Heart rate monitors aren’t just for serious athletes and gym junkies -- they are also useful for casual exercisers, weight-loss participants and even people recovering from injury. The various models all let you monitor your heart rate in real time. Exercising in the right target zone, which is a percentage of your maximum heart rate, allows you to optimize your performance for endurance, aerobic or other types of conditioning. Most heart rate monitors consist of a chest strap, or special sports bra, and a wristwatch display.
Determine which type of heart rate monitor is best for you. Serious exercisers should opt for chest strap models that provide continuous information without having to stop to measure or view your heart rate. Those using a heart rate monitor while recovering from injury or with casual athletics might find the less-expensive finger sensor models adequate; these simply consist of a wristwatch-style monitor. Determine which advanced features you would like -- options including tracking your recovery rate after exercising, calorie-counting and speed and distance monitors.
Prepare the chest strap for use, if that's the model you chose, smearing electrolyte gel on the back or wiping with a damp cloth. This allows it to get a good connection with the skin for a good heart rate reading.
Place the chest strap against the skin in the middle of your chest so that it goes snugly under your breasts and bra. If you have a sports bra with built-in heart rate monitor, make sure the fabric with sensors rests firmly against you. Wrap the back of the strap tightly around you and secure it so that it will remain in place during exercise. Swing your arms and jump up and down to test that it is secure.
Place the watch display on your wrist. Turn your monitor on -- some are started by a button while others are activated simply by waving it in front of the chest transmitter. Check in your instruction manual if you have problems. Note the reading; if it appears erratic, readjust the chest strap to get better contact.
Set up the advanced controls that your monitor might have -- some will let you set your target heart rate and alert you with sound if you are above or below that number. Start your exercise and use your monitor to assess your progress and exertion, attempting to stay within the optimal heart rate target zone. For endurance, this will be 60 to 70 percent of maximum heart rate, while 70 to 80 percent is best for cardiovascular fitness, according to REI.com. If using a finger sensor model, press your finger to the monitor whenever you wish to check your heart rate.
- Do your research before choosing a monitor. Certain advanced features can bump up the price of the device, so decide what you need before buying. It may be worth the extra money for a sports bra model.
- Care for the transmitter component by cleaning it with warm soapy water and a soft towel after each use. Store both components in a dry place.
- Some monitors can pick up other people's transmitters, so space yourself when exercising with others also using heart rate monitors.