Should you buy a heart-rate monitor?

Get the most from your fitness regime by tracking your heart rate

by

You’ve already got an iPod, but now you’re curious about heart-rate monitors? Monitoring your heart rate with those colourful gadgets makes it possible to track your most important organ and measure your fitness progress.

How they work
Heart-rate monitors generally consist of two parts: a chest-strap transmitter and a wristwatch receiver. The chest strap has electrodes that measure your heart’s electrical voltages, or heart beat, through contact with your skin. That information is then transmitted to the wristwatch receiver, which displays your current heart rate.

The first wireless heart-rate monitor was invented by the Polar Electro company in 1977 as a training tool for the Finnish National Cross Country Ski Team. Today’s monitors are more complex, ranging in price from $70 to $400. Some models include advanced features, such as global positioning systems for tracking your walk, chronometers and other bells and whistles.

Who they’re good for
“Heart-rate monitors provide feedback on how hard your body is working,” says Marianne Bernardo, who works with the national fitness program ParticipACTION. “They can be motivating because they provide immediate feedback for individuals who stick to their physical activity routines.”

The monitors also provide concrete facts about whether you should be pumping up the intensity or scaling back your workout. They’re great for “tracking progress, noting improvements and staying in target zones to achieve specific results,” says Gallant, who prefers them to other fitness tracking systems.

How to choose
For the beginner or the technophobe, the Polar FF1 ($69.95) is a simple monitor that’s easy to use. “You can literally strap it on, push one button and you’re good to go,” says Gallant. “It’ll keep track of one workout at a time, and it’ll reset each time.”

For the casual walker, the Polar F11 ($179.95) is an advanced version, without GPS. “If you need a chronometer, alarms, tracking ability and more memory, that’s a nice unit to have,” says Gallant.

The TIMEX Heart Rate Monitor ($100) is ideal for the intermediate walker, says Bernardo of ParticipACTION. This wristwatch-style unit calculates heart-rate target zones, time-in-zone, average heart-rate and calories burned. “This is great for the person who has fitness training goals or who is monitoring energy balance for weight loss,” says Bernardo.

For serious athletes, the Garmin Forerunner 305 ($320) includes a GPS and a multi-sport function, so you can track your heart rate as you walk, run and bike. The monitor’s time/distance alert will sound an alarm when you reach your goal. “It’s the best unit for the advanced workout,” says Gallant.