Recommendations on a heart rate monitor?
March 2, 2005 8:25 PM   Subscribe

Recommendations on a heart rate monitor? I'm 27 and I go to the gym four to five days a week with a ratio of about 80% weight training (3-4 days) and 20% cardio (1-2 days). I'd like to do more interval training to lower my percentage body fat and many of the online resources describe this in terms of heart rate. Not knowing a thing about heart rate monitors, I thought I'd ask here.

I don't need many features, I suppose. I would like one which can "talk" with the (Precor) elliptical machines at the gym so that I can see my numbers on the machine's large display. I noticed that all of the elliptical machines at my gym are labeled "Polar compatible" but that's not to say that I wouldn't buy a different brand as along as it spoke the Polar protocol.

It would also be handy, I suppose, if it could tell me how many minutes I spent exercising in total and how many of those minutes were in my target heart rate zone. I think I'd like to spend less than $100 on this, though I might consider something slightly more if it's significantly better than models under that limit. Lastly, I'm open to any links on interval training if you have some handy.
posted by Handcoding to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I use a Polar F1 Heart Rate monitor (first item on that page), which I got for about US$49.95 at some sporting goods store or other. It's their most basic model, and it works totally fine for me. It does all the things you want it to do except for tell you if you're exercising in your target zone. But that's not really a big deal: once you figure out your target zone, you just have to remember the high and low numbers, and then check the monitor at the end of the workout to see if you're between them. Ain't no thang.

So far as I could tell, when I did my limited research into these things, the more expensive models simply had more bells and whistles. The F1 is bare-bones, but completely good. No hassles at all; I've had it maybe 9-10 months.
posted by Dr. Wu at 11:56 PM on March 2, 2005

Yes, a basic Polar is all you need. It (the chest strap) talks to the Precor machines. And sometimes to the machine next to you too, freaking out your neighbor.
posted by mono blanco at 12:18 AM on March 3, 2005

I have a Polar A3 that cost around forty bucks or so. It can track exercise time, time in zone and average HR. If you want to download your data and make pie charts or bar graphs, you'll need a fancy schmancy one. I don't know if you are an on-line shopper, but this is a good item for Froogle. Bike shops, running shoe stores, etc. all carry them.
posted by fixedgear at 2:16 AM on March 3, 2005

I have a Sports Instruments HRM and offer this general caveat: The chest strap sending units on heart rate monitors don't work optimally if you have a hairy chest. They suggest shaving, but I'm not crazy about that idea. As a result, I can only get good readings once I've started working up a good sweat.
posted by SteveInMaine at 3:56 AM on March 3, 2005

I would try it without for a while and see if you want to get one, or just go ahead and get one if you like gadgets. Basically, the recovery HR is when you can carry on a conversation as you run. The aerobic HR zone is a bit more difficult to talk during, a bit of gasping but not too much. And probably the highest you would like to go is the zone around your anaerobic threshold, which is difficult, your breathing will be quite labored, and you will not be able to keep it up for more than about 3 miles without needing to stop.

Studies have shown that subjective guesses at level of effort are pretty decent.

The reason I suggest waiting to get a monitor is that there are basically two kinds. The cheapest ones measure your HR and might give you a programmable upper and lower limit that will tell you by a noise where your HR is in relation to where you want to be. The more pricey ones will let you measure your HR over several intervals and sets of intervals. While stricly unnecessary, you might find that useful, but won't have it if you get a cheap one.

Finally, HIIT interval work is the best way to maximize weight loss in terms of time for aerobic work. It won't get you the fittest, but it will burn the most calories, so you have the right idea.
posted by OmieWise at 7:25 AM on March 3, 2005

Can anyone suggest a good HIIT routine? My google-fu isn't so good. Most of the results are ads for books or so poorly written/researched I would be wary of taking any advice they had to give.
posted by electroboy at 9:54 AM on March 3, 2005

Here's the HIIT routine that worked for me. I've done it cycling and running:

Warm up: 2 minutes 60% effort.
Main routine: alternate 1 minute 90% effort, 1 minute 60% effort. Do 8 times.
Last hurrah: 1 minute 90% effort, 1 minute 100% effort.
Cool down: 3 minutes 60% effort.

Total time is 23 minutes. I stole this routine from John Stone, and it's been really useful for me. I like supplementing this with a normal 45 minute aerobic routine -- going between the two keeps my body guessing.

The thing about HIIT is that you really do need to push on the 90/100% sections. Otherwise you just end up with a short aerobic routine that doesn't help you very much.
posted by amery at 11:51 AM on March 3, 2005 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: amery: How do you judge if you're at the right percentage? I find that it's not hard to accurately reach the "really need to push" point (just pedal really hard, or whatever). However, how do you know if you're really at 60% -- do you make use of a heart rate monitor to check those parts?
posted by Handcoding at 12:40 PM on March 3, 2005

Link to some HIIT stuff:


If you are going to do HIIT then a HRM is the way to go.
posted by jopreacher at 1:14 PM on March 3, 2005

Use a little caution if trying amery's method. If you are not very fit you may not adequately recover in the one minute period between intervals. One of the measures of fitness is how quickly one recovers after a hard interval.
posted by fixedgear at 5:36 PM on March 3, 2005

Nice catch, fixedgear. You're absolutely right that HIIT is the type of thing you train up to. I did it by starting with conventional aerobic exercise until I could do 45 minutes without feeling dead at the end, then moving to a short HIIT routine (2-3 intervals rather than the full 8 + final sprint) and adding intervals as I went along. YMMV, of course, and it's far, far better to take things slow than to risk injury.

Alex: I never really used a heart rate monitor since I was pretty much broke when I started training. My percents are all pretty subjective: 60% is a jog where you pant a bit but can still talk, 80% is the maximum I can sustain for 45 minutes and involves a good deal of gasping, 90% is like I'm running a mile race, and 100% is as hard as I can push. These are all just things I learned from my body, and I can see where a monitor would be useful. Whatever works for you is the way to go.
posted by amery at 6:14 PM on March 3, 2005

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