Heart Rate Monitors – Part 2


So you’ve invested in a heart rate monitor, great, but how can you use it to achieve your fitness or weight related goals?


Your heart rate monitor consists of two main components, the chest strap or sender unit and the wrist unit (watch) or receiver.


Set up your heart rate monitor.

First, out of the box you need to enter your personal details such as your age, weight, sex and level of activity into the wrist unit. Check the user manual for instructions on how to enter your personal data. From these details, mathematical routines built into the memory of the unit, will calculate levels of fitness, calorie consumption and other fitness related data.

Different monitors have different levels of formatted data. Generally, the more expensive your monitor the greater the detail you will be given.

Moisten and secure the strap around the chest and connect (if necessary) the sender to the chest strap. Press the start button on the wrist unit and wait for a heart rate reading to be displayed. If no reading is given try reapplying the strap with a little more moisture.

You now have your heart rate monitor operational and ready to use.

Starting to use..

The reading your watch is giving you now is the number of times your heart is beating over one minute. The average heart rate at rest is around 70 – 90 beats per minute. Do not be concerned if your heart rate is outside this area, heart rates between individuals can differ depending on a number of factors such as age, sex, levels of fitness.

You now need to run through your basic workout and let the monitor record the heart rate throughout. You may need to press the start button once more at the start of your workout to commence recording.

Other than checking the unit is working, try not to visually engage with the monitor at this point. Concentrate on completing a good sample workout for the monitor to record.

Take the watch back to your computer and upload the data from your workout.


Although you can read your training data straight from the wrist unit, uploading and displaying the data on a computer will give you a much clearer view of your recordings.

Making sense of the data.

Although the monitor software will store the details, it will help you understand if you:

Start to take some notes:

What was your HR at rest?
After 60 seconds of activity?
After five minutes of activity?
During the start and throughout activity at a greater intensity?
After a short period of less intense activity?
During a period of maximum intensity?
After a short rest period?
The time taken for your HR to return to within 10-15 beats of normal resting rate?
Calorie consumption?
Total activity time?

You will need a minimum of two weeks of these data recordings to gain an average for your workout sessions. We all have ‘bad days’ and ‘good days’, these variations need to be averaged to give an overall picture of your sessions.

Your readings will give you a baseline from which all further workouts will be assessed

Now it is time to start making use of your recorded data and implementing that data into your workouts.

Then and now – in this order

What was your HR at rest?
As you get fitter and stronger you will find this reading will drop slightly. Your workouts will be making your heart a stronger and more efficient pump, able to do the same amount of work with less force and fewer beats, hence the lower BPM at rest.

After 60 seconds of activity
Similar to the resting HR, the performance of your heart will increase and the conditioned muscles able to use the blood pumped by the heart, more efficiently leading to a lower heart rate per amount of work.

After five minutes of activity
Again, at a similar activity level, your HR will be lower due to increased heart and skeletal muscle performance.

During the start and throughout activity at a greater intensity?
You will find your BPM rise steadily, but in a more controlled manner as compared to your starting comparison heart rate.

After a short period of less intense activity?
This is a real indicator of your heart and active muscle groups improving in performance. Your heart rate will return to normal much quicker than your starting comparison readings due to faster, more efficient blood flow from the heart to muscles and the movement of exercise by-products away from the working muscle.

During a period of maximum intensity?
You will be able sustain a previous maximum activity level for longer and with a lower heart rate. This will lead to your being able to push forward to new maximum heart rate, greater performance and shorter recovery time.

After a short rest period?
Again, the ultimate test for improved fitness. Your heart rate should drop to normal activity heart rate levels much quicker than initial comparison levels – Leading to a much-reduced time for your heart rate to fully return to within 10-15 beats of normal, resting, rate.

Calorie consumption?
The number of calories burned over a given time will reduce. As you get fitter and stronger, your body will work at more efficient, less calorie consuming, rates.

Using this data, and in addition to the data provided by each further workout you will be able to track and if necessary, change, your workout performance goals.

These are the positive signs to look for when reading the data given by your heart rate monitor.

In the next installment I will discuss the readings you will expect to see if you are over-training, under-training, you have an illness or even just bored! I will also cover some frequently asked questions regarding exercising using a heart rate monitor and include some actual figures as examples.


© Paul Graham