IDEA asked some of its members what their favorite method of heart rate monitoring was. Here is one of the answers. What is your favorite method of heart rate monitoring? Please feel free to share your answer in the comment box below.

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

To view the full article which ran in the May 2014 IDEA Fitness Journal click here.

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