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Why Should I Use A Heart Rate Monitor?

A List of The Best Heart Rate Monitors

Training with a heart rate monitor is beneficial for runners of all levels. Competitive runners can carefully gauge their progress and tailor their training for peak performance while more fitness-oriented runners can assure training runs are spent in the optimal zones.

The Ultimate Guide to Tracking Progress

How Using Your Heart Rate Monitor Can Be A Game Changer

1. Coach Yourself With Heart Rate Data

A heart rate monitor can act as your personal coach. Your heart rate along with your “perceived exertion rate” can tell you if you need to up your intensity, pull back or if you are in your groove. This helps to hone in on exactly what you want to accomplish and insure the best results for the time that you put in to your fitness plan enhancing workout safety as well.

2. Ensure A Better Road to Recovery 

With a heart rate monitor you can learn about your heart’s ability to “recover” from a given exercise and/or interval within a workout. This gives you more info on the condition of your cardiovascular system. Faster recovery rate indicates enhanced cardiovascular capacity. More on that later though.

3. Record Your Fitness Milestones

A heart rate monitor is a fantastic tool giving you clear indication and evaluation of the condition of your cardiovascular system during physical activity. Again, awareness is power! This is great information to share when you see your doctor at your yearly physical.

4. Better Understand Your Workouts

Utilizing a heart rate monitor for any activity gives you definitive data on what effort level it takes you as an individual to accomplish a given task as well as under what circumstances (i.e., weather; indoor or outdoor workout; machine or free flow; fatigue; effects of medication or caffeine; sea level; time of day, and more). In other words, what does your body have to do and put forth in terms of effort to accomplish the chosen physical feat of the day?

5. Be Aware of Health Risks

When you’re dealing with an ongoing medical condition that requires the use of medication (like high blood pressure), your doctor will say your heart rate needs to stay within a certain BPM (beats per minute) range. That’s because there’s often a beta blocker—which blocks adrenaline and lowers heart rate—in the medicine, so it’s important to make sure the dosage doesn’t cause your number to dip too low. The American Heart Association says keeping tabs on your heart rate will help your doctor better determine whether you should change a dosage or switch to a new medication entirely.

6. Indicates What Is Stressing You Out

Keeping tabs on your ticker throughout the day, with the help of monitors in the form of a watch or wristband, can tip you off when you’re dealing with a lot of stress. If you notice your heart rate is higher when you’re working on a big presentation, or when you’re slammed with an unexpected deadline, that’s a sign you need to relax. Velo suggests taking a few moments to meditate. Not only can it help lower your numbers, but it can also recenter your focus so you nail that all-important project.

Benefits of Knowing Your Resting Heart Rate

Resting heart rate (RHR) is your heart rate taken while awake and without being subject to any exertion or stimulation. Including physical activity, stress or even surprise. It represents the cardiovascular system’s efficiency to deliver oxygen and other nutrients to the body in order to function at a very basic level (i.e. keep you alive).

RHR varies from person to person but usually falls between 60 and 100 beats per minute (BPM) in most individuals. Athletes however, and particularly endurance athletes, have a significantly lower RHR, usually between 30 and 50 BPM. A lower RHR represents greater (and more efficient) overall cardiovascular fitness. This means that the heart needs to contract fewer times to deliver sufficient volumes of blood to the body.

You can indirectly track improvements to your fitness by keeping track of your RHR over the course of several weeks and months. A downward trend in which your RHR decreases over time is a good indication that your cardiovascular fitness is improving.

Knowing Your Heart Rate Zone

To get the most out of your heart rate monitor, you should be using it to make sure you’re training at the right intensity for each workout. Your heart rate monitor will be a great tool to make sure you’re pushing as hard as you should be. However, if you’re on an easy, fat-burning run, the monitor is a great help to make sure you’re going easy enough.

The Fat Burning Zone

50% to 60% of MHR. As the name says, training in this zone is ideal for drawing energy from fat cells by being low in intensity, but long in duration.

The Energy Efficient or Recovery Zone

60% to 70% of MHR. Training in this zone develops basic endurance and aerobic capacity, it’s ideal for recovery intervals.

The Aerobic Zone 

70% to 80% of MHR. Training in this zone develops and improves cardiovascular system. Especially the body’s ability to transport oxygen to the working muscles, and CO2 away from them.

The Anaerobic Zone

80% to 90% of MHR. Training in this zone will develop your lactic acid system. A point at which the body can no longer remove the lactic acid from the working muscles is your anaerobic threshold. It is possible to train your body to delay the anaerobic threshold and increase the tolerance to lactic acid.

The Red Line Zone 

90% to 100% of MHR. Training in this zone is possible only for short periods of time. It’s ideal for developing speed by working out fast twitching muscle fibers through sprint intervals.

Utilizing Your Heart Rate for Better Recovery

Exercise causes your heart rate to increase because your heart has to work harder to get more oxygen to your muscles. How quickly your heart rate returns to its normal pace is a good measure of cardiac fitness, Stoney said.

One 1999 New England Journal of Medicine study even noted that the time it takes your heart rate to begin dropping after a workout is a powerful predictor of mortality. “A low recovery time indicates that your heart is operating efficiently and able to return to normal state more rapidly,” reported the study. Exactly what constitutes a speedy recovery depends on how high your heart rate gets.

Essentially, if your recovery rate falls over time, it’s a good indicator that your cardiac fitness is improving. Check how long it takes your heart rate to return to its pre-workout rate, and see how this number changes weekly and monthly.

Best Heart Rate Monitors on The Market

Optical Heart Rate Monitor Vs Electrical Heart Rate Monitor

Electrical heart rate monitors (also called ECG monitors) measure the electrical signals that control expansion and contraction of the heart. This is usually done via a chest strap. According to Polar’s Chief Strategy Officer,  “high-quality chest straps…are still superior in providing the more reliable and responsive HR data versus optical sensors.”

Optical, or PPG (photophletysmography) sensors shine an LED light through the skin. Then record the changes in blood flow from the pumping of the heart. Because they are dependent on blood flow to register heart rate data, they are prone to imprecise readings.

There are many elements that can disrupt an optical reading. For example, muscle tension when gripping the handlebar as well as cold weather can restrict blood flow in the wrist. Along with bumps from the road can send little shocks to the wrist that disrupt blood flow. All causing inaccurate readings. Also, devices with optical sensors need to fit as snug as possible. So, the farther up the arm they sit (forearm, bicep) the better the readings will be.

The All-In-One Heart Rate Monitor – Suunto 9

Sunnto Heart Rate Monitor

For the: Serious Fitness Junkie ($599) 

Listing the Suunto 9 as a heart rate monitor wildly undersells its capabilities, but this watch does have both an optical heart rate sensor and the ability to connect to a Bluetooth chest strap for greater accuracy. This professional-level watch has an astounding battery life—up to 25 hours in Performance mode and up to 120 hours in Ultra mode—and gives you real-time notifications on remaining battery life, allowing you to change modes on the go so you don’t run out of juice before the end of your workout.

Ideal for: the person who wants a take-no-prisoners heart rate monitor that can do it all and do it all well.

The Heart Rate Monitor With Detailed Data – Polar Vantage M

Polar Heart Rate Monitor

For the: Data Deep Dive Athlete ($280)

The Vantage M features Polar’s Precision Prime technology for reading heart rate. It combines skin-contact readings with optical sensors to make wrist-based heart rate more reliable and less susceptible to false readings, according to Polar. It also comes packed with other features such as continuous heart rate reading, sleep and activity tracking, and Polar’s Training Load Pro software for analyzing your workouts.

Ideal for: athletes who want to dive deeper into data analysis in search of the small gains.

The Heart Rate Monitory With The Longest Battery Life – LifeTrak C410W

LifeTrak Heart Rate Monitor

For the: Biggest Bang For Your Buck Buyer ($100)

Based off the uber-popular C410, this fitness tracker measures heart rate, filters out false steps and automatically knows when you fall asleep or wake up so you can accurately measure sleep quality. The LifeTrak Zone C410 has an always-on display, accurate tracking, and a waterproof design. It also includes a built-in heart-rate monitor, advanced calibration controls, and one year of battery life.

Ideal for: someone who cares more about accuracy and functionality than the looks. 

The Most Elegant Heart Rate Monitor – Apple Watch Series 4

For the: Avid Multi Tasker (Starting at $399)

We’d be remiss if we didn’t include the Apple Watch Series 4 on this list. It does a little bit of everything and measures heart rate through an optical sensor. Although it wasn’t available when Apple launched the Series 4 watch, you can now take ECG readings through the ECG app. Using the Apple Watch Series 4 with GPS and cellular has the added bonus of allowing you to leave your phone behind when you workout, while still retaining the ability to record all of your data and maintain full connectivity out on the road.

Ideal for: someone who prioritizes connectivity and doesn’t want to switch watches between the office and the gym.

The Hidden Heart Rate Monitor – Garmin Softstrap Premium Heart Rate Monitor

Garmin Heart Rate Monitor

For the: Back To Basics Health Enthusiast ($69) 

This heart rate strap from Garmin is a pure, stripped-down heart rate strap. It’s ANT+ compatible only, and will pair to any device with ANT+ capabilities. The soft strap is easy to adjust, comfortable to wear for long hours, and machine washable—simply remove the plastic heart module that’s held in place via two snaps.

Ideal for: anyone with an ANT+ bike computer or watch who wants to add highly accurate heart rate data.

The Heart Rate Monitor With 24/7 Tracking – Fitbit Charge 3

FitBit Heart Rate Monitor

For The: Well Rounded Health Goal Setter

The Charge 3 is a slim and sleek activity tracker that reads heart rate data via an optical sensor, uses Bluetooth to connect to your smartphone, and is compatible with more than 200 fitness apps. Automatic activity recognition means the watch begins recording the second you start your workout. It also tracks all-day calorie burning and sleep, and, when paired to your phone, will display calls and texts. For those who hate to constantly charge their devices, the claimed battery life of seven days is a nice touch.

Ideal for: the person looking for a low-key device to track all-day heart rate and record workouts.

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Lesley George

Lesley is a content writer and community manager at Shape.
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