Need a little push during your workout but a little afraid of pushing too hard? The serious gym rat has a cool tool to recommend – a heart rate monitor. Whilst not absolutely vital for a workout, it is the great way to track, listen to and push your own body, without risking an injury or a cardiovascular event.
Safety For Beginners
Turning up the beat is a great way for beginners to work out at the right intensity. Objectively, monitoring one’s heart rate during a workout helps one see just how hard one is working at the gym. For the beginner, who may be less familiar with how cardiovascular or strength training may correlate with how hard one’s body is working, heart rate monitoring is a great and easy guide to go easy or go hard, depending on what your heart says. So it works both ways; it allows you to push yourself a little harder and see how where your tipping point is, and it also allows you to fall back and slow down when you are working too hard.
Success for the Seasoned
The elite athlete who is more concerned about hitting specific fitness goals finds heart rate monitoring a major plus point. This is because exercising in target heart rate zones has been suggested by health experts to allow achievement of different fitness objectives. For example, the heart rate monitor figures out your maximum heart rate (it is a simple calculation and is done after you enter your data on first use, usually) and determines your five heart rate zones, which are essentially percentages of your maximum heart rate. This is where it gets interesting. There is a “fat-burning” zone, a target heart rate zone where the most calories burnt are from body fat. At a higher heart rate, calories burnt are mostly from carbohydates. Generally, it is good to vary your exercise intensities during a workout, so that you burn a little more fat, and you generate an adequate caloric deficit, if caloric control is what you are seeking after.
Follow Your Heart: Chest strap or the Optical wrist sensor?
First things first, which monitor? There are 2 broad categories of heart rate monitors. A chest strap uses a sensor that detects an electrical activity of your heart to deliver heart rate readings and is probably more accurate at detecting quick changes in heart rate. There is another aspect of heart rate monitoring that fitness buffs love, and that’s watching how your heart recovers after a burst. To some, this is an even more important indicator of health and fitness. So the accuracy of the chest strap does matter to some.
But wearing a chest strap a little more of a pain in the a** compared to wearing a wrist sensor, such as a Fitbit, for example. However, wrist sensors struggle when you push hard. The optical technology uses light to detect blood pulsing through your vessels, and is a whole lot more comfortable for wearing, but this becomes a limitation during exercises that require a lot of movement in the wrist, or when there are sharp variations in heart rate such as during a session of indoor cycling or HIIT. If you are running steadily or simply monitoring your resting heart rate, the wrist sensors are just fine.
So if you are like me, wanting to see what each uphill climb on the bike does to your heart rate, invest in a chest strap. This kind of monitoring motivates me. If variability is acceptable for your fitness goals, why get a chest strap when you can be so much more comfortable playing around with your Fitbit or your Apple watch?
Whichever you choose, a heart rate monitor is the dream of the tech gym rat, and ensures your effort spent is maximized. Follow your heart!
– Meredith Law