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Perhaps you want to burn more fat, or you’re determined to increase your speed and endurance. Then again, maybe you’ve maxed your energy stored so you don’t even feel like exercising anymore. Whether you’re determined to kick butt in a local road race or simply want better results and less suffering from the time and energy you spend on cardio workouts, it may be time you looked into a heart-rate monitor.


Have you assumed that heart-rate monitors are only for competitive athletes? Think again. The popularity of these devices has soared in recent years – in large part because they’re relatively inexpensive (about the cost of a pair of decent running shoes), simple to operate, intriguing to use, and above all, highly effective.


Models range from simple, continuous-read monitors that do nothing but display your current heart rate, to “zone” monitors that allow you to program a range of customized training zones into the device. They track your heart rate based on that data, and issue a visual or audible alarm that alerts you if your heart rate falls outside the desired range.


Many more advanced watches come with a variety of other features, and the more expensive ones let you download the information from your workout sessions into your computer to help you track your workouts, plan your training schedules and follow your fitness improvements over time.

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“A heart-rate monitor allows you to exercise more efficiently,” says competitive athlete and businesswoman Sally Edwards, author of Heart Zone Training (Adams Media Corporation, 1996). “It’s a window into your body that gives you continuous information about what’s happening inside. Besides shoes, it’s the most essential piece of exercise equipment you can have.”


By giving you constant, accurate feedback, a heart monitor can keep you from overtraining the way I did, which is a common mistake among frequent exercisers. You may not notice the effects of overtraining at first, but they add up.


“In the early stages, the signs and symptoms are very subtle,” explains sports physician Dr. Philip Maffetone, author of In Fitness and In Health, the Fourth Edition (Barmare, 2002). “It can be anything from mild fatigue to not progressing, to minor aches and pains, to hormonal imbalance to mild depression. And those things can just get worse.”


The flip side of doing too much, of course, is doing too little. If you always work out at lower-intensity levels, you’ll plateau and won’t reap as many benefits from your program. To get the most results, you need to work out at the exertion level that’s appropriate for you.


“A heart-rate monitor brings some objectivity into your program,” says Maffetone. “It’s almost like having a coach with you at all times.”