Are Heart Rate Monitors Worth Buying?

From the WebMD Archives

By Bob Barnett

You can monitor your heart rate for free, with two fingers on your neck and your eyes on a timepiece. Or, you could splurge for a heart rate monitor that straps to your chest and beams cool data to a wristwatch. You don’t even have to slow down to say hello to your beating heart. But is it worth the cost?

The Rumor: Heart rate monitors are the best way to get the most out of your workout

Many athletes swear by heart rate monitors. Some trainers insist on using them with all their clients. Coaches often put them all their players to monitor everyone's heart rate in real time during training.

The Verdict: They’re cool tools for anyone who wants -- and can afford -- a little extra help fine-tuning their exercise program, but they're not necessary

Many athletes swear by heart rate monitors. Some trainers insist on using them with all their clients. Coaches often put them all their players to monitor everyone's heart rate in real time during training.

If you want to save money by taking your own pulse, go ahead. Heart rate monitors are by no means an essential tool for fitness or even competition. "A heart rate monitor isn’t necessary for anyone," says running coach Matt Fitzgerald, author of The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition. "I know Olympic runners who never use heart rate monitors, and who’s going to tell them that they’re doing it wrong?"

Just choose the right device for you and your fitness goals, and learn to use it. "As a tool, heart rate monitors can be very useful, but they're not automatically useful," says Fitzgerald. "To get the benefit, you have to know a little about how to use one. If you make the effort, you can get more out of exercise."

"Personally, I like them," says certified personal trainer and registered dietician Karolina Starczak, wellness director for EBS Capstone in Boston. "They’re a great way to see where you are with your exertion. I see people who think they had a great workout, but they’re just walking on the treadmill and holding on -- and then they wonder why they’re going to the gym five times a week and not losing weight!" Heart rate monitors are also great motivation tools. "If you’re training, say for a marathon, and you keep doing the same workout, it gets easier," she says. "Watching your heart rate can help you keep pushing."

Continued

Or they can also remind you when to slow down, which is one of the reasons Fitzgerald often uses them with his clients. "Monitors are effective at holding them back from going too hard," he says. "You get different benefits from working out at different intensities. The faster you go, the more you impress yourself," he says. "But you don’t want to push yourself every time you lace up your running shoes. So if I tell a runner 'Don’t go over 135 beats per minute today,' there’s no temptation to make the number go higher."

So, if you're really into gadgets or want to fine-tune your exercise routine, go ahead and buy a heart rate monitor. If you'd rather save your change, it's easy enough monitor it yourself.

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