Introduction to heart rate monitors
A Heart Rate Monitor (HRM) is a training tool that measures your heart rate in beats per minute (BPM) and displays the information on an electronic device (such as a wristwatch). Sound like your kind of thing? Read our heart rate monitors buying guide.
HRMs are increasingly popular as training tools as they allow athletes to maintain their levels of exertion within a specific target heart rate zone, for maximum training benefit. A HRM will help the athlete find and maintain their cardiovascular ‘sweet spot’ – not too much exertion to wear them out, not so little that there’s no benefit. In effect, a HRM works as a ‘pacer’ telling you to work harder, or ease off the gas, according to your targets.
Your target HR zone may vary according to many factors – age, fitness levels and training goals – and keen athletes will often be working from a tailored training plan that involves detailed monitoring of their HR during individual workouts. For example, athletes primarily looking to burn fat will have a different target zone to athletes building aerobic conditioning, while some training programmes may include short, sharp power-building intervals that take the athlete far out of their comfort zone, or ‘cool-down’ intervals to recover.
NOTE: There are lots of resources online to help you find your target heart rate and devise a training plan tailored to your needs, while a personal trainer can also build a programme that will help you achieve your goals. If you have a history of heart disease or ill health, consult your doctor before embarking on any new training plan.
Whatever your training goals, there’s a heart rate monitor for you. Read on to find out more about the different types available.
If you don’t want to read our in-depth guide on heart rate monitors, you can go directly to the relevant product pages via the links below:
Which heart rate monitor is right for you?
A heart rate monitor will typically consist of a sensor (often worn with a band across the chest) and a display unit (typically a wristwatch). The sensor picks up electronic signals from your heart and transmits them to the display, where you can read the data in real time and store for later analysis.
However in some ways the term ‘heart rate monitor’ refers to function rather than form, as HRMs can come in many guises. Many modern bike computers, GPS devices and even Smartphone apps are compatible with heart rate sensors to enable them function as heart rate monitors. You may find that a single app or device is convenient for you, or you may find that a separate HRM is the best option.
For weekend warriors and amateur athletes an ‘all in one’ device may suit, while competitive athletes on a detailed training plan will appreciate the extra features of a dedicated HRM.
Heart rate monitors: Common types
In talking about ‘standalone’ HRM devices we must also make a distinction between the ‘classic’ HRM and the emerging generation of activity bands, some of which now offer a HRM function.
– Heart rate monitor: Typically consisting of a sensor (worn via a chest strap) and wristwatch-style display. These have a range of features and functions, chief among them BPM measurement and display.
– Activity band: Increasingly popular, these are lightweight ‘wristband’ type devices that track basic fitness metrics such as steps taken per day (pedometer), calories consumed etc. However some of the more advanced models now also offer HRM functions, either via compatibility with a chest-worn sensor or in the more advanced models, by using sensors that can measure heart rate from the wrist.
Heart rate monitors: In-depth
All heart rate monitors will display an athlete’s heart rate in BPM (beats per minute) with the range of other functions expanding according to price and technology level:
Most entry-level models will feature a stopwatch, lap counter and programmable target heart rate zones – the runner or rider is then alerted by means of an audible alarm when their heart rate goes above or below the preset level, indicating they should ease up their intensity level or step on the gas.
Target heart rate zones will vary according to age, gender and fitness levels and are often calibrated into the device as part of initial setup, or according to changing training goals/plans.
Other features to look for include a calorie counter and average or maximum heart rates for a session, while runner-specific monitors come with a ‘foot pod’ sensor which is used to calculate speed, run distance and stride length.
Mid- to high-end heart monitors will usually include all or most of the above functions as well as the ability to transfer information from the device to your PC or Smartphone/tablet, allowing detailed analysis of training performance when used with dedicated training software or apps.
The ability to customise your target heart rate zones and programme in different targets for different stages of a training session is also extremely useful for ‘interval’ training.
The most advanced heart rate monitors will meanwhile offer a vast array of data recording and analysis capabilities as well as much more memory power to hold more information – altitude, barometric pressure, ascent and descent, incline measurement, route mapping (in GPS-enabled monitors), VO2 max levels and much more.
Ultimately the heart monitor you choose will depend on your training needs and goals – the simple measurement of heart rate and indication of target zones may be more than enough for some athletes, while others will benefit from the host of additional features offered by the most expensive models.
Customise your training plan with a variety of accessories for your HRM device, or use a single device for biking, running and more.
Check out our range of batteries, bike mounts, foot pods, sensors, straps, transmitters and more.