Review: Polar FT40 Heart Rate Monitor

So, dear readers, I have to apologize to you.  I signed on to blog for Cute Geek about 2 weeks before starting a new job. A job that involves an hour commute each way.  In addition, I've been trying to log more hours/miles in spin class/on my road cycle.  So combine being out of the house for 13 hours a day and the dreary weather here in PA and I havent had much mental capacity for anything but dinner & mindless tv. My apologies. Today I bring you a few things. First of which is a review of Polar's FT40 heart rate monitor.

I wanted to shed a few of those winter pounds I tacked on and train SMARTER for cycle season, so I searched around for a heart rate monitor that tracked HR, calories burned, retained workouts for later review, and had women's specific models.  Polar has a fantastic reputation for HR monitors, because all that they make are HR/fitness monitors!  The FT40 is their mid-range Fitness & Cross-training watch, but they have options that are optimized for fitness, running, cycling, weight loss, multisport and weight training.

I chose the FT40 because it's geared for "active exercisers who want clear guidance and to monitor their fitness level." It has a men's and women's version, tracks everything I wanted it to and...to me the coolest part...can be hooked up to the computer and uploaded to www.polarpersonaltrainer.com to develop training plans, track progress and really educate yourself about your fitness. DSCN0943

I received my FT40 two days ago and set it up today in preparation for spin class. It's a dark candy apple green watch (actually a much more pleasant color than in the picture above) accompanied with a chest strap and transmitter. Before first use, you have to set up your personal info - DOB, weight, height, gender, fitness level, max heart rate (if known) and VO2max (if known).  Many reviews said it was difficult to setup, but by following the directions it was not a problem at all - took me maybe 5-7 minutes.

Before strapping on the chest strap, you have to wet the electrodes on the inside with COLD water. This is what conducts the electrical current from your body to the transmitter.  I can imagine that on a cold day or when the gym is, inevitably, over air conditioned, this could be rather uncomfortable, but on an unseasonable 90-degree day like today, this was a welcome comfort.  The transmitter then snaps on to the strap and the strap is wrapped around your chest - just below the pec muscles.  For me, it sat underneath the band of my sports bra.  I thought that this would irritate me, but once I got moving I completely forgot it was there! Moving it down below the band actually caused more discomfort than having the band on top. The watch face itself, even in the women's version, is a little big for my teeny tiny wrists (Seriously, most bracelets dangle down over my palm), but is comfortable enough.  The polyurethane band is a little uncomfortable on dry skin, but wasnt an issue once I was glistening (That's right. I dont sweat. I glisten.)

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A feature I didnt test out (b/c I was running late for spin) is the Fitness test.  On a day where you are not stressed or distracted and have not engaged in vigorous exercise, you run the fitness test - lay down for 3-5 minutes and relax. Your resting HR is measured and this is used to obtain your VO2max (which can be saved to your personal info, since most people dont know this #). Over time, this should help you actually visualize how your workouts are improving your fitness.  I'm going to try it tomorrow.

Once in class, you tap a single button twice to "start" your workout.  From then on, your HR, calories burned and the duration of exercise is recorded.  You can toggle between 3 different views: effect, HR and calories burned.  The HR view can be set up to be BPM or %of max (I chose BPM) and is really easy to see while you're moving. The calories burned is also cool (620 in 52 minutes on an "off" day!) but my favorite view is the "effect".

This is where the $179.95 watch really morphs into a nifty little computer.  The monitor has what's called an EnergyPointer calculation. It defines the limit between low intensity (Fat burning zone) and higher intensity (Fitness zone) and will display which zone you are in based on your heart rate (today my EnergyPointer was 133, but at an average HR of 168 I was in the Fitness zone for 50 of 52 minutes).  To calculate this EnergyPointer the FT40 (and many other Polar models) uses your HR and HR variability, together with the previously entered personal info & fitness level.  The average EnergyPointer value supposedly corresponds to 69% of max HR (if you dont know it, the monitor will adjust after you've worked out some. I didnt know mine, but today it was 189, so that will be used for my next workout). I'm not sure how, but the EnergyPointer value apparently "varies as your daily physical and mental condition varies from day to day. Your training computer can detect your body's daily state from your heart rate and heart rate variability and, if necessary, adjust the EnergyPointer accordingly."  More detail at the Polar website.

So as I was spinning today, I kept checking my watch and toggling the views, but leaving it mainly on the "Effect" screen. This'll probably prove dangerous if I'm on a cycle on the open road, but for now it works.  It was really invigorating to see how hard I was working. Next time I'm going to try setting limits so that it alerts me if I go outside of a range of heart rate (working too hard or too easy).  I also want to buy the Polar FlowLink to upload my workouts to www.polarpersonaltrainer.com.  I'll post an update when that time comes.

Overall? I love this thing! It actually gives my workout MEANING.  I cant wait to really start tracking my progress (the watch itself holds 50 training sessions and 50 fitness tests, and shows weekly progress summaries).  I spend a fortune for my gym membership, this was well worth the investments to make my gym membership actually WORTH it!

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I highly recommend this HR monitor if you are looking to start effectively working out.  Let me know if you have any questions or any experience with any other Polar products. daron@cutegeek.com :)
More to come this weekend!