Paired with a transmitter, cardio straps — also known as chest straps — allow you to monitor your heart rate. These heart rate monitors often come with a wristwatch to display your heart rate. Using the proper heart rate monitor chest strap position gives you the maximum benefit from this device.
Preparing the Transmitter
As Harvard Health Publishing points out, tracking your heart rate offers an easy, worry-free way of monitoring your workout intensity. Although the principles are generally the same among all brands and models of heart rate monitors, consult your model's instructions for information specific to your particular device. Most transmitters have electrodes on one side. Wet these electrodes with a saline solution or saliva. This will ensure that your device reads your heart rate accurately.
You may encounter a few styles of heart rate monitor that are simply worn on the wrist, no chest strap required. However, exercise physiologist Len Kravitz, PhD, from the University of New Mexico, points out that a particular brand of chest strap heart rate monitor (Polar) is the most accurate and desirable.
Placing the Transmitter and Strap
Slip the cardio strap around your waist and fasten it. Adjust the strap until it fits snugly around your waist. Then, pull the strap up so that the transmitter lies in the center of your chest just below the level of your breasts.
The strap should run evenly around your ribs just below your breasts. Your cardio strap needs to fit tightly enough so that it won't move around while you exercise. It should not, however, be so tight that it interferes with your breathing.
Cardio Straps and Sports Bras
If you wear a sports bra during your workouts, the strap should be placed underneath your bra so that the transmitter remains in contact with your skin. This placement can cause discomfort and skin irritation. Some initial discomfort is to be expected while you get used to wearing the heart rate monitor.
If your skin continues to become irritated by the strap, you might consider investing in a specially designed sports bra that has a lower band to accommodate the cardio strap. With these bras, you thread the strap through the designated holes in the bra and use the heart rate monitor normally.
Target Heart Rate
To use your cardio strap effectively, you need to determine your target heart rate for your workout. Target heart rates vary according to numerous factors, including age, fitness level and training goals. Many formulas for figuring your right heart rate zone for your goals exist.
One way to estimate your cardio work zone is presented by Dr. Philip Maffetone, who conducted research focusing on heart rates of high-level athletes and amateurs. Based on his research, he developed a formula for optimum aerobic training that takes into account an individual's age and current fitness level. To estimate your target aerobic heart rate using his formula, subtract your age from 180. If you exercise regularly and are in good health, this number is a good target heart rate.
If you've never exercised seriously or have recently been seriously ill, subtract 10 from this number. If you are an inconsistent exerciser or if you have recently suffered from a minor illness or injury, subtract 5 from this number. If you're a competitive athlete, add 5 to this number. After these computations, you arrive at your target heart rate for aerobic training. Before beginning an aerobic training program, consult your health care provider.
For a more simple estimate, use a method recommended by the Mayo Clinic. First, subtract your age from 220 to find your maximum heart rate. For example, if you are 40 years old then your maximum heart rate is 220 - 40 = 180.
Next, multiply that maximum heart rate by .6 to find the lower limit of your target heart rate range, and by .85 to find the upper limit. To conclude the example, that gives you 180 × .6 = 108 bpm as a lower limit, and 180 × .85 = 153 bpm. So your target heart rate range is between 108 and 153 bpm.
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- Harvard Health Publishing: "Rating Heart Monitors"
- University of New Mexico: "Wearable Heart Rate Trackers: Which Works Best?"
- Mayo Clinic: "How to Measure Exercise Intensity"