Help me pick out a great HRM for myself.
March 21, 2012 8:13 AM   Subscribe

I am interested in purchasing a Heart Rate Monitor for myself. I am overwhelmed by my choices and am leaning towards "what my friend has"...but want to hear about other options before making the purchase.

I have been working out all winter long, and recently won my gym's New Years Weight Loss Challenge. Hooray! One of the prizes was three free months of membership dues, so I am going to spend the money I WOULD have spent on dues...on a HRM.

One of my friends has a Polar FT7 and loves it. I am leaning towards purchasing something like it, but would like some advice.

Requirement #1: Accuracy. Right now I get my HR info from the elliptical, treadmill, and bike machines I use at the gym. That's been working okay, but I don't always believe the numbers they throw at me. The same workout on two different bikes will often give me two wildly different numbers.

Requirement #2: Flexibility: Can be used for biking/hiking/jogging. It's starting to get nice outside, so I'd rather go biking/hiking/jogging outdoors than staying in the stuffy old gym. So I'm looking for something that I can use while biking/hiking/jogging.

Preference #1: Not too much! I look at some of the really fancy HRMs and know that I don't need all of the bells and whistles. I already track my workouts on my computer, so I don't need a "website membership" or any other sort of computer/internet program to go along with the HRM.

I do not need something like the Fitbit, which seems to monitor every move you make (pedometer, vertical distance, how long you sleep, etc.). I will be putting the HRM on when I am actively exercising, not wearing it all day and night to see what my body is doing.

I don't need anything that can be submerged in water. I am not planning on swimming for exercise.

Preference #2: Not too expensive! I'm looking to spend no more than $150.

Preference #3: Chest band optional? I don't know if such a thing exists - an accurate, flexible HRM that does not involve a chest band? The Polar FT7 has a chest band, and my friend doesn't mind it. I can see myself being annoyed by it but it certainly isn't a deal-breaker.

Thanks, Mefis!
posted by Elly Vortex to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
The heart monitors on exercise machines are notoriously unreliable. It's not surprising that different machines give you different readings, and you're right to be suspicious about that.

I don't have any advice other than that having a single tool to monitor your heart rate will give you more consistent results than using different machines' monitors. Which I think you understand from what you say in your post.
posted by dfriedman at 8:22 AM on March 21, 2012

I got the polar FT7, like your friend. HRMs with chest straps are way way more accurate and they are really not noticeable to feel.

Before I got the FT7 I had the sweet "Omron" one you can find on Amazon which is a) dirt cheap and b) pretty accurate. It doesn't tell you averages, or totals but just reflects your heart rate at the current moment. It's a nice starter one.

But really, the FT7 is great and you won't notice the chest strap.
posted by hepta at 8:24 AM on March 21, 2012

The chest band is what makes an HRM accurate - and the lack of chest band is why the exercise machine meters don't really work.

Really, any plain Jane heart rate monitor with a chest band will be fine: Polar makes some fine heart rate monitors; their cheapest model would work for you and will cost a lot less than $150.
posted by ssg at 8:54 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

You need the chest strap if you want your readings to be accurate. I have seen watches where they have a sensor that claims to get your heart rate from your index finger tip, but it seemed just as unreliable as the sensors attached to equipment. One thing to note is that with the slightly more expensive Polar monitors (including the FT7, I believe) come with a softer, more natural feeling chest strap. Cheaper models come with one that is more rigid and made out of harder plastic on the part that goes across your chest. If you are concerned about the chest strap, make sure you are getting the softer version.
posted by Nightman at 8:54 AM on March 21, 2012

Make sure you get one which has a strap which can also communicate with the machines at your gym (i.e. send your heart rate to the machine). The polar versions usually will work in my experience, but I did have a old HRM which would only work with it's accompanying receiver (watch). It's nice to have the machine adapt to your accurately measured heart rate without needing hold the machine in a specific fashion...
posted by NoDef at 9:12 AM on March 21, 2012

One of the bells and whistles you might actually want going forward is a HRM that has GPS. I'm considering buying a monitor myself and my partner is encouraging me to buy one with GPS, as he's found that feature incredibly useful for easily tracking distance for outdoor runs and bike rides. (You can go into google maps and manually plot out your route to figure out how far you went, but this is kind of a pain and chances are you'll give up on it--whereas the built-in GPS makes it easy to track the distances you're going and whether you're increasing your run or bike lengths over time.) It also lets you start to track things like average speed, which is useful.

Especially if you've mostly worked out inside on treadmills or exercise bikes, you might be surprised how much you miss the little panel telling you how far you went or what your speed was. That's been the case for me and one reason why I'm really leaning towards an HRT with GPS installed. Some of them are really pricey but I see others on REI's website (like the ones by New Balance) that are under $150.
posted by iminurmefi at 9:25 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Actually, iminurmefi, that's a great point. I like to keep track of my hikes and bike rides - I hadn't even thought of a GPS. It'd certainly be a helluva lot easier than messing around on Map My Run or with a topo map.
posted by Elly Vortex at 9:31 AM on March 21, 2012

Are you a smartphone user? There are a few bluetooth ones out there that'll sync with many of the online services.
posted by chrisfromthelc at 9:46 AM on March 21, 2012

Just to contradict (or I guess expand) on the GPS thing, one of the reasons I'm not yet totally sold on the idea of paying more for an HRT with a built-in GPS is that you can accomplish something very similar with a smartphone + cheap app. It's certainly cheaper to just buy RunKeeper (that's what I use, although I'm sure there are lots of others) and an armband that fits your phone, and get the GPS information that way. As long as you're not going REALLY far, like training-for-a-marathon runs, the battery should be fine on your phone.

Of course, then it's just one more thing strapped onto you (kind of annoying) and I sometimes worry about sweat ruining my $200 smartphone, which would negate the savings of a cheaper HRT. So it's kind of a toss-up for me right now: hence the continued indecision on which HRT is best.
posted by iminurmefi at 9:50 AM on March 21, 2012

Response by poster: Are you a smartphone user?

I have an Android.
posted by Elly Vortex at 9:55 AM on March 21, 2012

Make sure you get one in which the frequency they use isn't the same for everyone because you will then pick up the readings of other users around you..
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:02 AM on March 21, 2012

Best answer: For $150, I'd buy a lower end multifunction Garmin instead of the single-purpose Polar FT7. My FR60 (comes in women's and men's versions) was just over $100 and lets me track my HR (using a chest strap that, so far, hasn't been at all annoying—I usually forget I'm wearing it) and speed/distance/cadence while walking, running, or biking using a foot pod.

After you finish working out, you can upload your data to Garmin Connect and run basic analytics on it, if that interests you.

FYI, I chose a watch with a foot pod over a higher-end GPS watch because I have a hard time picking up satellites in my neighborhood, and the foot pod is more accurate.
posted by rebekah at 10:09 AM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

I use a Polar F6 for CrossFit. It's been a good basic heart rate monitor.

I'm considering upgrading to a Garmin Forerunner, possible the 910XT or the 310XT (the XTs will let me go kayaking, swimming or sailing while tracking my GPS telemetry). You might consider one of these. The heart rate monitor chest strap is pretty soft and you end up with GPS data that you can download to your computer, as well as pacing information that lets you know when to pick up your pace based on your workout and goals.

The Polar F6 is a bulletproof workhorse, though. If you work out 5 - 6 days a week, you'll probably replace your battery about once a year, your heart rate monitor strap battery (or the strap outright) maybe once every 3 years. I'm an outlier, though. My totals say: 1756 workouts, 511461 calories, 838 hours (since 24 Jul 07).

If I were starting over, I'd probably spend a little bit more for the Garmin.
posted by phoebus at 11:01 AM on March 21, 2012

The mister bought and has been using the Mio Breeze for about a month and really likes it. It's simple with no chest strap. Our family doctor uses the same one and likes it as well (he didn't suggest it, it's just a coincidence).
posted by deborah at 12:15 PM on March 21, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your help!

I am now leaning heavily towards the Garmin suggested by Rebekah. The newer version doesn't have the footpad, and I think I would like one. I plan to do a fair amount of cycling, and when it comes to hiking, who knows if I'm in satellite range?

Thank you all. I really appreciate it - and I especially appreciate the suggestion of a HRT with a GPS. I didn't even know that was possible. Ah, metafilter.
posted by Elly Vortex at 12:24 PM on March 21, 2012

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