Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Unsolicited Heart Rate Monitor Review

This is a review of my new Heart Rate Monitor. I am a total novice, but this is my findings, with a few tidbits about my exercise thrown in.

This past weekend I purchased a heart rate monitor. I have been contemplating this purchase for quite some time. I had/have a watch that I can touch and it will give me my heart rate (well, when it has batteries that are not dead) and I did use it somewhat regularly way back when….but I wanted something more. I have frequently perused the heart rate monitors online and had always steered clear of anything other than Garmin or Polar when I looked. I mean, afterall, those are the names that you hear about. So I never really looked too much at anything else. I also tended to look at the granddaddy heart rate monitors, those heart rate monitors that had GPS and all sorts of other information that would be tracked during my workout. I mean, how cool would that be? I knew that I didn’t NEED to have the GPS, I use a sweet little app on my phone that will allow me to track my runs/bike rides and give me the speed, elevation and all that data. But seriously, to not have to have my phone running (and thereby sucking the battery life from it each time I use it. So I wanted one with a GPS. I also knew I wanted one with a chest strap. So I was looking at GPS enabled heart rate monitors. The price was honestly more than I wanted to spend and thus every time I looked I tended to stop the search and say “I’ll wait.”

Last week I decided that this was the time. I was doing it. I knew I wanted a GPS model but I finally decided to buy an introductory model that didn’t have the GPS and see how much I used it and how much I liked it. Part of me hated the fact that I was going to sink between 50 and 100 dollars on a heart rate monitor and still not have what I REALLY wanted. But I talked to my husband and he agreed with my decision to start with an entry level one. He also agreed that if I do stick with this running thing that in a year or so we could upgrade me to a full fledged granddaddy heart rate monitor. (And let me say that a heart rate monitor is NOT necessary for running.)

I walked into Dick’s Sporting Good’s store on Friday afternoon. It took me a while to find the heart rate monitors (duh, I only walked by them 4 times). I was looking at the pretty pink Polar FT4. That is the heart rate that I had basically decided to get online. It was $89.99, a little more than I wanted to pay…but the next level down seemed like a pretty big jump in quality and features! So I was pretty settled. Then along comes the sales man. He asked what I was looking for and I said “A basic heart rate monitor. Nothing with lots of bells and whistles, I don’t need that at this time.” He immediately picked up the Sport line Women’s Duo. I glanced at it….$69.99. Hmm 20 bucks cheaper. I looked at him and said “I was looking at the Polar” He actually talked me out of the more expensive one. I was worried about going with a brand that I don’t readily recognize. He told me that he sees returns and hardly ever sees the return of the sportline. So I went with that. The features seemed really similar. The only feature that the sportline doesn’t have that the Polar does is saving 10 workouts in it’s memory. I log my workouts religiously anyway, so that’s not an issue.

I brought it home and set it all up on Friday evening. It was very easy to set up. Within a matter of a few minutes I had set the time, entered in my personal stats (height, weight age) and even set up the heart rate zone that I want to work within. It came with a chest strap but also has the dual function of being able to test it manually. This watch has two touch sensors. In case I’m not wearing the chest belt I can touch the sensor and it will give me my heart rate at that moment. I like having this feature, because it makes it a bit more versatile. That said, I immediately turned this feature off because I knew that I would be mostly using the chest strap. I tried the chest strap on. It fit. This may not seem like a big deal, but I’ve been obese most of my life, it was a real worry! It immediately picked up my heart rate! I felt comfortable and was ready to roll!

Saturday morning dawned and I got dressed for my run. I remembered to put the chest strap around my body. I wear it right under my bra line. I can barely feel it. (I felt it on Sunday, but since I was somewhat injured on Saturday, that is not too surprising). I started running. All of a sudden I heard a beep. I panicked for a moment, until I glanced at my watch and realized that I had set it to notify me when I had reached my target heart rate zone. I smiled to myself and continued running. My mind of course never quits. I wanted to know what it would do when I reached the top end of my zone. I pushed it full throttle. It beeped again. Yup…it let me know when I was maxing out. Other than that, wearing the heart rate monitor was pretty anticlimactic. I can hit the lap button when I want (at each mile or landmark or whatever).   It does beep every once in a while, and I'm not quite sure why.  lol 

After my run, I stopped the watch from recording. When I got home I looked at my stats. To do this you simply cycle through the different settings by pressing one button.  This watch gives me how many minutes I worked out below my zone. It give me how many minutes I work out in my zone. It gives me average heart rate. I was also able to see how many calories I really burned.  Those are the main ones I looked at. As I said, when I reset the watch for my next run, all the stats from my previous run was gone and gone for good. That is the drawback.

On Sunday I ran again using the heart rate monitor. This was the day that I could feel the chest strap (once again also most likely due to the bruising and soreness from my kersplat fall on Saturday). But even though I could feel it, it wasn’t painful, I just knew it was there. Once again, it worked like a champ! I was impressed. My heart rate registered pretty consistently with Saturdays, and each run was a ‘comfortable’ run so that makes sense and actually made me feel better about the reliability of the heart rate monitor. On Sunday I got back to the car and flipped through the settings on the watch and wrote down the numbers that I am monitoring (calories and average heart rate at this point) and then reset the watch. I had a walk to do. I monitored through the walk also. I watched the heart rate and saw it rise exponentially with inclines and then fall back to a normal walking heart rate while walking on flats.

I decided to give this heart rate monitor a total test, so when I got dressed to go to zumba sentao on Monday evening, I put on the heart rate monitor.  Being a nervous nelly, I tried to start the heart rate monitor in the car and it wouldn't set to a consistent reading and the readings I was getting was with my heart rate up at 226.  Uhhh, that is definitely NOT right.  I was panicked and continued to fiddle with it the whole ride but it never regulated and didn't start working.  (yeah, not good whilst driving).  I arrived, parked and set about trying to figure out immediately it picked up a true reading (at least more where I expected the reading to be) and worked perfectly.  Could the vibrations of the car and road messed it up.  I'm not sure.  The watch then worked perfectly throughout zumba (although I will remember to turn off the beep if I wear it to zumba again remember all those random beeps...that got annoying during zumba).  During songs that were more intense, I saw my heart rate rise, and I saw it lower.  (I was amazed at how fast my heart rate dropped back to normal between songs.  I was zumba sentao last night, I can't wait to see what happens at a regular zumba class).

 I am happy with this heart rate monitor.  The upgrade would definitely be nice to have everything all in one place, Most definitely. It would be nice to have a watch keep track of best times, personal records, my runs/bike rides, etc etc etc. But for right now, with the money that I have and my current level of fitness, this watch is perfect for me. In fact, I can garauntee that anything with more bells and whistles would have caused me to drown in the technology. I probably wouldn’t even use all those bells and whistles for a while.
So it's Tuesday morning and my final thoughts  on a heart rate monitor.  Honestly, do I really need one?  I think at my personal fitness level and committment it is overkill.  Just another way to sucker money out of a fat girl that wants to be thin.   What purpose does it really play in helping me?   I already push myself to that aerobic zone and when I struggle I throttle back in my intensity.  Turns out that I've been managing my workouts naturally without the help of a heart rate monitor.  I could have figured out everything I needed to know by taking my pulse for 30 seconds, multiplying it by 2 and having my heart rate...old fashioned, but it works.  The calorie thing is nice..but even though I had 'exact' calories, I still just put in the estimated number that myfitnesspal gave (which wasn't too far off....one run I burnt more calories than mfp said and the other run I burnt less calories than mfp allowed....but both times it wasn't that great of a difference).  
The guy that sold me the HR monitor told me that I had 90 days.  I have decided that if the personal training works out, I will definitely keep it, as I know that he is focused on us being in the right zone and it will make it easier (although he didn't say that this was a necessary thing we had to have) to check and heed his advice and instruction.   If for whatever reason this personal training thing falls through, I m not honestly sure that I will use it.  was it worth it? Probably not. Not because it didn't work, but simply because I'm not sure it's worth the money for me.  That said, I will continue to wear it for a while for every exercise and maybe my mind will change when I do an interval/speedwork run.

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