Update: I have since written a separate article – Best Bluetooth Heart Monitors – the post below focuses purely on watches.
When undertaking cardiovascular exercise, it is my opinion that using a heart rate monitor is the most important thing you can do. Most training sessions are set by their intensity, and you can only know how hard you are pushing yourself by knowing your heart rate. This also lets you track progress better than any other method. There are now a huge number of heart rate monitors available, and it can be difficult though to know what brands are the most trusted and reliable, and available with useful features worth the money. During my years as a rower I have been through a number of heart rate monitors, and seen and tried different models that my crew mates have opted to use. From this experience I will share some thoughts on the main players in the market and my view on which is the best heart rate monitor for you.
The benefits of using a Heart Rate Monitor
There are many benefits when you wear a monitor to work out. Firstly they can help to improve your overall health. These monitors can do so by helping you to find the right type of exercise and intensity level so as to reach the maximum target over a 30 minute workout. The monitor can also help to monitor the amount of effort you are exerting. Another bonus is that when wearing a heart rate monitor watch, you can exercise at a more safe level for your level of fitness. This is because you can track your heart rate. Although you want to increase your heart rate while you exercise, you don’t want to elevate it to an unsafe level. If you can physically see that your heart rate has increased to a dangerous level, then you can simply tone down the intensity level of your workout. Finally the use of a monitor enables you to track your progress over time in order to improve and personalize your workout.
Summary of Heart Rate Monitors on the market
Polar is a brand that is popular with both men and women. The Polar FT80 is a personal favourite that I have used. The Polar heart rate monitor is great for all activities, not just rowing but running, swimming and cycling too. It records physical activity that enables you to track your progress via graphs and onscreen data. While exercising, the monitor can give you instant feedback helping to improve your workout. Another handy function is that it can tell you exactly how many calories you have burnt. The Polar heart rate monitor is compatible with both Mac and PC, enabling you to download and save results. There is an indicator to alert you to low battery levels, an onscreen light, and it operates via an easily to navigate touchscreen.
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One popular Garmin heart rate monitor is that of the Garmin Forerunner. This has a ton of useful functions including alerts that can be set for your pace, the distance traveled, elevation and of course heart rate. You can also choose to have the alert simply on vibration. A really great feature is the performance tracker, that allows you to record and store your workouts, so as to tailor your workout for the best outcome. All of the information stored can also be sent wirelessly to Garmin Connect, that can then analyze your performance. With the Garmin heart rate monitor, you are easily able to read your results via the clear display on screen, while the wristband makes it incredibly comfortable to wear.
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I have also since conducted a review of the Fitbit Charge 2 vs Garmin Vivosmart HR+
The Suunto heart rate monitor, the Suunto Ambit, was specifically developed for running and active sports, such as rowing. The monitor allows you to track and monitor your pace, distance and speed. It also features apps that help you to plan you training more effectively and to improve your performance. A useful feature is that the Suunto heart rate monitor can give you a graph of your performance in real time. If you do plan to wear the watch while swimming, it is also good to know that it is water resistant up to 50 meters. Weighing only 2.5 oz, it is incredibly comfortable to wear and is able to sync to a portable device or computer.
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In general, each of these watches will give you the same core features, and the choice will come down to your preferences and taste. I tend to favor Polar as a brand, but Suunto is very popular for its large display and Garmin with those who also like to do a lot of running and cycling.