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Do You Need a Heart Rate Monitor?

Heart rate monitors have become increasingly popular recently. With advances in wearable technology, from Fitbit to Garmin, heart rate monitors have been making their way from the professional athlete’s gym to the sidewalk in your neighborhood. But with it becoming more common, we might not realize the benefits of wearing a heart rate monitor during your workout, and how keeping track of where your rate is, can help improve your workout. 

Before talking about benefits, let’s talk about your heart rate zones. Heart rate zones are measured by determining what percent of your max heart rate you’re at. The most basic way to determine your max heart rate is to subtract your age from 220. So, if you’re 25, your max heart rate would be 195. However, this is just a rough estimate.

Here are the general guidelines to determining your zones:

  • 50 to 60 percent (Zone 1): This feels comfortable and is where you should try to be for warmups and cool downs. You can easily carry a conversation at this rate.
  • 60 to 70 percent (Zone 2): This is average and should still be easy enough to still maintain a conversation. This is a zone for improving basic endurance and burning fat.
  • 70 to 80 percent (Zone 3): Your effort here is now above average, and you might have a little difficulty carrying a conversation. This is the ideal zone for improving aerobic fitness.
  • 80 to 90 percent (Zone 4): This zone should be a bit difficult. You can still carry a conversation, but it might be more fragmented words. Here you’re helping increase your maximum performance.
  • 90 to 100 percent (Zone 5): This is as hard as you can go, and carrying a conversation will be extremely difficult. You can probably only get out a few words at a time. At this zone, you can help increase your speed.

Some heart rate monitors will tell you what zone you’re in, and some monitors will adjust your zones based on your max heart rate if it gets higher than your monitor estimates.

So what are the benefits and how can they help you improve your workout:

  1. Make sure you’re getting enough exercise: The World Health Organization guidelines for health recommend a person performs 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week. By wearing a heart rate monitor, you can ensure you’re actually getting enough exercise.
  2. Exercise safely: When wearing a monitor, you can keep track of what’s safe for your body. When you look at your monitor and you’re in the 70 to 80 percent range, you know you can still keep pushing yourself a little harder. But once you hit the high 80’s and low 90’s range and you’re feeling tired, it’s probably a good idea to take a rest. If you’re close to your max, then you know it’s definitely time to take a rest.
  3. Track your progress: Many monitors can track weeks and weeks of training, so you can keep track of how you’ve improved over time. Plus if you’re not seeing the results you want, your monitor history may show that you haven’t been pushing as hard as you could be. 
  4. Complete zone training: This is great for interval-type training, where you push yourself hard (higher zone percentages) for a certain amount of time, followed by a short period of rest. You can determine your rest period by letting your heart rate get down into a lower zone before starting your exercise again. 

Know that while wrist trackers like Fitbits are very common, in most cases, the most accurate heart rate monitors are the kind that strap around your chest. There are many different types of heart rate monitors, so before you buy, research different brands and types based on your goals.