Polar Heart Rate Monitor Tutorial

I get tons of questions and emails about my Polar Heart Rate Monitor. Here is a quick guide to everything HRM. Hopefully I can address all the questions and mystery about them.

Lynne asked: “I’ve recently been thinking about getting one, and read up on them a little online. It said that you need to use a chest strap? How does that work? Does it go over your chest or just below? I weigh about 220-I’m worried if it will even fit me? is it uncomfortable to wear?”

Bethany said: “OK, I need a heart rate monitor! I leave the gym having no idea how many calories I’ve burned… at all. I don’t even really pay attention to the treadmill/elliptical because I’ve heard they are bad estimators.”

Hanna asked:  “I wanted to buy biggest loser body bug however it was like above $200. Now I saw this watch that a lot cheaper than body bug. Are these accurate to burn your calorie?”

Answer: Using a HRM is a very accurate way to calculate the calories burned–IF you enter the information in accurately. I entered my Sex, Age, Weight and it calculates the number based on that in combination with my heart rate. Read more…

How It Works

This information is based on the one I use–which is the Polar Heart Rate Monitor (ModelF6). It comes with a wrist watch and a chest strap.

The most accurate heart rate monitors use a chest strap. It fits snugly around my chest just below the breasts. My sports bra (with a thick under-wire) goes on over it and there is no discomfort in wearing the strap. In fact I usually don’t know it’s there.

The transmitter in the strap detects the electrical activity of my heart just like an ECG does. It relays the information to the wristwatch. In the photo below you can see the chest strap. It can be adjusted according to size. Mine is a Medium and it’s adjustable. Michael has one and it’s a Men’s Large, so the strap is much bigger.

I turned the HRM on and it immediately checks to see what my heart rate is. Before doing any activity, my heart rate was at 72:

Once you turn on the HRM, the first 5 minutes of it is sort of a “warm-up.” It’s analyzing your heart rate to establish what your range will be. You can also manually set it to stay within a certain range.

There are small UP and DOWN arrows near the heart rate that will notify you if you are pushing it too hard, or not enough. You can turn the sound on and off as well. For example: when your heart rate spikes over your Max Number, it will beep incessantly until you slow down. I turned that off because it was super annoying. Now I just glance down at my watch periodically to see what my number is and adjust my speed accordingly.

I wear my HRM for every activity: biking, hiking, running, swimming. It’s worked well for all of them! I also use it to accurately calculate what I’m burning when I lift weights. That really opened my eyes because I was under the impression that lifting weights didn’t burn many calories. I was wrong!

If I can’t remember what my range was supposed to be within, I can click a button and it gives me this image:

My range is 142-158. If I want to check and see how many calories I am burning mid-workout, I click another button and it tells me:

Once I’m done working out, I hit the “Stop” button and it tells me the following information:

Total Time (below it was 1 hour)

Total Calories Burned (below: 437 calories)

My Maximum Heart Rate

My Average Heart Rate (below you can see the average was 129)

It also keeps a log in the watch of my total calories burned. See the little envelope in the upper right corner? That’s my diary for the week.

At the end of the week, it gives me a total for the entire week:

Last week my total was 2059 (minus one swim and a 5 days of walks–so add about 1,000 calories to that). I burned 3,000 or so last week. It resets each week.

I love using my HRM. It gives me the accurate information I need to make healthier choices. Before I had one I went off whatever the machine at the gym told me (never correct) or I didn’t do activities outside of the machines because I wanted a number! That’s no way to live. Now I do fun things like hiking and snowshoeing.

It was a gift for my birthday a few years ago (from Michael) and I’ve never been happier with it!

QUESTION: Do you have a heart rate monitor? Which one? How do you like it?

Author: Lisa Eirene

About Lisa Eirene Lisa lost 110 pounds through calorie counting and exercise. She swims, bikes, runs, hikes and is enjoying life in Portland, Oregon. Her weight loss story has been featured in First Magazine, Yahoo Health, Woman's Day and Glamour.com.

11 thoughts on “Polar Heart Rate Monitor Tutorial”

  1. I have a heart rate monitor but I have not found a place that is radio-free and wireless internet-free, with a clock nearby to do the set up portion.
    Do you have any problems with other wireless devices interfering with your HRM?

    1. No, I’ve never had that issue. But sometimes if Michael and I are both using our HRM and we’re standing too close to each other they will act wonky. Either he’ll pick up my heart rate, or it will combine our heart rates!

  2. I have the same HRM and like it. When the battery is getting low or if I don’t have the chest strap tight enough, it has a hard time picking up my heart rate.

    Be wary -> the calories it calculates for strength training aren’t as accurate as they are for cardio. Depending on what you are doing, your heart rate will change but due to blood pressure differences and not cardiac exertion. For example, you lift weights (or even just your arms, no weights) over your head, your heart rate will spike but that doesn’t translate to an increased burn but the HRM reads it as that. I think that the HRM is the best estimate we can get but still not necessarily super accurate.

    1. That’s interesting! Where did you hear that information? I’m happy to see calories burned during weight training because in the past I always disregarded weight lifting because it wasn’t cardio and I couldn’t “track” it. But in reality even if the HRM over-calculates when I lift weights I’m burning more fat by lifting so I am a-okay with that.

      My battery is low and I’ve been reluctant to change it because I read it won’t be waterproof anymore (and I wear it swimming).

  3. For Lynne who was worried if the HRM would fit her, I bought one on Amazon about a month ago, also a Polar. It was a women’s model and came with a large strap. I weigh 267 and had no problem with the strap fitting at all. It is completely comfortable. You will forget you are ever wearing it. I completely agree with Lisa about how great an HRM is to have. It really helps you to push yourself if you’re not in your range and slow down if you’re going too hard. I also love seeing how many calories I burn doing everyday things like washing dishes or doing yardwork. You will be surprised!

  4. I have a polar FT7. I haven’t messed around with all the cool little features though. I guess I am going to have to do that! However, I do love what I use of it now.

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