Heart Monitor Watches: How to Buy a Heart Rate Monitor Watch

Are you at a loss when deciding which heart rate monitor sports watch to purchase? – It’s no wonder. There are literally hundreds of styles to choose from, all with different functions and sports applications ranging from a basic heart monitoring aid to a virtual wristop computer watch with monitoring and analysis features for tracking every detail of your physical condition.

While we cannot make your choice for you, we have created some pointers to help you decide which heart rate model is right for you. Consider this a rudimentary heart rate monitor watch buying guide. This article probably won’t answer all your questions, but it will at least get you started and thinking about what questions you should be asking yourself as you begin to shop for a heart monitor watch.

First. Decide How your Heart Monitor Will be Used.

Instead of doing what most people do and consider the most obvious criteria – price, decide what your goals are now and where your sporting ambitions will lead you in one years time. Nothing is worse than investing in a heart monitor watch that is not be capable of the things you want to do when you find you are a fitter, six months down the line.

Some good questions to ask yourself are:

  • Are you training for a particular sport? Running, cycling, rowing, swimming, triathlon?
  • Do you prefer to view your statistics on a wrist monitor, on your equipment screen or on a PC? Is that likely to change in time?
  • Will you need to know basic or complicated data about your fitness workouts and performances? Is this likely to change in future?
  • Do you need to track your speed/pace and distance?
  • Will you be training indoors say on a bicycle machine or immovable treadmill? or outside on the track, velodrome, open trails, pool or ocean?
  • Do you need to monitor heart rate information and other data continuously or only at specific times during your workout?
  • Do you wish to monitor statistics over many sessions or just one session at a time?
  • Do you need to record session and workout data for viewing and analysis by your coach for example?
  • Do you require your monitor to double up as an outdoor navigational tool with functions such as barometer, altimeter and compass?
  • Do you need to record your course routes and later import them into a 3D mapping program?

With a little forward planning, it is possible to purchase a heart rate monitor that has the features that you need right away or can grow into over time. While you may not need half of the features supported in your device at this moment, as your fitness level improves,  you may find the need to push your boundaries and try out some of the additional features never thought you would use.

Consider your purchase of a heart rate monitor watch as an investment in your fitness future.

Some other things you should consider when shopping around for a heart rate monitor watch include:

Chest Strap Vs Strapless

Almost all heart rate watches come with a chest strap that secures around your upper body, but in fact there are other types of monitors that can measure your pulse from your wrist or finger.

Usually a chest strap heart rate monitor is more reliable. These monitors detect heart rate via a chest sensor. Data is transmitted to the wrist watch using wireless technology which allows for real-time viewing of your heart beat data. Chest strap heart rate monitors are available in analog and digital options, with digital becoming the standard as technology advances. A coded, digital signal is more reliable and does not interfere with other heart rate monitor devices, a problem analog heart rate monitors suffer from.

Heart rate monitors that fit around your chest have the advantage that they produce accurate ECG continuous heart rate monitoring at all times during a session, which is not always offered in strapless versions.

Chest Strap Benefits

  • You get continual feedback on your heart rate
  • Some models can wirelessly interface with popular gym equipment. (So if your device is compatible you could view your heart rate while working out on a treadmill at your local gym).

Chest Strap Cons

  • A lot of people have trouble with chest straps picking up their heart beat. (Good contact between the electrodes in the strap and the user’s chest is required. Sometimes adding a little moisture to the electrodes is required to get a beat).
  • Analog chest straps are less reliable than digital ones. They are prone to crosstalk when in close proximity of other heart rate monitor devices and equipment, however digital heart rate monitors avoid this.
  • Most heart rate monitors will not be damaged when used in the water, however they do not pick up a signal either. Water interferes with the radio waves which makes heart rate monitors ineffective.

Strapless Monitors

Strapless monitors typically use pulse heart rate measuring technology to measure heart rate by finger touch. They allow you to take a manual heart rate reading on-demand. Cheaper monitors that measure your heart rate from blood flow instead of calibrated monitoring should be avoided. The best readings are given with monitors that measure your heart beat via an electrical circuit created between your two fingers.

Given that strapless monitors are not capable of recording continuous readings, it is impossible to compile accurate date about your overall workout. These monitors are fine if you want basic heart rate measurement without the hassle of fitting a chest strap or fancy data analysis.

Below is an overall summary of what questions you should ask yourself. Consider it a check-list if you like:

  • Real-Time Maximum/Minimum/Average Heart Rate Measurement
  • Chest Strap or Strapless
  • Stopwatch Chronograph
  • Countdown and Interval Timer – Useful for repetition training where you perform multiple hard/easy efforts
  • Digital Wireless Transmission – to avoid interference with other HRM watches.
  • Training Zones – Training zones are upper and lower heart rate limits. You can set up these to define the type of exercise you wish to partake in. For example for fat burning, the heart rate levels will be low, for cardio and stamina building, the levels will be higher. More complex monitors will feature more zones and some will even run simultaneous zones.
  • Zone Alarm – Alerts you if your heart beat falls outside the current target zone
  • Time Spent in Zone – Provides a summary of how long you spent within your desired zone over the course of a session
  • Calories Burned – estimates the total calories you burn off during your exercise session based on height, weight, sex and heart rate intensity.
  • On-board Workout Program – Predefined complex workouts including the option to create custom complex workouts.
  • Fitness Test – Some watches are advanced enough to offer their own fitness tests that you can take to test your progress
  • Heart Rate Recovery Measure – Will assess how long it takes your heart rate to recover after a session. Useful in assessing progressive fitness building.
  • Distance/Speed Measurement – More complex sports watches offer a foot pod option or GPS for tracking current speed and overall distance traveled
  • Heart Rate Over Lap/Split – It can be useful to know your heart rate and fields such as maximum heart rate and minimum heart rate over individual laps in a workout, especially in the latter parts of your session where lactic acid may be building up in your body.
  • Transfer To PC – Allows your workout data to be transferred from the watch to a PC (or Mac) and analyzed using software.
  • Navigation/Compass/Altimeter/Barometer – Require a GPS system and select outdoor features.
  • Bike Mount – Useful for multi event athletes

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