Have a Heart(rate monitor)

I just became the proud owner of a Garmin Forerunner 735XT. Although I’ve had activity trackers with heart-rate monitors before, I’ve never used the monitor for more than a quick glance and thinking “Wow, I’m really workin’ it” during a run. Not wanting to let my shiny new (at least new-to-me) toy go underused, I asked for advice from my tri buddy Lisa Ashley. Lisa is a working mom, fitness instructor, and all-around super hero. She has degrees in biology and education, and has been certified as a personal trainer for nearly a decade, so she was a natural choice to teach me a few things I didn’t know about heart-rate monitors.

Do they work?

Well enough for me. According to Lisa, a chest strap heart-rate monitor can give you a more accurate reading, particularly if you are doing a relatively low-intensity workout like weight lifting. But all I really want is to see how hard I’m working (and try to improve my overall fitness), so pinpoint accuracy isn’t the most important to me.

How do I use it?

Take a look at the pages of any lifestyle magazine, and you’ll see all the experts there recommending adding higher intensity intervals to your workout for maximum benefit if you’re pressed for time. But what does that mean, and how can your sparkly new heart-rate monitor help?  According to Lisa, you should mix things up. Try different interval lengths and intensities, and gauge how long it takes your heart-rate to come down a level. Lisa cautions that a “maximum” intensity should only be sustained for short bursts at a time.

To get an idea what your heart-rate means (other than the fact that you actually are alive), look up heart-rate charts.  They can tell you what a normal range is for your age. Many watches will tell you where you are on the scale of increased heart-rates. (This is a fun feature on my new watch that my prior activity tracker didn’t provide.)

How do I know if it’s working?

Don’t just monitor while you’re exercising. I really don’t pay attention to resting heart-rate, but Lisa says checking out your heart-rate when you aren’t exercising (for example, at your desk at work) is a good way to see how you are progressing. If you’ve just started exercising, you’ll start to see your beats per minute (bpm) decrease over time.

In fact, you might want to spend a few days getting used to your resting heart rate before you even check it during exercise.

Do I really need one of these things?

According to Lisa, not really. She says that she works with most of her clients based on assessment of how they are feeling during and after exercise. However, a heart-rate monitor can help you to gauge the intensity of your workout and your overall fitness.

The bottom line is, a heart-rate monitor isn’t an essential for us middle-of-the-packers, but if it helps you to get out there and challenge yourself in your workout, consider giving it a try.

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