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Heart rate monitors are the greatest invention yet for helping people to improve their fitness at the optimum rate.

By knowing how your heart rate responds to the stress you are putting on your body, you can easily assess :

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So what is a heart rate monitor?

A heart rate monitor is an accurate method of finding out what your actual heart rate is in real time. Most of them have two components:

These days heart rate monitors are getting more and more sophisticated - when I got my first one over 10 years ago it was relatively simple. A watch, a stopwatch and a readout of heart rate, with audible alarms which you could set to go off if your heart rate was too high (or too low!). Now you can get versions that can download all your heart rate data from each workout to your PC, and analyse them to your heart’s content! You can even get versions with integrated GPS, which can do all the same things plus measuring how far you’ve travelled and even give you directions home if you get lost. A true gadget fan’s dream!

What use is the data from a heart rate monitor for getting fit?

If you want to get fit in the minimum possible time, monitoring your heart rate can be a great help. It can tell you:

How to use a heart rate monitor

There are lots of different ways of using a heart rate monitor, with varying degrees of complication. What they all agree on is that you use your maximum heart rate to estimate what target heart rate to use for a particular workout. What they don’t agree on is just about everything else!

So what are the options?

The simplest solution (and a good starting point for beginners) is:

There are other options, like the Karvonen method (which defines the target zone percentages based on the range between your resting pulse and your maximum) and the Conconi method (which tries to define the target zones relative to your own lactate threshold), but these are getting a bit complicated for all but the most ardent enthusiast.

How do I start to use a heart rate monitor to get fit?

First, buy heart rate monitor, if you don’t already have one. Don’t worry if you can’t afford an expensive one - you can get a good basic model from around $30 in the US or £20 in the UK. I have used a basic Polar model for 10 years, and it has all the features you need (and has been totally reliable). You should only pay for a more advanced model if you want more toys on it! To find out more about what Heart Rate Monitors are available, please click here.

Then I’d suggest buying a guide to getting fit which includes more detailed information about how to get fit using a Heart Rate Monitor. I have written an eBook which contains all the information you need to get fit, with or without a heart rate monitor, which you can find out about here.

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