If you spend a lot of time around the club, you’ve probably heard talk of Heart Rate Monitors (HRMs). 


Trainers are recommending them to clients, group exercise instructors are recommending them to their classes, and friends are comparing their “calories burned” in the locker rooms.  But will a HRM work for you?  Like all things in life, that depends. Heart rate monitors can range from $50-$450, it’s important to decide whether a HRM is a good investment before you buy one. 


Here are 5 ways a HRM can help you, and what other considerations are necessary to make sure your expectations are met as safely and effectively as possible. 


1. Improve your health: HRMs can help you find and maintain the right exercise intensity to reach your goals.  If you are working to attain the 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise (50-70% of maximum heart rate) 5 days per week recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the device will tell you whether you are doing that.  Higher-end models can provide specific zone intensity and time requirements to reach weight loss and fitness performance goals.   Unfortunately, your HRM won’t tell you what activities to do, how to do those activities correctly, or how to balance the other components of total health – nutrition, sleep, etc.  From inexperienced exercisers to elite athletes, additional input from a doctor or trainer may be needed to paint a complete picture of an individual exercise program. 


2. Measure your effort: Measuring the work-rate of the heart is the most accurate method of determining how much benefit you are deriving from your workout, and using a HRM is more accurate than interrupting your workout to take your pulse manually.  Apart from user-error (e.g. the strap falling off, or accidentally stopping the training computer during a workout), HRMs are pretty dependable, as long as you always remember to use it! 



3. Exercise safely: Feedback from HRMs can help prevent you from exercising too hard in a single session (and thus burning yourself out for several days), and from over-training in general.  A heart rate that is higher than you expect it to be before, during, or after a workout, can be a signal that your body needs more rest.  Most models don’t see the whole picture, however.  For example, certain medications can affect your heart rate, and your monitor can’t account for working an active job (think construction worker) if you only wear it during structured workouts.  Again, listening to your body and asking for advice from a health or fitness professional can round out the picture. 


4. Track your progress: Some HRMs are able to store and display weeks’ worth of training sessions, which will help you identify possible training errors, or hopefully just reinforce that you are staying on track!  From the perspective of someone who never really liked math and can’t always remember how much she ran three days ago, it’s a nice benefit.  However, all of the tracking and reporting tools are usually not available unless additional equipment or software is purchased.


5. Put the fire back in your program: Most of us probably never thought we would be taking orders from computers, but I have to admit, I can’t help feeling a little guilty when my HRM tells me “incomplete training week” or “train a lot more.”  That is usually enough motivation to get my butt to the gym.  Some of you may prefer a social or physical push to exercise that can make a digital reminder more of an annoyance than a motivator.  But at least for me, having that little screen tell me that I met my training goal for the week feels like the extra pat on the back I couldn’t give myself. 


What do you think?  Is a heart rate monitor worth it?