What is Your Favorite Method of Heart Rate Monitoring?

Apr 16, 2014

Tricks of the Trade

I don’t use the rating of perceived exertion scale for my clients because I think that method is better suited to a clinical setting. I have been using Mio watches and a couple of other similar brands for many years. They are inexpensive and easy to use. I use them for fitness assessments, especially when I have my clients do the 1-mile Rockport Fitness Walking test because I need their heart rate and time in order to calculate their aerobic capacity and get the most accurate results.

I like Mio watches because they don’t need to be strapped onto clients to get an HR reading. The watches not only calculate the intensity level at which clients are working but also have a calorie-expenditure reading, among other cool features. There are many similar products out there, so it comes down to individual preference and HR-monitoring method.

Harris Sophocleous, MS, CSCS
Owner, SophoFit LLC
Madison, Wisconsin

Teaching our clients to become familiar with RPE teaches them to tune in to their bodies and rely less on gadgets, which sometimes are not accurate.

In a world that’s full of technology and gadgets, we tend to underestimate our own sophisticated piece of equipment— our bodies. Your body is constantly telling you how it feels; it is up to you to tune in and learn what it is trying to communicate. For example, when you are in pain, your body is sending the message, “Something is not good or not working properly; do something about it!”

Teaching RPE is a great tool as a first step toward awareness, which is the natural neuromuscular sync between the body and the brain. It’s another step toward teaching proprioception, ultimately leading to safer, healthier and happier clients!

Anette Lynch
Personal Trainer
Evanston, Illinois

I like to keep HR monitoring simple and to show my athletes that they are making progress. During cardio sessions, I like them to understand how they feel while they are working and while they are recovering. They use a standard HR monitor watch and “listen” to how their bodies are working through RPE. I keep the HR monitoring simple with a three-zone philosophy:

  • Zone 1 is an RPE equivalent to 65%–70% of heart rate reserve, following the Karvonen method. This zone builds an aerobic base, which is critical for improving heart and lung capacity. The improved capacity affects the body’s ability to store and transport oxygen and nutrients to produce energy. Zone 1 is used for warm-up and recovery.
  • Zone 2 is an RPE equivalent to 80%–85% of HR, following the Karvonen method. This zone is used to increase anaerobic and aerobic capacity by straddling the energy systems. A client could work on both leg strength and cardiorespiratory capacity by sustaining this zone for long periods of time.
  • Zone 3 is an RPE equivalent to 86%–90% of HR, following the Karvonen method. Zone 3 is used only in interval training. It can increase speed, power, metabolism and anaerobic capacity by repeatedly exposing active muscles to high-intensity exercise, improving resistance to fatigue. An athlete will be able to sustain a given exercise intensity for a longer period of time, which increases endurance.

I also want to know how my athletes recover between sessions. For this, they use a Bluetooth® device, Fitbit®, or Nike®+ FuelBand to compare data on a day-to-day basis.

Shlomo Fishman
Personal Trainer, Washington Sports Clubs
Washington, DC

Over the past 20 years, the HR monitor has evolved from a specialized tool reserved for the medical field and professional athletic trainers to a mainstay in the consumer fitness market. Our industry realized some time ago that all exercisers need some form of constant measure by which to answer the questions: What is my body doing? Am I working hard enough or too hard? Am I being efficient?

Beginning with the Polar® series of HR monitors in the 1990s, the wire- less chest strap and watch coupling has become a staple for most exercisers. The monitors are easy to use, and most trainers can give clients quick guidelines to using the limited functions. Users can determine true recovery during their circuit training; utilize HR zones that are more specific to certain calorie sources; and avoid plateaus as they see their heart rates adapt to certain activities. The monitors also enable aspiring endurance athletes to gain an edge over their previous training models through the inclusion of self VO2 testing and other more progressed metrics.

Flash forward to today when the question is, “Do I want to wear a watch or use my phone?” The smartphone has become the all-inclusive biofeedback, sports performance and entertainment machine. Several years ago, companies like Wahoo Fitness, for example, began to play with the idea of Bluetooth receivers for the smartphone. Current Bluetooth models connect directly to the iPhone without additional hardware. This takes the user one step closer to a hands-free, thought-free fitness experience. Like watches, the combination of the HR monitor and smartphone app gives clients real-time metrics and progress checks; however, the user interface is flashier, more motivating and more interactive.

The bandwagon has become pretty full, with major athletic labels competing in the once sparsely populated biofeedback world. Nike, Wahoo Fitness, Adidas®, Polar and Garmin™ each offer a variation on the theme, but they all combine instant feedback with app-based tracking, goal programs, digital coaching and more metrics than most kinesiology majors can get their heads around.

Wearable biofeedback is all the rage now. The “What is my body doing?” question has now moved from our exercise sessions to our daily lives. Jawbone®, Nike, Polar and Fitbit have biofeedback bracelets that allow users to be constantly aware of their own physiology. These bracelets differ from the traditional chest-strap models by using pulse as an indicator of intensity levels. They also provide data such as sleep patterns and perspiration levels; act as a pedometer; and give a full account of calorie burn throughout the day. As with the Bluetooth HR monitors, they have an associated app and website aspects that allow for a more interactive exploration of a client’s numbers.

For those seeking a strapless device specific to athletic training, Mio has developed a pulse-based watch. It sticks to the basics—continuous HR display, HR and zone averages, a timer and a clock.

For group fitness, Polar was one of the first companies to offer gym kits containing enough HR monitors for participants in group fitness programs. MyZone® and others challenged the traditional model—where class members measure their own progress—by creating an interface in which the monitoring straps of all participants sync to a central unit that displays the metrics on a TV. This allows the class to work together as a team, view their individual data or compete against one another. MyZone and Strava include a social network platform for their users. Individual accounts can be set up to share with friends, trainers and medical providers.

Which HR-monitoring technique is best? I’d say, choose the device that gives you the best experience. Choose the one that leaves you excited for tomorrow. Choose the one that lets you make choices today that will lead to a better you in the future. My personal choice is the Garmin Fenix 2™ because it has so many metrics and features. I’m hoping that just because I’m wearing it, its awesomeness will improve my ability!

Sean Yeager-Diamond
Fitness Director, Goleta Valley Athletic Club
Owner, Promethean Fitness
Santa Barbara, California

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