Heart rate monitors (HRMs) can be critical tools in maintaining a healthy workout at the intensity you desire. I sat down with Ryan Heal, manager of the Portland Running Company in SE Portland. He discussed the importance of HRMs. “I first started using it because I was guilty of overtraining, and I saw it as a way to keep myself from overdoing it on days that were supposed to be easy days,” Heal said. “Looking at my heart rate displayed on my watch during my run, kept me from getting into elevated levels of exertion when I was supposed to be recovering.” Overtraining is a bug that infects athletes at a young age, whether it’s due to coaches’ expectations or personal choice. Being a track athlete myself, I am a constant witness of this commonly unnoticed issue.

A good HRM will feature a watch and a strap worn around the chest, just below the pectorals. The strap contains electrodes for detecting electrical signs emitted by the heart. The watch receives the data from a radio signal, also included in the chest strap.

The watch of a quality HRM, like the Polar RS100, will display real-time heart rate in either beats per minute (BPM) or percent of maximum heart rate. To find maximum heart rate you simply take 220 BPM minus the user’s age. The Polar RS100 includes a feature called “Own Zone,” as well. Based on information the HRM receives when an athlete is at rest, this feature can tell you your condition on any given day. This prevents overtraining on a day you’re fatigued, along with undertraining on a day you’re in good condition.

“I’m addicted,” said local marathon runner Renee Dominguez. “I always wear my heart rate monitor, I feel like it makes a big difference.” She has been wearing an HRM for as long as she can remember, and when asked if she could go back to training without it, she simply stated, “No.”

Heal also discussed the ‘don’ts’ of HRMs. “Cheap pulse meters worn on the wrist don’t work very well, as they monitor the movement of blood through veins.” Heal went on to say that the amount of blood flow needed for a pulse meter to detect it, isn’t always emitted by each contraction of the heart. Heal also advised to steer clear of the HRMs that don’t have a chest strap. “The user has to touch two fingers to poles on the watch to get a heart rate reading. This provides ‘on-demand’ and not continuous heart rate monitoring.” This doesn’t allow the athlete to maintain a workout while getting a heart rate reading. However, these cheaper HRMs are useful for a fitness walker or any other variation of a lighter workout.

HRMs range from $60 to $400 and can be purchased at any specialty running store including the Portland Running Company where we reviewed the product. Located in SE Portland on Grand, Beaverton on Scholls Ferry Road, and West Linn on Willamette Drive.

Alex Cartmill cartmillalex@aol.com 503-505-1586