What’s the Deal with Heart Rate Monitors? Should You Use One and Which Kind Should You Buy?
This is a guest post from Hunter Munch, a Little Rock-based fitness coach. Hunter works with Orange Theory Fitness Little Rock, which if you’re not familiar, tracks heart rate during every training session. As a data nerd, I thought it would be interesting to get Hunter’s take on heart rate monitors during training sessions. Check out what he had to say.
When it comes to getting in great shape and tracking progress, a heart rate (HR) monitor can be an excellent tool. You are probably familiar with tracking calories and macronutrients for fat loss. Tracking your heart rate isn’t all that different. Knowing what you are expending during training and understanding how your body is working are valuable metrics that can be used to progress your fitness level.
At Orange Theory Fitness, we track heart rate to allow our coaches to monitor clients’ heart rates and individually coach each client based on real information and not just feel. It makes for a much more efficient and productive experience. We offer both wrist and chest monitors based on preference and comfortability. As far as which brand we use at OTF for monitors, we use Polar and Mio. They work incredibly well, and we obviously believe in them since we’ve put enough faith into them to control such a large portion of our business!
There a few different types of HR monitors, which I will breakdown each and their benefits. Luckily, the price point is reasonable across the board, and you can get a reliable unit for relatively cheap. The three main categories of HR monitors are chest strap, touch-type, and continuous reading. I’ll break down the pros/cons of each type below.
Chest Strap Heart Rate Monitors
Chest strap monitors are becoming more and more popular with Polar pushing out some very user-friendly software with a monitor that is quite accurate. Generally, with minor variation, chest straps are the most accurate type of HR monitor. Personally, the accuracy makes the chest strap a no-brainer. However, many have trouble with the strap being uncomfortable. Women that are a little more well-endowed than others often have trouble getting the chest strap to read correctly. You may also encounter issues with your strap holding plenty of sweat and stank. They are not machine washable, so cleaning can be a little tricky.
Here’s a chest strap monitor from Polar.
Touch-Type Heart Rate Monitor Watches
My least favorite is the touch-type watch. These are very minimalistic watches you might be familiar with. Since this type of watch has to be activated to measure, you’re not constantly monitoring your heart rate, making the accuracy questionable. The only pro of these monitors is the price, with most costing between $10-$15. If you’re on a budget and want to experiment, you could try a touch-type watch, but I’d recommend going with another option if at all possible. Buy nice, don’t buy twice.
Continuous Reading Heart Rate Monitor Watches
If you’re wanting an accurate alternative that’s not strapped to your chest, go with the continuous reading watch. Exactly as it sounds, this monitor constantly reads your heart rate, providing superior accuracy over a one-touch option. The real reading is still about 10% less accurate than the chest strap but far more comfortable for most. Most of these come at a higher price point but can be used to answer calls, see texts, respond to emails (like the Apple Watch) and many other smart watch features, which may be worth the added cost.
I would recommend that anyone who takes their fitness seriously begin tracking their heart rate. You can use the data to track calorie burn, workout intensity, and progressive training overload. So make it happen. Pick one up today and head straight to the gym, trail, field, track, or whatever place you choose to get sweating!