How Accurate Is a Heart Rate Counter on a Treadmill?

Runners may find use of heart-rate sensors on the treadmill impractical.

Runners may find use of heart-rate sensors on the treadmill impractical.

For nearly 30 years, heart-rate monitors have been used in fitness training. The main function of the monitor is to provide you with a pulse rate during exercise, indicating what percentage of your maximum target heart rate you have achieved. The information is useful in establishing a safe and effective exercise regimen while tracking improvement in your fitness level. Today, most treadmills include a built-in monitor as a convenient way to estimate your pulse rate. However, there are various factors that will affect the accuracy of the reading.

Types of Treadmill Monitors

The type of heart rate monitor on the treadmill can affect the accuracy of its reading. Of the two types, you will most commonly see metal sensors on the handles in front of you. To obtain your heart rate, you are required to grip steadily around the sensors while you exercise. Holding onto handles while jogging or running can be difficult, resulting in an inaccurate pulse reading and increasing your risk for injury. So, it is not recommended for use during more rigorous exercise. The second kind of monitor, known as a telemetry strap, transmits a signal to treadmill from a strap that is placed around your chest. Although this monitor may provide a more accurate measure of heart rate, it may be uncomfortable or restrictive during exercise.

Perspiration and Debris

A small amount of perspiration on your hands or chest may actually yield a more accurate heart-rate reading, as the salt in sweat helps to conduct a signal from your body to the monitor. However, too much sweat may cause your hands to slide or the strap to shift on your chest, making a false reading more likely. Any residue left on the handles or strap from prior use can also make the heart rate reading vary.

Movement

Perhaps the most obvious factor that can affect the accuracy of the monitor is your pace and movements on the treadmill. Walking at a smooth, steady pace will be most conducive to an accurate heart-rate reading. If you choose to hold the hand sensors while jogging or running, the shaking of the treadmill can cause interference and provide an imprecise reading. While wearing the chest strap, vigorous running or arm movement can negatively affect the monitor's accuracy.

Considerations

The "British Journal of Sports Medicine" found that various types of commercial heart-rate monitors could have errors from 20 to 50 beats per minute when a person is walking or jogging on a treadmill. Proper placement and use of the heart-rate monitor will better your chances of obtaining an accurate pulse measurement. To test the monitor's accuracy, you can take your own pulse by placing your index and middle finger on your inner wrist and counting the number of beats you feel per minute. Then, compare it to the reading on the treadmill.

 

About the Author

In 2009, Lauren Liberati began her career in freelance writing. She is a regular contributor to the Philadelphia Sports Blog, Crossing Broad and various other websites. Liberati is a Registered Nurse in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Her specialties include cardiology, healthy heart initiatives, heart disease prevention and cardiac diagnostic testing. She also takes a special interest in new medical research.

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