Polar

Garmin VivoFit Heart Rate Monitor Review

For Mother’s Day Logan (Michael 😉 ) got me a new heart rate monitor as a gift. I’ve been talking about getting a Garmin for a few years now.

I’ve been a faithful Polar HR monitor wearer for years but I feel like the Polar watch has gone downhill the last few years. I’ve had nothing but problems with them. The battery life is not great and even replacing the batteries when it dies, I was having issues with the watch just not working anymore. The price point for the Polar is “cheap” enough that whenever the battery replacement crapped out on me, I could just buy a new watch. But that was a pain and felt like a waste of money. It also irked me that I was basically having to buy a new heart rate monitor every year. I don’t know why the battery replacements wouldn’t work (at least 50% of the time). It was very frustrating.

So I started to look into some of the entry-level Garmin watches and I got really overwhelmed with reading reviews and trying to figure out which one would be best for me that I gave up.

I was really excited when Michael got this watch for me because he’s in IT and a tech guy and he reads ALL the reviews about this kind of stuff and is very knowledgeable about what is good, what is crappy, what features to look for, etc.

What I need in a watch or app is pretty basic. I want:

  • Calories burned
  • Heart rate
  • Miles ran/biked

That’s pretty much all I’m looking for. But this watch has so much more! It has dozens of activities to choose from. You can personalize it a bit, too. It also tracks steps and sleep.

I use the Garmin Connect App on my iPhone. I synced it with the watch and a few times a day it syncs automatically with the app and updates everything. ALSO, a cool feature, you can connect it to your MyFitnessPal app and it will record your steps/calories/activities in the app for your day. I like that feature. One less place I have to LOG everything! It just does it for me.

If you want to read a step by step instruction of the watch, with photos, check out this link. It was very helpful for me when I was first learning my watch. My review today is more about the functionality of it.

I didn’t think the sleep tracking would be all that interesting to me, but after using it for a few weeks I actually kind of liked that feature. It was interesting to see how well  I slept — it tracks light sleep, deep sleep, and when you are awake. It’s funny seeing the graph for the nights I get up with Logan!

It also tracks steps, which is interesting to see how active I am but I don’t really track the steps in any other way so I rarely look at that info. I will say that at work I have a standing desk and I walk around a lot to the printer, mail room, around the office, etc, so I move a lot during the day. The only time I really sit at work is in meetings!

Fitness

I’ve used the Garmin watch for a few different activities now. Hiking, walking, running, cardio in the gym and strength training.

When I used it hiking in Bend, I feel like the calorie count was WAY off. But I didn’t wear my Polar heart rate monitor to compare (I had planned on using both for the first few weeks to compare the stats and see how accurate the Garmin is).

I’ve worn it going for walks–long and short–and I also feel like the calorie burn is a little on the high side. Again, I need to wear my Polar on my next walk to compare the calories and see. Maybe I’m wrong.

Running — It’s accurate and it works great! I’ve worn it running outside three times now and I compared it to my Polar heart rate monitor and the Cyclemeter iPhone app for mileage and it’s accurate in the mileage and it’s accurate in the calories burned within about 10 calories.

I’ve worn it running on the treadmill once and the mileage was NOT accurate. It was off by about half a mile. Which is no big deal to me because I have the mileage on the treadmill I can look at. I am more concerned about it being accurate when I run outside.

Running on the treadmill gave me a fairly accurate calorie burn, when I compare it to the Polar HRM. It was about 20 calories more than the Polar. Not a big deal. Anything more than that and I’d be concerned, but 10-20 calories isn’t a huge deal to me.

The above photos were from my treadmill run. I started the Garmin 1 minute late and stopped it 1 minute earlier than the Polar, but despite that, the calories were pretty close. This particular run was 3 miles on the treadmill but the Garmin thought I did 3.58.

I like the screens that show heart rate and distance. It’s easy to scroll through and see quickly while you are doing the activity.

Swimming – I wore it in the pool to check it out. The first big issue I have with it? It doesn’t track heart rate while swimming. I found that odd and I’m not sure why it doesn’t do that. It gave me a calorie count at the end of my swim session but I doubt it’s reliability because it didn’t link in my heart rate. At this point in my life, swimming is very very easy and I’m very efficient when I swim–meaning, I don’t burn the same amount of calories in a session as I used to.

I highly doubt I burned 440 calories swimming. I wear my Polar HRM once or twice a year in the pool just to check in and see where I am at calorie-wise and it rarely changes–one session according to Polar is between 300-350 calories burned. So that is a little disappointing.

I do like that it gave me the break down of the strokes, etc. It also synced to the app and gave me info:

I kind of love the charts and break down of pace and when I rested and stroke info. One other glitch? When I tried to swim some laps with the paddle board, it stopped counting my yards. I guess it’s calculating everything by arm movement. That was kind of frustrating.

So in that particular session I did 2000 yards, even though it didn’t quite calculate it correctly.

PROS

  • No chest strap!!! It’s just the watch
  • Long battery life in between charging
  • It finds GPS quickly and doesn’t seem to lose the GPS signal
  • Accurate mileage and calorie burn
  • Easy to use
  • Syncs with Garmin Connect app for full data
  • Touch Screen on watch
  • LOTS of features
  • The watch is light and fairly comfortable
  • It notifies you to move if you’ve been inactive for too long

CONS

  • A lot of features that I’m not sure how to use yet, if you’re not really “techy” it can feel overwhelming
  • Sometimes it takes too much time to scroll through all the screens on the touch screen watch
  • It doesn’t show your calories being burned DURING the activity, only once you are done
  • Exercise limitations–You can add more activities to personalize it but it would be nice to have other options instead of just “other”
  • The limitations in the pool are a big con for me

I haven’t had a chance yet to test it out biking. I’m hoping to bike to work sometime in the next few weeks and write a review on it then.

QUESTION: What kind of heart rate monitor/activity tracker to you use? Thoughts?

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?