Just two classes into my tenure at the UVM Fitness Center, there've already been tons of questions about how/where to go about buying cheap Heart Rate Monitors (HRMs) to maximize the benefits of your training. LOVE it.
For those of you new to "Spintastic," new to Spinning, new to exercise, new to the concept of HR monitors, as a brief overview: HRMs consist of a transmitter (usually worn as a super-lightweight chest strap) and a watch that reads your heart rate while you train. Why do we care?
1) At certain specific HR ranges, we use different sources of fuel (i.e., stored fat vs. stored sugar... and when we run out of stored sugar, we start breaking down muscle; we do NOT burn fat unless we train at specific fat-burning heart rates).
2) We can tailor our training schedules for sufficient variety to help us accomplish our fitness goal - preventing undertraining (working at too low intensities) or overtraining (working at too high intensities), according to those fitness goals.
3) We can actually measure improvements in our fitness -- improved recovery rates, decreased resting HR, increased lactate threshold (the point at which we stop burning fat and switch over to sugar-burning)
4) Perceived exertion can be totally flawed! Sometimes we think we're working very hard, and we're actually not. Sometimes we think we're not working hard at all, yet our HR is through the roof -- and we get tired too quickly to sustain our effort and maximize our training.
In summary: Our heart is our most important muscle, and a HRM is the only way we get to see it! We can't flex it in the mirror like a tricep or a deltoid... HRMs are all we've got.
To catch you up on everything I've written over the past year on how HRMs work, why you should love them, and how they will change your life, click here!
Once you've decided to upgrade your life, here's what I recommend that you do:
Go to amazon.com and search for "polar heart rate monitor." Polar is the brand I recommend, since 95% of cardio machines ANYWHERE are Polar-compatible. You know when you see the hand grips that allegedly read your heart rate? They're inaccurate (it measures your pulse in your hand - which differs from sweat and how tightly you are gripping) - but if you wear your HR monitor, the machines will read from that and be accurate.
On Amazon, they have two main kinds of models: 1) chest strap transmitters + watches; 2) watch-only models. You should absolutely go for #1. Most models of the second type force you to hold your wrist to your chest while working out - it's absurd. The chest strap is totally light-weight and no big deal... and it works. I actually once accidentally wore it to a bar after a Spinning class I taught... it's so lightweight that I forgot I had it on!
You should get any model in your price range. I have the Polar F6, which is kinda fancy ($109-ish) and potentially overkill for your first monitor. The cheapest model they have will be fine, and will probably cost around $50 or $60. If you can afford it, look for a model with the OwnZone feature (which means that it doesn't cross signals with other people's monitors). It's not necessary, but I personally really like that feature. When I ride next to someone who is wearing a HRM, I get furious when I can't receive my own feedback (when my monitor reads the other person's transmitter). My current model has OwnZone - but there are cheaper ones that also have it.
If you find a model that you like within your price range and you want me to check it out before you buy it, feel free to email me a link to it at firstname.lastname@example.org. Always happy to help!
Questions/comments, just say the word.
*UPDATE* Psychological Effects of Heart Rate Monitor Use Study
12/21/2010: Preliminary results were reported at Indoor Cycle Instructor in October 2010. Manuscript in preparation. Once published, results will be made available on this site and at ICI.