worn around the chest. The chest strap not only monitors your heart rate but also transmits this information to a second device to allow you to monitor the information during your session. Most people will think in terms of a watch for this receiver device, but this could also be a cycling computer or your phone. As a wired system would be more uncomfortable whilst exercising, the signal between the transmitter and the receiver are commonly transmitted wirelessly via radio waves.
These transmissions can be split into two main categories: uncoded and coded signals. Uncoded systems are commonly found on entry-level heart rate monitors, and work by tuning the receiver to the same frequency as the transmitter. The limitation of these systems is that ‘cross-talk’ is possible – this occurs when other devices come within a close proximity of you, and can interfere with the signal. Coded systems are more expensive, but avoid the problems of cross-talk, making the system more suitable for regular users.
There are several different systems on the market in terms of coding these signals, with the ANT+ system one of the most prominent. The coding system is an area to pay particular attention to if you want to use the same chest strap with multiple devices. For example, you might wish to receive your information on a watch whilst running, but on your cycling computer whilst on your bike. Therefore ensuring that all of your devices are compatible through use of the same coding system will allow you to avoid the expense of buying a separate chest strap for each receiver device you may wish to use.
Generating accurate heart rate information is one thing, but for a heart rate monitor to be truly useful, the information needs to be clearly displayed and easy to access. On a watch, the main things to check for are how clear the display is and how easy it is to change between the different modes and displays. Higher end heart rate monitor watches will often have many additional features, but you will only enjoy the benefits of all of them if they are easily accessible. In terms of the information provided, both your heart rate and what this equates to in terms of the percentage of your maximum heart rate will be essential information for monitoring your effort levels during your session.
Information can also be relayed audibly as well as displayed visually. Most audio systems allow you to select how frequently you hear your heart rate information, although the ability to access this information ‘on demand’ can be useful too. Systems such as the Geonaute ONcoach also utilise heart rate information to influence music choice. Rather than selecting the tracks randomly, the selection is based on the tempo of the track, encouraging you to increase or decrease your effort levels dependent on your training goals via the motivational power of music.
Higher end heart rate monitors not only allow you to monitor your effort levels at any given moment during your session, but also record the information to allow you analyse your session afterwards. It is worthwhile not only checking that the heart rate monitor offers this functionality, but also investigating the software that the program uses. Some will be user-friendly than others, so reading reviews of the software as well as the heart rate monitor itself is useful if you are looking for this analytical functionality.
By incorporating the receiver unit into a watch, the door is opened for additional functionality to aid your training. Time keeping functionality will be useful for everyone, whilst depending on your goals functions such as GPS tracking may also be desirable. However, additional functionality will often come with additional costs and can make the watch more complicated to use too, so assess which functions you actually need in order to achieve your goals before spending money of features you may not need.
The criteria above may have allowed you to identify heart rate monitors that offer all of the functionality that you need, but how do they actually feel to wear? If the heart rate monitor moves around or is uncomfortable in any other way, it can not only be irritating but can impede your performance too. A snug fit, but one that causes no discomfort, is the goal in terms of the fit.
The key to identifying the right heart rate monitor for you is to focus on the how you will be training and how effort monitoring will assist you with this. Will you be practicing just one sport or several? Will you need functions such as recording the data or GPS tracking? Will it be easier for you to view the information on a display or to hear the information? These questions will help you to identify which features you need and which are non-essential, and from there you can base your final decision on comfort and price.
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