Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Polar FT40 Heart Rate Monitor Review

For my birthday, and recognising that I had just hit 52, I decided to change around what I was typically doing at the gym each week. In order to make it more aerobic rather than just being based on weight training, I opted to get a heart rate monitor as a present this year. And I'm glad I did, because it's been a revelation.

I chose the Polar FT40, a middle-of-the-range device that cost around $140, including the chest strap and transmitter. Setting it up was quite easy requiring just telling it things like height, weight, age etc.

As part of the functionality, Polar identify two ranges you can be in : fat burning or fitness. These are roughly equivalent to the temperate and aerobic zones in the typical literature (e.g. here). Initially, the watch calculated that the break point between these two zones for me was 117 beats per minute (bpm) but now after about 4 fairly decent sessions it just upped it to 119 bpm. Interestingly, this break points at 70% of maximum is very close to what's calculated by the formula here (using the Tanaka method), which gives me a maximum heart rate figure of 172 bpm vs. the earlier link which gives me a maximum rate of 182.

Now I have a handle on my heart rate throughout a workout, I can ensure I stay in the chosen zone throughout. Interestingly, that's causing me to work out harder and longer because it stops me skiving off and resting too long between sets. It also has made me use the exercise bikes some more in order to go long enough overall to burn an indicated 200 calories.

The chest strap hasn't turned out to be either uncomfortable or hard to keep placed, and so far it's really not been something that has got in the way at all of working out or otherwise been a distraction.

Of course it's early days and it will be interesting to see if I can stay the course! So far, so good though, and the net result is I'm certainly getting more exercise than was the case before.

Negatives? The watch is a little bulky for me and the strap and strap clip are a bit of a pain because the catch pin is too loose and the strap retaining band too stiff. But really, that's about it. Otherwise, it really does do what it say on the box, and does it well.

Oh, one other thing. The transmitter seems to work a little too well! I noticed the other day that my heart rate was being broadcast to the two bikes either side of me. No problem so far but at some stage someone's going to wonder why they are pedalling harder and harder but their heart rate doesn't appear to be responding!

Highly recommended, especially for numerically-biased engineering types who also want to work out by the numbers!

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