Heart Rate Monitors- What they do and are they worth it?


It can be confusing but I make heart rate monitors simple, right here.

Heart Rate Monitors

What Do They Do?

A few people have been asking me about heart rate monitors, what they do, which one to get, are they worth it, etc. So here it all is in plain English. What they do, why you would/wouldn’t want one, which one to get and what to do with it once you’ve got it!

The main function of a heart rate monitor is to, you guessed it, monitor your heart rate. To do this you will have a strap around your chest that reads your heart rate and sends it to a device which is usually a wrist watch. There are a few reasons you’d want to monitor your heart rate.

  1. If you are wondering why your fitness isn’t improving as fast as it should you may not be working hard enough. Your heart rate is hard proof to tell you exactly that. If you’re doing a high intensity bootcamp and your heart rate is only at 60%, you know and I will know, you’re not working hard enough.
  2. Maybe your heart rate is up in the 90% range day after day of exercising. This means you are probably over training and need a rest to recover before you burn out or injure yourself.
  3. If your run time is slower than usual and your heart rate is lower than usual you will then know that you slacked off in that run.
  4. If your run time is slower than usual and heart rate is higher then usual, then you know you put in the effort but your body wasn’t ready. You may need some extra recovery time.
  5. If you check your heart rate every morning and it is a bit higher than it usually is, you know you’re about to get sick if you keep going and should take it easy before the sickness gets a hold.

I recommend heart rate monitors that display your heart rate reading at that exact point in time throughout your workout and also give you an average and a maximum for that session at the end. It’s a bonus if it has an alarm that sounds if your heart rate goes higher or lower than you want so you know if you have to increase or decrease your intensity.

Another function I recommend on your heart rate monitor is calorie burn. Here are a few reasons you’d want to monitor your calorie burn.

  1. If you are trying to lose weight you can see how many calories you are burning and when you get on the scales at the end of the week you can adjust your calorie burn to equate to the right weight loss on the scales.
  2. Sometimes goals of working out for 30 minutes or so don’t really mean much to your results. A 30 minute stroll is going to get very different results to 30 minutes of intense bootcamp or running. A calorie goal will mean you’ll hit your target whether it takes 30 minutes or 75.
  3. Calorie goals can be more fun to achieve. If your goal is to burn 500 calories you can time it and try to beat it another time.

I recommend heart rate monitors that display your calorie burn in real time so you can see what you are up to as you workout. It should also give you a total calorie burn at the end of the workout. It’s a bonus if it can add up your calories each week and give you a weekly total that you can compare with your weight loss on the scales.

The last function I’d sometimes recommend is a GPS enabled heart rate monitor. here is why you’d want one of those.

  1. You are a runner or want to get into running.
  2. You want to track your distance, speed or pace for goals to beat.
  3. You don’t want to run with you mobile phone run tracking app.
  4. You want you heart rate data and speed/distance/pace/elevation data etc all in one place so you can see if it’s hills, or a certain distance that makes your heart rate spike. Then you know your weak spot and can work on improving it.

I recommend GPS heart rate monitors that display your average pace as well as your current pace and distance. It’s a bonus if you can add goals such as a pace you want to run etc.

Polar FT4

For The Exerciser

Polar is a great quality and accurate heart rate monitor brand. The FT4 has everything you need in a watch for your heart rate and calorie burn with nothing you don’t so it saves in cost and it looks pretty good too.

Here’s what it does-

  • Displays your heart rate in real time and you can choose to display it as beats per minute or as a percentage of you maximum heart rate.
  • Counts your calories and displays your calorie burn in real time and as a total at the end.
  • It has an optional alarm for your heart rate training zones.
  • It also calculates your heart rate training zones and your heart rate percentage and maximum automatically.
  • Displays a summary of your total calories burnt, maximum heart rate, average heart rate and time working out after each session.
  • Saves the last 10 workout summaries.
  • Works as a day to day watch.
  • Uses a regular watch battery you can change anywhere.

I would recommend this heart rate monitor to someone who wants to build their fitness and loose weight. If you don’t mind running with your mobile phone run tracker, you don’t need to see your heart rate and run data together, or you don’t run, this is the watch for you.

It looks pretty good and comes in pink, green, bronze, sliver and black/blue.

Garmin Forerunner 15

For The Exerciser, Runner and Step Counter

Garmin is also a tried and tested heart rate monitor company as well as an exceptional GPS company. The Forerunner 15 is great for runners and also to track your steps throughout the day.

Here is what it does-

  • It displays your heart rate in bpm and %max
  • Counts and displays calories burnt.
  • Counts your steps throughout the day to monitor your activity levels and reminds when it’s time to move.
  • Calculates time, distance and pace etc for running.
  • Has pace alerts for running.
  • Transfers the data to your computer and Garmin connect to compare run data via USB.
  • Has a rechargeable battery that lasts 5 weeks in activity tracking mode and 8 hours worth of GPS run recording.

I recommend this watch to any one who exercises, is watching their weight and runs or is starting to run… OR who doesn’t run but wants to try and keep active throughout the day and be reminded to move when they’ve been sitting too long.

This isn’t a bad looking watch and comes in teal/white, violet/white, black/red, black/blue & black/green.

Garmin Forerunner 220

What’s The Difference?

The 220 has almost all the things the 15 has, except for a few things and it has some added extras too.

Here’s how they differ-

  • It looks much prettier 😉
  • It has a full colour high res display
  • It has live tracking if you’re on a long run, ride or event then people at home can track where you’re up to.
  • It has social sharing so when you start running people on facebook can cheer you on!
  • You can download your run data to your phone via bluetooth rather than USB.
  • Longer lasting battery
  • It does not have the daily activity tracker the Forerunner 15 has.
  • It has a training calendar
  • You can create your own or upload Garmin’s own run training programs to follow on your watch.
  • It has an interval timing on the watch.
  • Different screens to see different data while you run.

It does have extra features such as running programs and intervals which are great for runners who are a little more advanced or who want to be, with the trade off of not having the daily activity monitor. I’d recommend this watch if you have been running for a little while or want to get into running more often and don’t need a reminder to get up and move if you’ve been sitting at your desk for too long.

This watch is seriously good looking and comes in white/violet or black/red.

Phone Apps

For Everything Without The Watch

These are only the heart rate monitor chest straps. You don’t get a watch or anything with these ones. So how does it work? The trick with this is that it connects to your phone. So all the data you’d get displayed on your watch now gets displayed on an app on your phone. A Polar H7 is a strap that can connect to your phone or to a compatible heart rate monitor watch if you wanted. Gamin also have an adapter so your chest strap data can be sent to your phone. This way the chest strap collects all your heart rate and calorie info and the phone tracks your speed, distance and pace etc.

Cool if you always workout with your phone. Now you can choose one of the options above to have all the data on your watch or one of these if you want it all on your phone or both!

The handy thing about the polar H7 is that you can also hook it up to your Polar Loop which is a full daily activity tracker. The Loop counts your steps, gives you step, running, calorie and movement goals, tells you when to move, monitors your sleep, counts your calorie burn for the whole day and if you have a H7 you can wear it while you work out and it will also tell you your heart rate. There are also other brands like Garmin’s Vivofit that do the same thing too.

I recommend these heart rate monitor straps for those who would just like to use their phone rather than a watch to see their heart rate and other data, or if you have an activity tracker so you can add the exercise accurately into your daily activity levels. I would only recommend daily activity trackers to the every day person who just wants to move more.

Here are some options-

  • Polar H7 chest strap
  • Polar Loop activity tracker
  • Polar Loop & H7 bundle
  • Garmin phone adapter
  • Garmin chest strap
  • Garmin Vivofit
  • Garmin Vivofit & chest strap bundle

Which One Suits You?

You can order now.

Once you’ve identified which sort of person you are and which one suites you best you can purchase your choice on our online store at the top right of this page.

Of course there are many more but these brands are tried and tested and suit the people I’ve mentioned. If you need more out of your heart rate monitor such as swim data, orienteering, multisport/triathlon modes, or just the one you like the look of most, then there are more specific monitors there, just ask!

Kieran Sernig,
Beachside Personal Trainers







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