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Heart rate monitor has become an essential tool

Make the most of your exercise regimen with the help of technology
Amy Chie, Houston Chronicle
Updated 11:46 am, Friday, May 24, 2013

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  • Dr. John P. Higgins is a cardiologist at LBJ General Hospital. Photo: Courtesy Photo

    Dr. John P. Higgins is a cardiologist at LBJ General Hospital.

    Photo: Courtesy Photo

 

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a runner's advice

Dr. Theodore Shybut is an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Baylor College of Medicine.

Tips to Make a heart-rate monitor work for you

1fit: If the chest strap feels binding, try a model with a wrist strap.

2features: Consider how deeply you want to venture into the data world - speed and calories or a second-by-second analysis.

3WEIGHT TRAINING: You can track calories burned, but a monitor can't gauge your resistance training workload.

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If exercise has become part of your lifestyle and you're ready to take it to another level, it's time to strap on a heart-rate monitor. By tracking time and heart rate you can quantify improved fitness and stamina.

I interviewed LBJ General Hospital cardiologist Dr. John P. Higgins and Baylor orthopedic surgery assistant professor Dr. Theodore Shybut about the benefits of heart-rate monitors.

Q: Runners, especially, think wearing a heart-rate monitor is a bother. What are the advantages of wearing one?

A (Shybut): As a runner myself, I definitely enjoy the portability and lack of constraint that comes with needing only a pair of shoes and a path to explore. Many runners are goal oriented - they are looking to improve their 5k (personal best) or qualify for (the Boston marathon) or win their age group at the next big local race. I got one for myself after seeing a fellow runner download the data from a trail run we did in the Rocky Mountains and pull up second-by-second information on distance run, elevation, heart rate, pace per mile, on his laptop. There is a huge amount of information about your running available, and the monitors now give you so much more than just heart rate, with minimal effort, that it quickly becomes a very appealing running "essential."

Q. What should you look for when you buy a heart rate monitor?

A (Shybut): The key is to find a monitor that captures the information you are looking for without buying more device than you need. The top models now can capture and compute and monitor a large array of data. If you just want to know speed and distance, or are more interested in calories burned, then you don't need all the second-by-second data that some monitors capture. You should also consider ease of use - is it wrist-based or chest-strap-based - ease of data analysis and cost. If you are going to use it around a crowd of other athletes using monitors, get a model with coded information so it does not mistakenly register data from other devices. Finding one that works well for you with regard to comfort during activity and ease of use is more important than specific brand.

Q: What are basics of heart-rate training?

A (Higgins): Set up the heart-rate monitor correctly for your age, gender and other features. Make sure target heart rate zones are set and you understand what they are. Make sure the wrist or chest strap is comfortable, the device is fully charged and you have it synched to your computer before working out.

Make sure your monitor is working correctly and that the GPS is working during your workout - remember, some GPS monitors don't work well indoors. Once you have downloaded information, check your computer to make sure that it worked correctly.

Q: Should you wear a monitor during resistance training?

A (Higgins): I don't recommend wearing heart rate monitors in resistance training as the goals of resistance training in general do not have heart rate to define your workload or target heart rate zones like aerobic training (cardio) does.

Q: What common mistakes do people make with a heart-rate monitor?

A (Shybut): Many people under-utilize their devices - they look at the numbers from time to time but do not use the information to adjust their training or racing. Conversely, the other big mistake people make is getting so involved in their heart-rate training that they fail to recognize they are developing overtraining injuries. For example, if you are so bent on repeatedly hitting your VO2 Max during an interval workout, you may be distracted from that twinge in your hamstring until it's too late and you do one more rep and strain it. Overall, though, one of the great features of these tools is that you can use them to the extent that you find them useful.

Q: What is the ultimate goal of using a heart-rate monitor?

A (Higgins): Some goals might include to efficiently lose weight by getting into the correct zones and getting feedback on calories burned. For those who participate in different sorts of athletic races, such as running, biking, or swimming, heart-rate monitors can help you monitor each component of your training. They also help prevent over- or undertraining.