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Should I Use a Heart Rate Monitor During Workouts?
Need some extra bling for the gym? Then strap on a heart rate monitor, a device worn while working out that measures heart rate. It’s a great tool to help athletes find their exercise sweet spot — where the body is being pushed just hard enough without the risk of injury or overuse. But they may not be vital for an effective time at the gym. While these trackers are a great (and fun!) way to measure how hard we’re working, listening to the body is also reliable for a heart-pumping workout.
Turn Up the Beat — Why It Matters
Monitoring heart rate is a good tool to help beginners work out at the right intensity, and many elite athletes use them when concerned about hitting specific fitness goals  . So it may be worth getting a heart rate monitor (most are watches!) to more objectively see how hard we’re really working at the gym  . Exercising in our target heart rate zone assures that we’re getting our fitness bang for our buck: burning enough calories, but not going overboard and risking injury. Monitoring heart rate may also be useful if we’re headed to the gym for different fitness goals. Some experts suggest fat-burning and aerobic training fall into different heart-rate categories, the typical fat-burning zone between 50 and 75 percent of our heart-rate max, while aerobic training falling at 75-85 percent. But before we reach for the watch, other research states there isn’t a real difference between these two intensity zones . Fortunately, working out to the right degree is also based on individual perception, and can as simple as doing the talk test, or rating how we’re feeling from a scale of zero – 10, which is also known as Rated Perceived Exertion (RPE).
And between me and you (and everyone else), heart rate levels can vary: They depend on the person and differ based on factors including genetics, fitness level, nutrition, and surrounding environment. Several types of medications can alter resting and active heart rate, too .
Follow Your Heart — Your Action Plan
Lucky for us, using a monitor is pretty simple. First thing’s first: figuring out what heart rate we want to reach. This number is normally 50-85 percent of our maximum heart rate: the largest number of beats per minute a person can reach when pushing it to the max. This can be calculated with some simple math, no wizards required! Just subtract your age from 220. This well-known formula, however, can vary up to 10 percent, says Greatist Expert John Mandrola, which means your maximum heart rate could be 20 beats higher or lower than predicted. There are also target and max heart rate charts that act as good guides for knowing what digits to hit. Once we know our number, we simply have to check the monitor to see if we need to slow down or pick up the pace. (Drop and give me 50 more, please.) Mandrola also notes that a heart monitor is great to make sure we don’t go too hard on easy days.
There are other perks to these gadgets, too. Certain models also track speed and distance, measure calorie burn, and can even hook up to a computer and analyze a workout! But remember, buying this gadget is definitely not necessary for every athlete, and it's only an estimate for how we’re really feeling. If you're in tune with your body and exertion level, there’s no need to go-go gadget.
A heart rate monitor is a useful tool to make sure individuals are working out at the right intensity level. However, they’re not crucial for everyone — listening to your body can work just as well.
Do you use a heart rate monitor when you work out? Love it or hate it? Let us know below!
- Use of heart rate monitors by endurance athletes: lessons from triathletes. O’Toole, M.L., Douglas, P.S., Hiller, W.D. Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of Tennessee-Campbell Clinic, Memphis, TN. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 1998 Sep;38(3):181-7.⤴
- Evaluation of heart rate as a method for assessing moderate intensity physical activity. Strath, S.J., Swartz, A.M., Bassett, D.R., et al. Department of Exercise Science and Sport Management, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 2000 Sep;32(9 Suppl):S465-70.⤴
- Prediction of energy expenditure from heart rate monitoring during submaximal exercise. Keytel, L.R., Goedecke, J.H., Noakes, T.D., et al. MRC/UCT Exercise Science and Sports Medicine Unit, University of Cape Town Medical School, Newlands, South Africa. Journal of Sports Science, 2005 Mar;23(3):289-97.⤴
- Heart rate monitoring: applications and limitations. Achten, J., Jeukendrup, A.E. Human Performance Laboratory, School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, United Kingdom. Sports Medicine, 2003;33(7):517-38.⤴
- Quantifying differences in the “fat burning” zone and the aerobic zone: implications for training. Carey, DG. Health and Human Performance Laboratory, University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Journal 2009 October; 23(7): 2090-5.⤴
- The importance of reducing heart rate in cardiovascular diseases: effects of Ivabradine. Vizzardi, E., Bonadei, I., D’Aloia, A., et al. Department of Experimental and Applied Medicine, University of Study of Brescia, Brescia, Italy. Minerva Medicine, 2011 Oct;102(5):373-9.⤴
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I personally believe that Heart Rate Monitors are important. I use one myself.
The real test of fitness is your heart rate. I test myself each month with a trainer by getting on the treadmill and every two minutes the trainer will record my heart rate and increase the speed, once I feel I can go on no longer, the speed is brought to a slow jogging pace and the time it takes my heart rate to fall below 120 is recorded. Being able to see the differences month by month is important to me. I can tell how much I have improved.
Another big reason for having a heart rate monitor is that it means I can record accurately the amount of calories I burn no matter what the exercise. For this I use a Heart Rate Monitor by Zephyr and use an app on my phone called Endomondo. Allowing me to even see calorie burn during weight lifting, or any type of sport.
Which in turn allows me to be able to more accurateness track my calorie intake/burn through the day using MyFitnessPal. I don't think I would of had the results I do without having it.
@lschwech Not really sure about pushing too hard.
On Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday:
Morning: 5km run
Evening: Weight training with around 5km run
Evening: 5-10km run
Morning 5km run.
I use to use it to make sure my heart rate isn't going too high during runs, because obviously the higher it is the quicker I will tire, but these days I can just feel if i'm going to quick, or it's quite high so I slow myself down!
This is pretty much only relevant for aerobic-specific exercises. An HRM has little efficacy on anaerobic exercises since it's much more difficult to correlate a faster or slower heart beat to work output effects. Not to mention it's almost impossible to regulate your heart rate while squatting or pressing since the rate of the heart is more affected by breathing (or lack thereof), blood pressure ramping up very quickly, and you can't regulate this by slowing down or you'll probably miss your rep.
@lschwech I use one every time I'm in the gym or when I'm running. While I know it doesn't do much for gauging work output for weightlifting, I use my HRM to more accurately track caloric burn and as a marker for rest time between sets. I find it more useful, personally, to time my rest periods by feel/heart rate than by time -- e.g. rest until HRM hits 115BPM rather than waiting X minutes. That and the caloric output aids me in tracking why some sessions are more productive than others when the only changing variable is intensity rather than volume, that aids in giving me a better idea of how much post-workout protein I should consume in the next 24 hours or so.
@lschwech Thanks, I have devoted a significant amount of time to self-quantification and measure a lot of data on a daily basis to see how things are going. The HRM functions well as a compliment to me turning everything into exercise so I track as much as possible from lifting to running to strongman to cutting the grass.
I actually stumbled across measuring rest by feel vs time mostly as a way to make my workouts shorter. There isn't any point in resting for 3 minutes between sets if I'm doing warm-ups or weights light enough to not fully tax my lactic acid pathways. Our bodies recover much faster than our heads do, they know when they're ready to go better than we understand.
After so much research I ended up spending over $200 on a polar heart rate monitor, ended up bringing it back because it would work, seemed to just have a faulty one otherwise they seem to be good, in the end I brought one line and it does all that I want it to. <a href="http://www.heartratemonitorpro.com.au" target="_blank">Heart Rate Monitor Watch</a>. <br> <br> Good luck. <br> M
Getting a HRM totally changed how I worked out. I learned how to become more efficient and not just spend a ton of time working out. It also taught me how to run. When I first started running I had no idea what I was doing and didn't follow any training programs. The HRM taught me pacing how to stay within my ideal heart rate zone. I LOVE my hrm.
I love my Polar FT4! I actually first used heart rate monitors in high school for our gym class; I never imagined I'd want to buy one as an adult. That being said, it's my favorite motivator and best fitness investment I've made thus far. When I'm feeling tired or lazy, it's motivating enough to want to see the stats on my watch and add more data points to my consistent workout logs!
I also love that it helps apply the same calorie counting method across all cardio workouts; instead of relying on different brand machines with different ways of measuring calories, I can use my HRM for the treadmill, hiking, elliptical, etc so that all my workout tracking is at least consistent across the board.