You can always measure your heart rate the old fashioned way by putting a finger to your wrist or neck (count for 10 seconds and multiply by 6 for beats per minute), but you usually have to stop your activity to take your pulse.
Another option is using a heart rate monitor which consists of two parts: the monitor strap that's worn around the chest (some sports bras hold a monitor in the bottom across the front) and a heart-rate signal that looks like a digital wristwatch. This wrist signal device displays your heart rate at the moment in beats per minute, along with additional information you might need.
Heart rate monitors can offer a variety of functions, but not all might be necessary for you. And considering that the cost of monitors can start at $75, you'll want only the functions you need.
Here is a prioritized list of heart rate monitor features, but keep in mind that Mark Fenton feels only the first two are essential:
- Stopwatch feature. It's convenient to be able to glance at both your heart rate and your exercise time on one device.
- Set a target rate, with alarm. This allows you to enter the upper and lower limits for your target heart rate (see below). On some models, you can set both a visual signal (light) and an audible one (beep) when you go out of range.
- Accumulated time in and out of range. If you want to know exactly how much time you spent in target range, you'll need this feature.
- Memory. Some monitors just recall your workout time and how much time you spent in target range. Others can play back your minute-by-minute measurements, so that you can see, for example, how your heart rate climbed during each speedy interval and dropped as you eased up to recover.
- Download to a computer. Some manufacturers offer interface cables and software so you can download a detailed playback of your workout on your computer and enter it into your digital training log.