The Heart Rate Monitor: History & More
The heart rate monitor was in the realm of sci-fi not so very long ago. Researchers started checking heart rates around 1912, using water buckets as counterweights in the first laboratory model. The first electronic heart-monitoring tool, the electrocardiograph, was originally the size of a room, and even today you would certainly not want to carry one around (even if you could afford one).
Thankfully, today we have the personal heart rate monitor. It may not do everything the electrocardiograph in your doctor’s office does, but it does very nicely fill the needs for anyone who wants to accurately measure their heart rate. Today’s heart rate monitors are the size of a wrist watch at the price of a pair of top athletic shoes. Our favorite one is comfortable and colorful, the Blink 3.0.
The names “heart rate monitor” and “heart rate watch” are synonymous. Most, but not all, monitors are watches. The monitor receives and collects the data transmitted from a chest strap or arm band and processes it through a computer chip to calculate a heart rate number. This number is updated every 3-5 seconds (or in real time with some monitors). The first few numbers that appear on your watch should be tossed out, because the software inside the computer needs enough sample heart rates to accurately calculate a value. Likewise, if you quickly accelerate or decelerate, your heart rate values will always be lagging behind your real heart rate number.
Attached to the elastic chest strap or arm band is the transmitter unit. The transmitter receives (okay, that’s a little odd, but hang with us here) the data from our heart through its electrodes, processes it, then transmits it to the monitor.
When I ran the Houston Marathon, my plan was to hold my heart rate at 162 bpm (beats per minute). Proving that Murphy’s Law dares to operate even in Texas, my transmitter died at mile ten. Luckily, it wasn’t one of those long, slow, agonizing deaths – it just dropped dead at the 10 mile marker. At first I was devastated, running without my coach and without constant information. Then I passed through denial and depression, until the monitor miraculously came back to life.
I was joyous, but worried – the monitor now read 182. Then it struck me – the fickle thing was picking up signals transmitted by the chest belt on the runner next to me! Boy, was he in trouble, but I needed that data to qualify for the Olympic marathon trials. So I did the only logical thing – I asked if he would let me run with his transmitter – loan it to me. He did. I set a PR and we became friends.
Strange readings are not the monitor’s fault every time. What happened to my friend Heidi is a classic example. She called long distance recently in a stew. She perceived she was running at the same effort as always, but her heart rate was ten beats higher than usual. She thought the monitor had gone coo-coo and wanted me to tell her how to fix the watch.
On my end, I was happy with the news, because that told me that her Heart Zones Training program was working. “Congratulations,” I replied. “The readings might mean you’re getting in shape, but let’s do a test to be sure.” I asked her to go run that favorite course of hers at that new heart rate and time herself. She phoned me back – this time thrilled. She ran her course five minutes faster, ten beats higher, but it didn’t feel any more difficult. She was getting fitter. Her heart rate watch was her coach, and it helped her achieve her individual goal – getting faster.
More to come ..
Keep your eyes peeled as we continue to release excerpts throughout upcoming weeks. If you want to read the entire book, make sure to swing by our online store and grab a copy: The Heart Rate Monitor Guidebook.