In 1979, Polar invented the first wireless heart rate monitor for the Finnish Nordic Ski Team. As intensity training has increased in popularity, so has the use and availability of this equipment, which can eliminate a large margin of error with counting pulse.
Heart rate monitors are usually fastened around the chest to send a wireless signal to a watch-like wrist band. The Maximum Heart Rate formula is generally used to set the training or exercise zones according to your fitness goals. The monitor then signals you to increase your intensity or decrease it according to the goal you have established.
If strapping a band around your chest does not appeal to you, newer models of heart rate monitors are “strapless” and measure your heart rate through your wrist pulse.
Similar technology has been an added feature of cardio-respiratory equipment, such as treadmills, for years. Pulse rate is counted by a finger-worn monitor which sends a signal directly into the display which you set according to your personal specifics and goals.
There is still room for error using this technology, unless an electrocardiogram exam is performed to determine a true resting heart rate and it is applied to the Karvonen formula to determine target heart-rate.
But Heart Rate Monitors provide immediate, consistent, and fairly accurate information on how hard you are working at any given time during your exercise session, and many allow you to track your overall fitness gains over time.
If you are new to exercise and need some assistance with determining your optimal training levels, a heart rate monitor is the best way to learn what your aerobic training zone should feel like.
Increasingly, doctors are encouraging their patients who have had heart related illness, or other medical histories, to measure their exercise intensity with heart rate monitors, to ensure that they are working appropriate to their health needs.
Many serious athletes are already sold on the benefit of using heart rate monitors. Runners have worn them for years in marathon and race preparation, to periodize their training, apply intervals, and to avoid overtraining.
Group cycling enthusiasts wear them regularly to ensure that they are hitting at or beyond their anaerobic threshold in their intensity efforts – part of the interval training aspect of cycling classes.
Long term exercisers who cease to make gains in fitness, or find themselves simply bored with their routine, may find using a heart rate monitor will give them a needed reality check and incentive to push just a little harder. The body adapts to any training stimulus and, over time, can result in reaching what is known as a fitness plateau.
Heart Rate Monitors can assist you with setting and achieving new goals and motivate you to new fitness heights.
Update – since this article was first written, the chest strap, while still available, has become less common and the wrist monitor only has become increasingly popular. Additionally, many new features – such as calorie counters and the ability to log acheivements online or thru apps – have made monitors increasingly valuable to help keep exercisers accountable and on track to reach their fitness goals.