John von Arn im EVALUATES THE BENEFITS OF HEART RATE MONITORS WITHIN YOUR FITNESS REGIME.
Are heart-rate monitors all they’re cracked up to be?
The right shoes, the latest play list and high tech wearables – working out requires a lot of stu these days. How important are heart rate monitors? Some sports science experts regard them as essential. If you’re trying to lose weight, for example, knowing that you need to spend most of your workout at around 70 to 80 per cent of your maximum heart rate (MHR) keeps you on target.
Old-school holdouts maintain that your undivided attention should be focused on your body during a workout, free of the distraction of gadgets. When heart rate monitors first hit the market in the Noughties, they had a valid point. It was tough not to be constantly aware of a strap around your chest at sternum height. Newer models like the Mio Fuse Heart Rate Wristband, however, are only a shade more complex than a Fitbit Surge.
Why is tracking the heart so important during exercise? It tells you how hard you’re working. Intensity is dicult to judge and if you’re exercising out of habit, you may be going through the motions. An accurate reading of your heart rate is objective and doesn’t lie. It’s also a lot easier than stopping to take your pulse all the time.
There’s a myth that you can calculate your MHR by subtracting your age from the number 220. More of a close guesstimate, the simple sum can cause many men, especially over 35, to be too cautious when judging their MHR. Once a person is fit, they have to lift their game to get the most out of regular training and exercise, and that can mean pushing beyond the average MHR for your age.
One of the drawbacks of a heart rate monitor for fi t men is once your MHR goes higher than the normal calculation for your age, it will warn that you are over- extending yourself. Constantly looking at a heart rate monitor could hold you back from reaching the required exertion intensity needed to get to the next level of fitness, or what’s termed “tolerable discomfort”. Less fit exercisers or those just starting a new exercise program, on the other hand, should take notice of a heart rate monitor to avoid attempting too much too soon.
It’s important to have a working idea of anatomy beyond knowing that the heart is the major muscle involved in exercise. When you go for a run the heart rate tends to increase even when you are running at the same speed. Why? Because the body is dealing with a heat/loss challenge through two major methods – as your core temperature rises, sweating is the most obvious way the body tries to cool itself. At the same time, blood is redirected to the skin in a secondary mechanism that also gets rid of excess heat. The heart has to work harder to divert the blood and oxygen to the skin to keep your core temperature under control.
The heart needs a good workout just as much as the body and staying in your comfort zone does neither any favours. Generally, if a heart rate monitor sticks at 65 per cent of your MHR, you have to put in more work.
The popularity of heart rate monitors has exploded on the back of a fl ood of new apps. It’s now possible to check your ticker using the camera and flash on a smartphone. The only thing complicated about the process is its correct technical name – photoplethysmography. Each time the heart pumps, tiny capillaries in the skin expand. A smartphone flash illuminates the skin and the camera records the tiny colour changes that occur every time the heart beats. You have to hold pretty still and heart rate apps don’t provide the continuous data that wearable tech heart monitors do, but they have become so popular that the market leader – the Azumio Instant Heart Rate App – boasts 25 million users.
Most men check their heart rate for fitness reasons, but changes in your resting heart rate can indicate health problems. An inexpensive or free app is a bargain. The fun aspect of Azumio’s app is that it doesn’t just record the heart rate, it labels activities according to exertion from “just woke up” to “exercising”. Spend a few more dollars for the paid version which allows you to store more than fi ve of the most recent measurements.
Another top app is the Runtastic Heart Rate Pro, which allows you to filter data using the resting, before or after exercise, or MHR tags. Like Azumio’s app, the clear directions point out that the app is only for fi tness, not determining whether you are having a heart attack.
The heart needs a good workout as much as the body … staying in your comfort zone does neither any favours.