Old favorites

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving holiday. Today I’m taking the day off from blogging to clean up at home after a great week with family here. So if you’re looking for a blog to read today, try some of my old favorites. 

Feeling like you need to work off some of the Thanksgiving calories? Check out my series on how to exercise at home. (Category: exercise and fitness)

Wondering if you ate too much of the wrong foods? Check out my blogs on America’s love affair with food.(Category: Health and Wellness)

Wishing you hadn’t overindulged? Maybe you need Fencester.  (Category: Satire Friday – Invisible Fence)

Of just feeling like you need a good laugh? Check out the Satire Friday category.

Christmas shopping? How about a heart rate monitor? (Category: HuffyHow – How to buy a heart rate monitor)

Spent too much time in the kitchen? Try Kitchen nirvana (Category: Satire Friday)

Happy reading and look for  new posts this coming week. 

© The author and Huffygirl’s Blog, 2010 to 3010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author and Huffygirl’s Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Target Heart Rate Wrap-up

We’ve learned how to calculate target heart rate (THR), why it’s important to pay attention to it for fitness, and how to monitor it. So now what?

Use one of the formulas given earlier to calculate your THR. Better yet, calculate it more than one way, and see which range gives you the workout you need. Then try it out – you may need to make some adjustments for yourself, if the range seems too easy or too hard, or just tires you out. Tailor your heart rate to your exercise goals, whether it’s improved fitness, weight loss, or maintaining your current state. Think about using interval training (more on this later) to avoid workout boredom and overtraining.

Figure out what works best for you for monitoring your heart rate – whether you count it yourself, or use a monitor. Keep a log, at least at first, of your workout and the heart rate levels you achieve, to help you see if you’re reaching your goals.

If you do different types of workouts, you will probably see that your heart rate varies depending on your activity. For instance you’ll achieve different levels of intensity from walking, jogging, biking and swimming. Further, walking on a treadmill or biking on a stationary bike/trainer may turn out to be less intense for you than running or biking outside, where there are more variables, and less boredom. If you’re running or biking with a group or in a competition, you’ll likely see further variation in your intensity. You’ll probably need to adjust your THR goals to meet these variations.

Good luck with your workout and post your comments on what is working for you. Remember, turns out THR IS important!

Target Heart Rate Diaries: Part 3

My THR challenge has begun.  It’s  still winter, so I have my bike set up on the trainer in the basement. It’s much harder to get a good work out indoors on the trainer vis-a-vis out there on  the road. Unlike being on the road, you’re already home, so you don’t have to bike hard to get there. There’s no hills, no speed or mile goals to meet. You have to just do it. I’m trying to bike between 30-60 minutes and keep my heart rate between 130-146 for most of that time. At first it’s hard. I discover that I have to work much harder than what I have been doing. I thought I was getting a good work out before, but compared to what I’m doing now, that was nothing. After a few tries, I manage to get my heart rate in the zone for most of the workout. It’s hard to keep it there. This is serious business. When I’m done I’m very sweaty and feel like I’ve had a very hard work-out. This feels much harder than the 70-80% that it’s supposed to be.

Fast-forward three weeks. I’ve been working out in my THR zone 4-6 days per week. I’ve been having hard-working, heart-pumping work outs, harder than I’ve ever done before. I’ve even lost a couple of pounds, something that had been eluding me for months. And I’m exhilarated? Rejuvenated? Revitalized? No, I’m exhausted. By the fourth week, I can’t do it any more. I can  no longer maintain my heart rate in the zone. My weight loss sizzled, no further improvement. What happened? This is supposed to me making me more fit.

I decide to dial down the work out. I drop down to an easier pace, keeping my heart rate in the 50-60% zone. But this is no good – it’s not much better than what I was doing before: I’m not getting more fit, not losing weight, and not making progress. Apparently this THR stuff requires some knowledge and expertise that I lack, and have not been able to find despite reading extensively on the subject. Everything I’ve found gives the same guidelines for training in the THR zone. I need to find some answers.

Target Heart Rate Diaries:Part 1

I’ve been a moderate exerciser for years. At least I think I’m a moderate exerciser. I don’t really know because I never check my heart rate when exercising. I thought that was for fanatics, people training for elite events like marathons, and men. Probably because the only people I knew who monitored their heart rate were at least two out of three of the above. At first I was a walker – I’d walk anywhere from 30-60 minutes, three to four days a week, on a treadmill, at a fairly slow pace of an 18-20 minute mile. I’d vary the workout with some incline on the treadmill to try to get more exercise. This was pretty easy exercise for me. I could carry on a conversation and had no trouble keeping this pace for an hour or more. Trouble was, this exercise was maintaining my current level of unfitness and weight, but not improving anything. I thought I was pretty fit from all that walking, until I switched to biking. At first I used a stationary bike at my gym. It had a program that randomly varied the intensity of the workout. I was amazed at how hard this exercise was for me – I could barely keep up on the simplest program and had to stop and rest frequently. Then I started biking outside on my Huffy. I struggled to keep my speed at 10 mph, which for average bikers, is pretty slow. If I biked a moderate hill, I had to stop at the top and recover. How could I be so unfit after all that walking I had done for years? I blamed my bike which was heavy, had wide tires not meant for speed, and was not quite the right fit for me.

I kept plugging away at my biking and began to improve. By the end of the first summer, I had improved my speed, and could take moderate hills without stopping to rest, but was still a pretty slow biker. The following spring I got a new bike that was a better fit, had thin road tires, and was 15 pounds lighter than the Huffy. That helped, but still not the answer. By the end of that summer, after biking 1,100 miles, I had improved a little in speed and endurance but was still not where I ought to be. I was still pretty slow and could not keep up with average bikers. When I rode with friends they would graciously slow to my pace, but I was working hard and they were hardly working. Why was I still fairly unfit after all that riding?

So one day this past winter I was talking to my very fit husband about why I wasn’t getting more fit, and he casually mentioned “…and of course you’re checking your heart rate…” Wait – what? I never check my heart rate. He should know that – we bike together all the time. When we get ready to bike I’m always waiting for him while he’s putting on his heart rate monitor. I’m checking my email, checking my messages, checking everything except my heart rate. Why should I do that – that’s for, well, you know.

Well, my irrational and sexist thinking regarding heart rate finally came back to bite me. That same week two others (one of them a woman) made unsolicited comments to me about “…of course you’re checking your heart rate..” so I decided it was a sign. Time to start caring about my target heart rate and see if it really could be the answer to my lack of exercise progress.


HuffyHow: How to Choose a Heart Rate Monitor

I recently purchased a heart rate monitor (HRM), so I now consider myself a self-proclaimed expert on choosing one. I’ll share what I learned to help those who might be thinking about getting a monitor for themselves.

Disclaimer: I have no association with any companies that make or sell heart rate monitors, and receive no incentives of any kind for recommending a particular monitor or vendor.

There are many manufacturers of heart rate monitors, including Polar, Timex, Omron, Garmin, Reebok and Bowflex. After asking what other people use, and seeing what was available locally, the two brands that interested me were Polar and Timex so I’ll concentrate on those. Readers can explore the many other brands available online.

Polar has been in the HRM business since 1977 and seems to have a good track record. Polar has a vast array of monitors that start from the basics – pure heart rate, to ones that tell you the temperature on the moon (not really, but you get the point). I’ll concentrate on the basic models that will suit most “average” people. Those of you who insist on knowing the temperature on the moon, barometric pressure and missile launch codes while training (you know who you are) can explore those HRMs on your own.

Polar divides their line of monitors into three categories: get active; improve fitness; and maximize performance. The “get active” line features a variety of monitors that have similar features. The F6 and 7 include stylish color choices and bands, and just look pretty. The RS line is basic black and all business; the CS line is similar to RS but includes a bicycle computer. All include some variation of the basics: they allow you to set a target heart rate zone, either by an age calculation or by personal settings; they provide a signal if the user is above or below the target zone; they record the data from your workout such as average heart rate and time in zone, estimate calories and fat burned, and so on. They also include basic watch features such as time and date, and a chest strap with wireless transmitter to get the heart rate data from your body to the watch. Prices range from $69.95 for the most stripped down model, to $119.95 at the highest end. There are minor variations in the features, battery life, and weight. This is the line I’d recommend for the beginner to average user who wants basic feedback during and after each workout session.

The “improve fitness” line and “maximize performance” lines includes the basics as above, plus extra features that emphasis training and progress, may monitor your speed and distance, and include computer software that allows you to store and analyze training data. Some include GPS functions that allow you to map and print out your training route. Prices range from to $169.95 to $709.95.

Timex has been the leader in wristwatches since 1950, when the adopted the slogan “takes a licking and keeps on ticking” along with a campaign of people doing all sorts of crazy things to their watches and showing that they still worked. In the 1980’s Timex joined the digital watch revolution and created the Ironman line of watches and Ironman heart rate monitors.

The basic Timex monitors have the same features as the basic Polar and pricing is similar with the most basic monitor at around $70. Timex also carries monitors for advanced training similar to Polar as well, that run into the $200 and up range.

I found it more difficult to review the Timex monitors because the web site showed them all grouped together without prices. They had a great comparison tool on the site, but in order to use it you kind of had to know which monitors you were interested in. Once you picked several monitors to compare, it gave you a comparison chart, but still did not show the price, other than “under $100, $100-$130, and over $100. In order to find the price of a particular monitor,  you must click “buy now” and then a box pops up showing the price. Because this was so time-consuming, I’ve opted to not describe the individual models here. Nothing personal against Timex – just too much data to compare. However, when I looked at the monitors in person, I found them easier to compare because there were only a few models offered, and pricing is quite similar to Polar for monitors with the same features.

So, Polar or Timex – how do you decide? I found the Polar monitors a little more sleek and business-like, more about function than form. The web site is easy to use if you want to compare models online. Prices are clearly displayed so you needn’t bother examining the details of a monitor that you can’t afford. Selection is more limited and there are fewer models specifically for women. Aesthetically the watch portion screams “heart rate monitor” and most folks would probably not wear it as an everyday watch (although you can) unless you want everyone to know how into fitness you are.

Timex has a huge selection, prices are more reasonable, but unless you know what you’re looking for, can spend a long time clicking through their web site to see if the monitor you like is in your price range. Timex also offers more choices in women’s only models. Overall the watch portion looks more “watch like” and would be more practical to wear as an everyday watch. With the Timex on your arm everyday you can give the impression that you have a really cool job that requires a high-tech watch – Navy seal maybe? But be careful if you shop on their web site – the site is for all Timex watches, not just heart rate monitors and you can really get bogged down in slogging through the choices.

While web sites are great for comparing features and getting an idea on prices, when you’re ready to buy, I recommend shopping in person at your local fitness store. First, it helps your local business stay in business, so you’ll know they’ll still be there when you need shoes, clothes and other fitness gear. Next, there’s nothing like seeing the monitors in person, trying them on and pushing all the buttons. This is a great way to compare the other features besides the monitor functions. Can you read the display? I opted for the men’s version of my monitor because I wanted the biggest numbers I could get. The women’s version was cuter, but if I can’t see it, what’s the point. Does the watch stay on your wrist without sliding around? Check to see if you able to get the band tight enough, especially if you’re a woman buying the man’s version. The monitor won’t do you any good if it’s spinning around your wrist because the band is too loose. Are the buttons easy to find and use? Polar has a big red start and stop button on the lower face of the watch, which doubles as a lap counter. You don’t want to be fumbling around to find the start button, especially in bad weather when you might be wearing gloves or long sleeves. (I was hoping that the big red button would also flash a red light when you were out of your THR zone, but alas, sometimes a button is just a button.) Are the features easy enough to find and use? If you can’t remember how to get to the features without consulting the manual, chances are you won’t use them. I have to give a shout out to Rob at my local fitness store, Gazelle Sports. He opened up all the boxes, let me try on each monitor over and over, showed me how to use all the monitor functions and spent at least an hour with me overall. That brings me to the third point about shopping locally – chances are the folks working in your fitness store are using the same monitors themselves. They know how they work, they know what monitors other customers like, and don’t bother to stock the models that are less useful.

In the end I chose the Polar RS 100 model for about $120.00. The display is easy to read, the buttons are easy to find and use. The monitor beeps when you’re out of your THR zone. The heart rate number also flashes, which I found helpful, as I can’t hear the beeps when I’m biking outside. It has a hands-free function that shows your THR zone if you hold the watch near the chest strap. I chose the mens’s version because I wanted a big display, but it pretty much takes up my entire wrist, so it’s unlikely that I’d wear it as an everyday watch. That said, on a man it would look fine. I liked the chest strap which is a soft fabric, and so far have not had any trouble keeping it in place. (Women can buy a special sports bra to hold the strap if you prefer. I’d recommend trying it without first.)

Whew! This turned out to be longer than I intended, but hopefully gives readers a good starting point for choosing a heart rate monitor.




Target Heart Rate Part III: How to Monitor

Once you’ve decided to care about your target heart rate (THR) while exercising, the next step is to decide how to monitor it. There are two ways – low-tech (count your heart rate yourself), or high-tech (use a heart rate monitor.) We’ll take a look at the pros and cons of both methods.

Low-tech: The easiest way to count your pulse during exercise is either on the neck (carotid) or the inside of the wrist. To find your carotid pulse, gently place two-three fingers (don’t use your thumb) on the windpipe (trachea) at the center of your neck. Slide your fingers over either way until you find a depressed ridge – this is where the carotid artery lies. You should be able to feel the pulse fairly easily, without putting a lot of pressure on the artery. To find your pulse on your wrist, place two-three fingers on the inside of your wrist on the same side as your thumb – just above the bend in the wrist. Either spot will work, but most folks seem to find the carotid artery easier to use during exercise.

Pulse is measured in beats per minute (bpm). You can count your pulse for six seconds and multiply by ten, or 15 seconds and multiply by four, or 30 seconds and multiply by two. The idea is to get the most accurate count possible with the least interruption to your exercise. If you take a group exercise class where the leader stops the class for participants to check their heart rate, typically they will count for 10 seconds. Personally I feel that a 30 second count gives the most accurate result, but may be difficult to do for that long, especially if you’re running, swimming or biking.

To monitor your THR during exercise, you can count it one-four times or more during your exercise session. For example, if you’re running for 60 minutes, check your heart rate after you’ve warmed up and been exercising for 10-20 minutes, again when you’ve reached the mid-point of your exercise, again about 10 minutes from the end of your exercise time, and again after you’ve cooled down. Many people abbreviate this to once near the end of the session and at cool down. How frequently you check your heart rate during exercise will depend on how serious you are about staying in your THR zone. If you want to exercise vigorously enough to stay in the zone for the majority of your exercise, waiting to check it until you’re almost done makes this a moot point. Knowing how frequently to check your heart rate is definitely a process of trial and error.

The pros of self-monitoring? It’s fairly easy to do. Cost is minimal – you need a watch or clock with a second hand, and the ability to do basic math. The cons? Some find it inconvenient to stop or slow their exercise to monitor heart rate. Frequent monitoring causes more interruption to exercise; infrequent monitoring may give an inaccurate picture of how hard you’re working. If you’re working too hard, or not hard enough during exercise, this may be missed if you’re only checking heart rate once during exercise.

Who should opt for self-monitoring? It’s great if you’re completely happy with your weight and fitness level and don’t plan to change or improve anything. If you’re very comfortable with gauging your exercise intensity by how you feel combined with intermittent pulse checks, then self-monitoring may work great for you. 

High tech: There’s a wide variety of heart rate monitors available. Most consist of a strap that goes around the chest under your clothing, and a watch. You can spend anywhere from $60 to $300ish, depending on how many features you want in addition to heart rate monitoring. For basic exercise, most people don’t need a lot of extra features – you want to choose a monitor that gives you a continuous measure of your heart rate, allows you to set upper and lower limits for heart rate (your THR zone) and gives you feedback during exercise if you’re above or below you’re zone. To get a basic monitor with these features, expect to pay between $100-$150. Most people will get at least 10 years of use with a good monitor and basic intermittent service, which makes the investment worth it. I’ll talk more about choosing a heart rate monitor in the future, but for those who can’t wait, there’s plenty of information available online.

Who should opt for high-tech monitoring? Those who fall into any of the following categories may want to consider investing in a monitor:

-If you’ve been exercising a while without getting the results you want, either in overall fitness or endurance

-If you’re trying to lose weight and are not making progress

-If you’re in training for a particular goal above your current level of fitness, such as a marathon or triathlon

-If you want to track tangible results of improvement in your fitness over time

-If you need feedback during exercise to help you maintain your intensity

-If you enjoy gadgets and don’t mind spending a few minutes before and after exercise to care for your monitor (minimal)

-If you find it too cumbersome to count your heart rate during exercise

-If you’re unable to tell on your own if you’re exercising too hard or not hard enough, or if you have any physical conditions that make it dangerous for you too exercise too hard

-If you can afford the initial cost, plus occasional periodic maintenance costs

-If you are committed enough to use the monitor and not let it sit in the drawer

Next: how to choose a heart rate monitor.