What is the purpose of heart rate monitors?

I hardly ever exercise without one. So when someone asked me – “What is the purpose of heart rate monitors?” – I thought it would be a good time to get some answers from the pros.

The basic purpose of heart rate monitors is to measure your heart rate while you exercise. But is the device itself necessary to measure heart rate?

Fabio Comana, Exercise Physiologist for the American Council on Exercise, tells FatFighterTV, “No, heart rate [HR] can be measured by simply finding a pulse and counting the number of beats within a specific time frame (e.g. 15 sec, then multiply by 4 to reach beats per minute). This is challenging to do, hence the convenience of a HR monitor.”

He goes on to answer two other common questions:

Can I hold the HR handles on cardio equipment to measure my HR?

Comana: “Yes, technically you can, but those are often slow to respond and can be inaccurate, picking up interference from around you (electrical activity – treadmills, lights, etc).”

How accurate are heart rate monitors?

Comana: “The most accurate are the ones that pick up a signal transmitted from a receiver strapped around your chest. There are analog and coded digital ones that can separate your signal from interference. HR monitors where you don’t need a chest strap, but just wear a wrist watch that picks up electrical signals from your heart (or supposed to) are more comfortable, but not as accurate.”

Thanks, Fabio! Good to know. I’d always wondered about the wrist watch versions – they seem so convenient. But now that I know they’re not as accurate, I’ll stick to the traditional HR monitor with the chest strap.

What I have:

It’s the Polar F4 Women’s Heart Rate Monitor – It really challenges me to stay in my target zone… plus it lets me know how many calories I’m burning as I exercise. Like I said, I hardly ever exercise without it.

How about you? Do you exercise with a heart rate monitor?


  1. Cammy@TippyToeDiet March 11, 2009
  2. cathy March 12, 2009
  3. FatFighter March 12, 2009
  4. Dr. J March 15, 2009
  5. FatFighter March 15, 2009