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Exercise Machines and Heart Rate Monitors

After teaching aerobics for 12 years or so, I have become highly perceptive in knowing my heart rate zone without necessarily taking my pulse.  Not to the exact beats per minute of course, but definitely within a relatively accurate range.  Nonetheless, every so often while exercising, I will place my hands on the equipment’s metal heart rate monitor to get a quick read of my heart rate.  Big mistake:  It always ends in frustration.

Here are a few typical scenarios that I have experienced:

  1. The Flat Line: I have actually had the heart rate monitor tell me that it can’t find a pulse or that my pulse is desperately low, when clearly, I’m busting my butt on the treadmill.  This is dangerous because it misleads an individual to believe that they aren’t working hard enough when they very well might be.
  2. Steady Decline: Sometimes on a rare occasion, the heart rate monitor will get it right…at least for the first second.  Then, while I’m still busting my butt on the treadmill, it will start to drop…slowly and steadily…until it reaches an all time low of an apparently anaerobic heart rate.  Again, this is dangerous and misleading.
  3. Bueler?: This is when the heart rate monitor flashes endlessly searching for your heart rate…as if you aren’t even there.  It shouldn’t take more than ten seconds for the monitor to find your heart rate, and if it does, give up.

I’m not 100% sure what causes these monitors to be highly inaccurate, but I do know that 99% of the time you use them, you will get a worthless heart rate reading.  Now, I know monitors are inanimate objects, but sometimes, I have to wonder if they have minds and personalities of their own.  My hypothesis on why these monitor’s don’t work:

  1. The Perfect Storm: If the wind is blowing (think fans) or there is high humidity (think sweaty palms), these monitors are thrown off course.
  2. Laziness: If you are working really hard, the monitor doesn’t want to work as hard as you do.
  3. Misguided ESP: The monitor is great at reading the heart rate of Joe, the old guy, walking 2.5 mph next to you, instead of your own heart rate.
  4. Highly Sensitivity: If you don’t hold them or touch them just so, their feelings get hurt and withdraw.
  5. Passive Aggressive: Maybe you have offended the monitor and as a result, it pretends that you aren’t even there.

Look, whatever the case is, you shouldn’t rely on these machine monitors.  They do a terrible job and should be removed from all equipment.  Instead, think about the following options:

  1. DIY (Do it Yourself):In all seriousness, knowing how to take your own pulse is a great skill.  You can take your pulse one of two ways:
    1. Your Neck: I think this is the easiest place to find your pulse.  Take your index and middle finger and place them right below your ear.  Slide them down into the hollow of the side of your neck, right under the side of your chin.  You should find your pulse in this location.
    2. Your Wrist: Facing your palm up, take your index and middle finger and place them on your wrist.

    Once you find your pulse, count the beats for ten seconds.  Multiply this number by 6 to get your pulse for 1 minute.  Refer to our quick reference chart or use the heart rate calculator on Sheer Balance to know if your heart rate falls within the right range for the intensity you wish to be exercising at.

  2. Personal Heart Rate Monitor: Find a heart rate monitor that you can wear.  There are a number of brands that are available, however, Polar tends to be the most popular.
  3. Talk Test:Try talking when you are exercising.  If it is just as easy as it is when you aren’t exercising, there is a good chance you are not getting a cardiovascular workout.  If you find it is really difficult to carry on a conversation, then that means you are probably working very hard…maybe too hard.  You want to find a middle ground where talking is challenging, but not impossible.
  4. Perceived Exertion: This option requires you to tune into your body and really understand how it is feeling during exercise.  You can probably learn this over time by continuing with the first option.

So, when doing cardiovascular or aerobic exercise, understand that the heart rate monitors on exercise equipment are not the most accurate tools to measure your heart rate.

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Posted in Brett's Blog, Fitness Tagged with: , , ,