Heart Rate MonitorIn my opinion, the heart rate monitor may perhaps be the most under-utilized training tool in all of MMA training. The heart rate monitor can provide extremely valuable information and feedback about your training, as well as your level of conditioning. I have yet to see anyone use one where I train, and there are “experts” there! However, kudos must be given to Rich Franklin, who in the July 2010 issue of Fighters Only, is shown wearing his heart rate monitor while he trains. I was very impressed. There’s a fighter who clearly has great coaches and trainers. I suspect that most guys are a little unsure as to how or why to use one. Hopefully, this article will help explain some of that and motivate you to get one and use it!

Why get one?

As a fighter you are constantly working to improve strength, conditioning, recovery, and performance. The only way you can evaluate your progress is to measure what you do. For example, you know if you are improving strength by keeping track of how much weight you lift. You know if your performance is better by your actions and results in the cage. How are you able to evaluate progress of conditioning and recovery? What is it that you are measuring? If you are simply evaluating based on how you “feel” during or after a workout, that is NOT good enough. You need real data that shows exactly how well (or not well) you are doing. Using heart rate monitors during training can help do the following:

1. Improve aerobic conditioning and aerobic threshold
2. Simulate intensity levels that are more reflective of an actual fight
3. Identify any unsafe stress response to a given exercise or activity
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Let’s go through each of these briefly, to give you a better understanding of how these can be accomplished.

Improving aerobic conditioning and threshold

When you are able to measure your heart rate, you are able to identify how long it takes you to reach your target heart rate, as well as how long it takes you to return to your resting heart rate. This is also known as recovery. The less time it takes for your heart rate to return to a normal rate(or near normal rate) is a measure of how conditioned you are. Heart rate feedback also allows you to measure how long it takes you to reach your maximum heart rate. As you are more conditioned, it should take you longer to get there. You can also adjust the intensity of your workout to keep you in a desired heart rate zone. Suppose you are 28 years old and you want to work out at a low intensity so that you are staying in your fat burning zone. You know that your desired heart rate for this is 115. (220 – Your Age) x 60% The heart rate monitor allows you to track whether or not you are exercising appropriately. You can increase or decrease your intensity accordingly. This is how you make a workout work FOR you.

Reproducing the Fight

You have to be able to simulate the same level of intensity in your training that you will experience in your fight. Knowing your heart rate during 5 minute, all out sparring sessions is critical. You also need to know how well you recover in those 30 second rest periods. If your recovery is poor (heart rate is not back to normal, or near normal levels, at start of next round) then you have identified an area you need to work on. You have seen fighters who seem to have trouble recovering between rounds. It doesn’t have to be that way. Proper training can correct it.

Identifying unsafe responses to exercise

This is perhaps the most important use of the heart rate monitor. If you already know your max heart rate, your recovery rate and your aerobic threshold, then you are much better able to determine if an exercise has pushed you to an unsafe limit or triggered an irregular response. For example, if it is 110 degrees outside and you are pushing tractor tires for the first time ever, your heart rate is going to spike. It is important to monitor how high it goes and how quickly it is able to recover. Going too high or taking too long can be dangerous. You need to know your body, and your coach needs to know it, too.

How do I know which monitor to buy?

There are literally hundreds of monitors out there. Choosing one can be as complicated or as simple as you care to make it. I am all about what works. I have listed some criteria that I think are “top 5” when considering a monitor, but there are lots of other things to consider. These are in no particular order.

Cost Duh! Of course this is a consideration. Do you want to spend $50 or $500? The complexity of the monitor will drive the price. A basic monitor that will calculate average overall HR (heart rate), highest and lowest HR, total calories spent, and have a pause function is a pretty good one. This should cost $100 or less. If you want to track your diet intake and customize 12 different workouts you are going to spend a lot more.
Strap or no strap? The monitors that have chest straps are going to be more accurate and probably a little less expensive. What is nice about the ones that have a strap is your coach or trainer can actually wear the “watch” while you wear the strap. They can keep track of all of the data while you just focus on exercising.
Face Size The size of the face should not be overlooked. You want it big enough to be able to see it, but not so big that it is heavy and in the way. Women especially may want to consider a man’s version as the women’s versions can sometimes be too small to read easily.
Button Size A lot of you guys have large hands and fingers, which can make it difficult to manipulate the buttons. Choose wisely here!
Battery Replacement This may be the MOST important one! I did not even know to consider this when I purchased mine years ago. Apparently, some of the monitors require you to ship your monitor back to the manufacturer to replace the dead battery. Mine sure does. It is still sitting in my gym bag, dead. A major pain in the butt. Others have batteries you can replace yourself. It will say on the package somewhere, so be sure to
know what you are getting.

After doing a little research, the following monitors have repeatedly shown up as being highly recommended and user friendly. On a personal note, I own a lower end model made by Polar and I loved it, until the battery died.

Polar FS1
Simple, and easy to use. Recommended for those not needing all the bells and whistles.
Easily and accurately measures your heart rate to help you get to just the right intensity or your exertion level. This basic HRM features added exercise timer and time-of-day watch features, extra-large digits for easy readability, and one-button functionality. It provides a visual and audible alarm when you reach your target heart rate zone. It provides information on total exercise time and average heart rate during total exercise time.

Omron HR 100C
The Omron is another basic heart rate monitor that is inexpensive, easy to use and doesn’t require hours of time spent reading a manual to figure it out. You get a continuous reading of your heart rate, an alarm that tells you when you’re in your heart rate zone, time of day display and a daily reminder alarm. At around $30-$50, this is a great price for what you get and users will be pleased with how easy this is to use.

Timex T5G941
The Timex T5G941 is another basic model that’s easy to use, offers basic heart rate and workout information and is a favorite among exercisers. The display is large, so you can easily see the numbers and it includes an activity timer to rack exercise time as well as information about minimum, average and maximum heart rate for each workout. Most exercisers like the fact that you can change the battery yourself (something you can’t do with all HRMs) and that you can figure out how to set it up without spending hours reading the manual. At around $30-$60, this HRM is perfect for people who want the basics for a great price.

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