What should I look for when buying a pulse monitor?
March 3, 2010 1:22 PM   Subscribe

What should I look for when buying a pulse rate monitor?

I've recently started exercising again (exercise bike, several times a week, ~30min a session), and I want to be able to quantify in some way whether what I'm doing is worth it.

Q1] I figure a pulse rate monitor will help with this. Is that correct? If not, what will?

Q2] When buying a piece of apparatus, what specific things/features should I look for?

Any other advice is regarding beginners fitness is welcome too.
posted by Solomon to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Look for the ability to set multiple heart rate zones, so you can track the time spent in each zone. Most let you set one target zone, which is fine, but not quite as useful.
posted by The Michael The at 1:37 PM on March 3, 2010

Not quite a square answer, but a trainer at my gym recommended the Polar F-6 monitor, which I bought and enjoy.
posted by grobstein at 1:46 PM on March 3, 2010

Polar is the company that makes the best ones out there.
There are basic models, and then the more advanced ones. There's one or two models just
designed for biking purposes, which would also count km/miles travelled, etc.

I have a fairly basic one, and it has a single target zone, plus calorie count. That's good enough for me. A big thing to look for is that the link between the watch and the actual monitor should be encrypted. If you have a very basic one, with no encryption, and you go to a gym or a spinning class, it will interfere with the ones from people around you.
posted by theKik at 1:46 PM on March 3, 2010

If you're doing simple stuff, like you just want to get up to a certain HR and see what your max and average HR were after the fact, even the most basic (< $100) polar models will do that. If you spend more you get mainly features you won't use. If you're doing more sophisticated training (e.g., intervals) some of the more expensive models have timers and multi-zone features that may be useful. I've been pretty happy with my Polar FSC2.
posted by Cogito at 1:47 PM on March 3, 2010

You don't have to spend a ton of money to get a decent one, but you should probably get one that has a chest strap and encryption link.

I used to have a Polar heart-rate monitor with a chest strap and it worked great, and constantly shows you your heart rate. Later, after losing my Polar, I got another one as a gift which was wrist-only, and it's awful. I actually threw it away. To get it to work, I had to use my other hand to hold down two buttons for a few seconds just to read the current value. As you can imagine, doing this while biking or running is a pita, and worse, it often didn't work at all. Garbage.

The encryption link is also quite useful if you ever work out in a gym or around other people with heart-rate monitors.
posted by CallMeWhiskers at 2:28 PM on March 3, 2010

I've got a cheapo pulse rate monitor watch with chest strap. It's bare bones with a single target zone and no calorie count. I've heard the calorie counts on most monitors aren't that accurate, but having more than one zone is a feature I'd like to see.

As an aside, the instructions recommend moistening the chest strap to get a better read on your pulse. Tap water didn't work very well, and neither did spit (ick). Unless you're ultra sweaty at the start of your workout, you might need a conductive gel. They sell gels specifically for heart rate monitors, but I found a cheap alternative: Aloe Vera Gel. Works great!
posted by pipco at 2:41 PM on March 3, 2010

If you mostly want the ability to quantify (log) your exercise, you can get a logging HRM. After the workout, you could upload the entire exercise session to a computer and get a shiny graph that tracks your entire workout, along with the breakdown in user-specified heart rate zones. You want one that can store more than one session, otherwise if you forget once you'll lose the data.

It is massively overkill for your needs and expensive. I think it is probably massively overkill for everyone, yet a lot of the cyclists/runners I know have one. After they work out, they run to their computers and show everybody how much work they did that day, as well as the length / elevation of their ride/run. The only analysis done is "wow that was hard".

You can probably accomplish the same thing by logging all your numbers at the end of each session, but it will require you to do your part. Calorie count is worthless, it's practically random.

Yes, you want a chest strap and encrypted transmission. Hopefully you can also get one that has user-replaceable batteries. It is no fun when you have to mail a transmitter far away and pay money to get another refurbished one.
posted by meowzilla at 3:27 PM on March 3, 2010

Some good advice above. I'll add that Polar heart rate monitors have chest straps whose batteries cannot be easily replaced. Unless they've changed their design, you have to send them back to the manufacturer's service center for a replacement. Other brands, like Timex or Sigma, use lithium button batteries that the owner can replace.
posted by brianogilvie at 6:17 PM on March 3, 2010

I got one (made by Polar) that has a unique code so that someone else using one in the vicinity doesn't interfere with my signal.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:56 PM on March 3, 2010

Some good advice above. I'll add that Polar heart rate monitors have chest straps whose batteries cannot be easily replaced. Unless they've changed their design, you have to send them back to the manufacturer's service center for a replacement.

They have changed their design. I bought a Polar F11 two years ago. A few months ago, I replaced the battery in the transmitter attached to the chest strap. The WearLink transmitter has a coin slot in the back, for battery removal.

Polar says:
"You can change the battery yourself to these products:
- AW200
- AXN300 / AXN500 / AXN700
- CS100 / CS200 / CS400 / CS600 / CS600X
- G1 GPS sensor / G3 GPS sensor W.I.N.D.
- RS400 / RS800 / RS800CX
- FA20 / FT40 / FT60 / FT80
- Power Output Sensor™ / Power Output Sensor™ W.I.N.D.
- S1 foot pod™ / s3 stride sensor™ W.I.N.D.
- WearLink / WearLink W.I.N.D.

Please refer to user manual for closer instructions. Remember to check the sealing ring to ensure water resistance."

Their most basic models, FS2C and FS3C, use the T31 coded transmitter that does not have a user replacable battery. FT4, FT7 and the more expensive heart rate monitors, use the WearLink transmitter, with a user replacable battery.

Several of their heart rate monitors support data transfer to Polarpersonaltrainer.com. I use this online training diary myself, and I think it's useful and motivating.
posted by iviken at 1:28 PM on March 5, 2010

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