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Do Heart Rate Monitors on Treadmills and Ellipticals Really Work?

We have found that heart rate monitors aren’t perfect on most fitness equipment, but that does not mean that users should not use them! Heart Rate Monitors are tools to help users get a sample or running average of their heart rate. There are several heart rate tools that can be found on most pieces of equipment or within a fitness store. The most commonly used monitors are those that clip to your ear or finger, grip/touch heart rate monitors, and the EKG/polar heart monitors with chest straps are worn on the chest area. The key to heart rate monitors and their accuracy is to select one based on your location and comfort.

Chest Heart Rate Monitor with EKG Signal

Many avid treadmill and road runners swear that the chest monitors are the most accurate due to the location of use. The chest heart rate monitor is a flexible, comfortable strap that is worn on the chest just below the bust line. The strap has built in electrodes and a transmitter that transmits to the monitor unit.

There are numerous advantages to the chest heart rate chest strap including a more reliable reading, very comfortable to wear, and many treadmills come with the technology to read the output and adjust speeds, incline and target heart rate within the console. In addition, the chest straps tend to have a more accurate reading for the same user on different machines.

The downside to chest EKG chest straps are the ability to be affected by TV’s, computers, electronic dog collars or anything that has an electric broadcast. If users get to close, the interference of electromagnetic radiation from motorized equipment will muck up all readings. Many health clubs choose to turn the chest monitor receivers off due to interference. We have found that if there are several people at a gym wearing the chest monitors you will need to keep your distance of about 2 ½ to 3 feet so that the monitors are not affected.

Electrical Detection of Heart Rate EKG Signal in Hand Area

Most all of us have used the heart rate monitors that collect signals through the hand area. The hand area is obviously much smaller than that of the chest area, but heart rate can be sensed in the palm and fingertips. Generally these monitors are found on the handle bars or grips of the machine and are usually metal.

The fantastic thing about this type of heart monitor is that it is self contained and can be used by anyone without training. Another benefit to the touch heart rate monitors is the ability to use target heart rate programs that the machine will control and maintain a max speed of your choice and a target heart rate of your choice.

The downside is that you must stop moving your hands so that you may get a proper reading. You also do not have a continuous reading of your heart rate, only a reading when placing your hands on the monitors. In addition to the inability to move naturally, there is a short delay in readout.

Besides the issues mentioned above, users also need to be aware that lotions, rings cold hands and the size of the grips all affect the readouts.

Many times users will find that the heart rate monitor is not reading when they are in a public facility. Gyms have a difficult time maintaining the pulse grips due to the issue of sweat corroding the electrodes.

Ear Lobe or Finger EKG Monitors

Ear lobe and finger monitors can come in many styles like a hand held unit or wrist watch style. The other monitor styles are included directly onto the exercise equipment. These monitors have small infrared sensors under a window on the surface of the monitor. The users place a thumb or finger tip onto the window and the sensors detect changes due to the pulsing of the blood in the capillaries.

The Earlobe monitor works in the same way, only with an ear clip. This type of monitor is great for the ease of use and mobility. The other great aspect is that many people can use these in a gym setting. The downfall is that head movement or major movement can interfere with the proper readouts. Some also feel that the small wire is a bother while working out. The finger and ear lobe monitors also can vary due to a person’s circulation and age; therefore the accuracy is less than other methods.

The Verdict

Most people would agree that heart rate monitors give users a good idea of your heart rate. Please remember, all heart rate monitors are not foolproof for accuracy. The heart rate monitors listed in the link have been tested and found to be as accurate as medically possible by myself and colleagues. The monitors listed can all be purchased independently or many times will be included within fitness equipment.

If you are ever missing the monitor that came with your equipment, or need to repair an existing heart rate monitor, Treadmill offers many of the components to fix most all makes and models.