Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Listen to Your Heart (Rate Monitor)

Garmin with peripherals
My Garmin 405 didn't come with a heart rate monitor strap, so besides the fact that I barely scratch the surface when it comes to the watch's abilities, I've also never tapped into heart-rate monitoring.

However, when "The Ukrainian" bought his Garmin 305, it was not only a bargain (Best Buy sale!), but it also came with the HRM attachment.

Fortunately the ANT+Sport technology it uses means it's also compatible with my relatively newer Garmin, but the battery had long run out, so we kind of just ignored it.... until now.

Not knowing how intense my Insanity workouts really were, I tracked them as "vigorous calisthenics" on MyFitnessPal (I should really get to doing a review on this app/site).  However, by using a heart rate monitor, I discovered that this was robbing me some of the true burn for each workout.  No wonder I've been hungry a lot... but then again, I was hungry a lot before Insanity and before tracking my intake and activity. =P

Before getting this set up, I had only used a heart rate monitor on two other occasions -- most recently when I tried personal training and also when I did a VO2MAX test.  Otherwise, I'm kind of freaked out to know what my heart rate is... because then if I feel that my heart is about to leap out of my chest, I can see quantifiable proof of that.  Plus, it's already enough for me to track miles (you can see I stopped counting from the counter at the bottom of this blog) and pace, so adding another set of numbers = overburdening an activity that's supposed to clear your mind.

On my first spin with the HRM, I did one of the Insanity workouts for 38 minutes and had an average heart rate of 157.  Because I am still a stranger to this HRM on a Garmin, I had to plug in this information online because ol' Garmin was saying a big fat "0" for Calories Burned (perhaps I still need to figure this out).  Thankfully, there are quite a few websites that calculate burn based on factors like gender, weight, etc., but I am using THIS one.  Even more fortunately, I have my (few years old) VO2-Max number to plug in, but if not, there is a generic number you can plug in.

A workout that I previously thought burned 285 calories is now burning 387.  What... the... eff.  Not a lot, but it can add up over longer workout periods and over days and weeks.  It's not my intention to underfuel myself, but it looks like this is what has been happening.  At least I can adjust now... and if this means a little more food, I'm doing it willingly!

I'm still not sure how accurate this all is, but it's better information than what I had before, which was practically none.  I still think burning 387 calories in 38 minutes is a little high -- higher than running -- but perhaps I should wear it out to my runs to verify this.  I've seen the whole "135 lb woman burns 100 calories per mile" business, and I usually just estimate down from that.  In the end, I know I don't need to be exact, but I don't want to be horribly off, either.

The downside is that the darned chest strap isn't really comfortable, and I'm finding that I have to adjust it once in a while.  I can't imagine running with it for a long time.  Not to mention all the hygiene issues -- I've been washing the fabric part of the strap and drying it and wiping down the plastic part each time.  Also, the battery is always "ON," so I can imagine how long it might be until I need to buy another one.

Does anyone else use HRMs regularly?  Any tips?


  1. I'm addicted to my heart rate monitor(s). I feel naked if I'm running without one.

    I find it incredibly beneficial on days that I'm feeling tired, to be able to have an unbiased number that tells me if I'm actually tired (and need to take it easy) or if I'm just feeling like a wuss and can afford to crank it up a couple of notches.

    The battery in the strap actually stops sending a signal shortly after there is no heart rate activity (like when you take it off). I'm sure there is still a small current draw, but I've had batteries last for 2+ years in the monitor that I use less frequently. I bought a six-pack of the batteries on Amazon for less than $5. A local battery store wants more than that for one battery.

    A lot of Garmins (like my 305) don't use the heart rate to calculate calories burned - just the generic formula. So, if I'm doing any non-running/non-cycling activity, I wear my $45 Timex heart rate monitor, and it gives an accurate calorie count based solely on heart rate (with age and weight programmed in).

    You'll get far more useful info out of a heart rate monitor if you know your max heart rate. I'm guessing that you were given a good idea of that number when you did your VO2 max test. Mine is freakishly high (213), so I can't use the generic heart rate zone charts.

  2. I love MFP!

    Also, I love my Polar FT4 HRM. The chest strap is very comfortable, even for someone who has -ahem- a smaller chest. However, I don't think it does splits or that nifty 8-minute interval beepy thing you mentioned in your other post.

  3. I've been lucky enough to be associated with some world class (Olympic) athletes. They all use heart rate monitors - especially when aerobically training (low heart rate for long periods of time) to make sure they are in the proper range and *not* training anaerobically when they shouldn't be.

  4. I'm studying personal training now and I want a heart rate monitor so I can better judge these things. I've worked out for years and never used one, but I feel like, while I know I workout well, I need to know if I'm hitting that target with the workouts I do. I definitely need to do some research on this too!

  5. I use a HRM every single run- with my Garmin 405. I think when I got the watch I set it up with my age weight etc so I am guessing that's the info it uses to figure out calories burned. Also, I noticed it does NOT seem to take into account higher heart rate workouts. So for example, when I did intervals the other day, my total run was around 300 for 30 minutes, but I had a ton of REALLY hard intervals in there so I KNOW I burned more than that. I kind of just look at the calories burned as a really rough guestimate.