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The front page of today’s San Francisco Chronicle denounces the use of heart rate monitors in an article that makes no commitment for anything.  I don’t understand why someone would bother to write an article with a commanding headline and not commit to anything.

“One thing most people can safely ignore – and probably should, at least at first – are those heart rate monitors on the cardio machines”.

I can safely ignore the whole gym too.

I think heart rate monitors are great things to have on the exercise machines at the gym.  I love heart rate monitors so I can see my level of effort.  For novices, the machines use your age and weight for an estimated heart rate zone.  The machine tells you when you are going too fast or too slow.  The best thing about the heart rate monitors on exercise machines is they give you an estimate of how many calories are burned during the work out.  When you are new to exercising, it is nice to know how hard it is to burn the 140 calories consumed in one soda.  On the other hand, when you have been exercising for years, heart rate monitors help you to know how many calories you need to consume to replace what you burned.

There are some generalizations (the main complaint seems that it is not an exact science) with figuring out your maximum heart rate that the author has issues with.  The general rule of thumb for max heart rate is 220 minus age.  That would give me a max heart rate of 170.  I went to the track, did a 2 mile warm up followed by a ¼ mile sprint and found my max heart to be 167.  I did a really hilly half marathon and found my max heart rate to be 174.  Does it matter if my max heart rate is 167 or 174?  Not to me… and it is my heart so I have the final say in the matter.

I do a lot of pacing for other people on long runs.  After a while, I can judge their effort level from my heart rate.  For long endurance events, it is nice to have an estimated heart rate plan to stick with.  It is easy to go out too fast and suffer at the end.

While running, it is nice to wear a heart rate monitor for the long, slow runs.  It is surprising easy to let your heart rate ease up without noticing the exertion level changing until you run out of gas or get injured.  The long, slow runs really burn the fat.  My rule of thumb is, you are burning fat after 90 minutes of jogging or bike riding.

Heart rate monitors are a matter of personal preference.  I love mine and wear it for every run and most bike rides.  I have never had my heart rate monitor mislead me.  It tells me a number.  What I do with that number is up to me.

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