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Fitness Tools for Every Athlete

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4. Heart Rate Monitors

Your heart rate, or the number of times your heart beats each minute, helps you measure the intensity of your workout. A wide range of heart rate monitors are now available. Along with displaying heart rate in real time, many devices allow you to set a target heart rate and then alert you when you reach your target.

Heart rate monitors can help beginning exercisers distinguish between moderate-intensity and vigorous-intensity activity. High-level athletes can use heart rate monitors to make sure they reach and remain in their target heart rate zone.

5. Activity Tracking

This feature allows you to use a fitness device as a diary, recording detailed information about workouts and other activities. If you’re a competitive athlete, activity trackers are a great way to keep a detailed record of your training regimen. Activity trackers are also useful for setting goals and tracking progress.

Some programs allow you to enter information about how you feel, what you eat, and other data. They can help you spot patterns you might not otherwise notice, such as when you have the most energy during the day or when you tend to feel tired.

"Tracking programs can alert elite athletes to signs of overtraining, such as fatigue and sleep problems," says Torgan.

6. Computer Links and Social Networking

Some of the latest fitness devices can download data to your computer, which then displays the information in the form of easy-to-read charts and graphs. Many new fitness gadgets also allow you to link up to social networks.

"There's a big push toward integrating trackers with social media -- what I call 'wear, share, compare,'" says Torgan. "You can go for a run and then share your results, such as time and distance, with your friends." Torgan sees a growing trend for "gamification" -- turning activities such as running or cycling into games that allow people to compete with one another by winning points.

7. Sleep Monitors

Sleep may not seem to have a lot to do with exercise. But if you're tired during the day because you didn't sleep well, your performance will be affected. That's why home-based sleep monitors are becoming increasingly popular. Some devices record brainwaves via sensors in headbands worn at night. Others simply measure your movements during sleep.

A 2011 study by researchers at Belgium's Sainte-Pierre University Hospital found that home-based sleep monitoring may actually provide more useful information than tests conducted in a formal sleep lab. The reason: home-based units record how people sleep under real-life conditions.

Still, few of the devices on the market have been scientifically tested for accuracy. If you have chronic problems falling asleep or staying asleep, it's wise to talk to your doctor.

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