Is Heart Rate Training Right for You?
Heart rate monitors have come a long way since the late 1970s, when the Finnish national cross-country ski team used the devices to push themselves to the limit. Today, there are dozens of companies making hundreds of models, and they can seem as simple as a watch — or as complicated as a piece of NASA equipment. But do you really need a heart rate monitor?
"Tracking your heart rate is key when trying to lose fat, lose weight, increase athletic performance or improve fitness levels," says Dave Quevedo, a personal trainer in New Jersey. "Not only can the heart rate monitor tell you if you aren't pushing hard enough, it can show you if you are pushing too hard."
But some fitness experts disagree, including Jessica Matthews, MS, an exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
"While completing an exercise on heart rate alone is precise, it is not always accurate," she says, "since heart rate prediction formulas have been used to prescribe exercise intensities by estimating maximum heart rate — such as 220 minus your age, and the newer, more accurate formula of 206 minus 88 percent of your age. Unfortunately, these estimations can be off by 10 to 20 beats more or less per minute."
Keep in mind that there are two main types of heart rate monitors: those with chest straps, and those that are worn like a wristwatch. The former offer continuous feedback as you're working out; the latter require you to pause in order to get your heart rate.
To decide whether a heart rate monitor might be a worthy addition to your exercise arsenal, ask yourself the following questions.
Do you exercise with a partner?
If your answer is yes, you may be able to rely on the "talk test" instead of a monitor. Studies, including one conducted by ACE, have shown that if you can talk comfortably during exercise, you are working at about the right intensity.
Do you want to track other functions, such as the number of calories you've burned, the distance you've covered, or the speed you've achieved?
If your answer is yes, then you may want to consider a heart rate monitor wristwatch — certain models can track everything from the altitude and predicted weather to the plain old time and date, along with your heart rate. "It can help to provide additional motivation to be physically active," says Matthews.
Do you already have an on-body fitness monitoring device, such as an armband?
If your answer is yes, then you may not need another gadget with multiple features.
Are you willing to invest around $100 to hit your goals?
If your answer is yes, then a heart rate monitor may be right for you. "For those who are serious about hitting their goals it is essential," says Quevedo. "Simply put, would you know how fast your car was going if it didn't have a speedometer?"