Training with a heart rate monitor

The functions and features of HRMs

Heart rate monitors (HRMs) can be a valuable tool for runners, provided they are used consistently rather than ditched after just a few uses. If you're considering buying a heart rate monitor to aid your training, then check out our guide to see what benefits they can bring ...

This heart rate monitor guide will tell you:

  • How a HRM works
  • Features of HRMs
  • Training with a HRM

How does a HRM work?

A HRM comes in two parts:

  • An elasticated chest strap which transmits your heart rate information to the receiver on your wrist.
  • A  receiver that receives the heart rate information from the chest strap and displays this during and after the run. The receiver may come with additional functions depending on the model purchased.

Features of a HRM you do and don’t need

Being able to read your heart rate is the obvious benefit of a HRM, but most exercises will benefit from a few additional functions. The table below tells you wacth features are desirable or otherwise:

realbuzz.com rating:
««« = useful    «« = specialist    « = unnecessary

HRM function
Function description Assessment
realbuzz.com rating
Stopwatch


Regular stopwatch features, including lap timer, calendar etc. Makes sense if you wish to avoid wearing two watches.

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Backlight


Can be either a button or automatic feature, which illuminates the face Essential for training at night


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Calorie counter

Displays the calories burnt during exercise Gimmicky feature of limited value
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Zone alarms


Alarms which can be set to warn you if you have strayed above or below a set training zone Useful, particularly for those who have a tendency to train at an uneven intensity
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realbuzz.com rating:
««« = useful    «« = specialist    « = unnecessary

HRM function
Function description Assessment
realbuzz.com rating
Training zones



You can set training zones with upper and lower heart rate limits

Useful if you are doing a variety of training sessions, e.g. long slow runs, trans interval training etc
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Low battery indicator

Visual display function

Dimming display serves just as effectively
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Bike mount

Can be mounted on a bike

Cyclists only

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Coded transmission



HRM selects a random code to transmit from the chest strap to the receiver

Very useful because interference from other HRM users (e.g. in a race) can give spurious readings
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realbuzz.com rating:
««« = useful    «« = specialist    « = unnecessary

HRM function
Function description Assessment
realbuzz.com rating
PC interface



Facility to download training data via infra-red or sonic link or special interface to a PC Advanced feature, most suitable for advanced exercisers

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Dual settings

Allows data input for two different users Non essential feature

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Fitness tester

Calculates your changing level of fitness Slightly gimmicky feature

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Automatic training zone calculator



Enables you to input basic data about yourself (age, weight etc) and will pre-calculate training zones for you Useful feature if you are unsure of how to set up different training zones


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realbuzz.com rating:
««« = useful    «« = specialist    « = unnecessary

HRM function
Function description Assessment
realbuzz.com rating
User operated memory


HRM records current readings when you press a button Very basic memory function, not particularly user friendly

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Automatic memory



HRM automatically records readings at pre-determined times e.g. 5, 15 or 60 seconds Useful if you enjoy analyzing each training session, otherwise not essential

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Countdown timer





Stopwatch type function which can be set to alarm after either a pre-set time has elapsed or heart rate has returned to a pre-set level. Useful for interval training, more suited to advanced exercisers



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Average heart rate reading



Displays your average heart rate for the session


Useful feature which gives you an ‘at-a-glance’ check of how hard you worked during the entire session
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Maximum heart rate display

Displays maximum heart rate during session Useful feature

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Training with a HRM

Unless you are using a model that automatically calculates training zones for you, to use a HRM correctly, you need to establish the correct training zones for you. This ensures that you are getting the maximum benefit out of each session. There are various zone calculation methods, from intensive treadmill or track protocols to simple calculations centred around your age, but the easiest method to is calculate your maximum heart rate (MHR) and then subsequently calculating your training zones.

Training tips

Training with a HRM should be easy. Rather than endlessly having to make complicated calculations each session, the HRM, once it has been set up correctly, will deliver accurate results during each session. While a HRM will give you a measure of how hard you’re exercising, you should also take other factors into account such as:

Weather conditions: Temperature and other factors like wind can affect your performance.

Fatigue: General fatigue from cumulative training, stress, etc. can all affect your heart rate.

Rate of perceived exertion: Basically, how you are feeling, irrespective of the data on your wrist, e.g. how tough you are finding the session.

Interference: Overhead transmission lines, underground power cables and other HRM users in close proximity can all cause readings to fluctuate or provide spurious data.

Just be aware of these other factors, and don't be a complete slave to the readings on your HRM — just use it as a guide.

HRM training – how beneficial is it?
Correct use of a HRM will undoubtedly bring a new dimension to your exercise sessions and can prevent overtraining or wasted training time. It is important to use HRM data in conjunction with other factors, such as how good you feel during a workout, but investing in a HRM is certain to ensure you train well and train safely.

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