Ah, the good olds day: all you needed to exercise was your bear skin toga and a spear to throw at the wooly mammoth! Things have changed a lot since our cave-living days, and one of the biggest differences is the wide range of tools, gadgets, and toys that you can buy to assist your fitness training and lose weight. But this begs the question: do you need a heart rate monitor to train better? Will a you train harder or more intensely with a training tool? Will a pedometer help me lose weight? Are GPS watches very accurate or at all useful?! These questions and more are answered below!
A pedometer is a simple electronic device that keeps a count of the number of steps you make each day. Pedometers are small in size, inexpensive to buy, and if you aim for the recommended 10,000 steps a day they can help you note how active you really are. Studies show people are more active when they monitor their daily activity levels (mainly incidental exercise) with a pedometer, so see our article on Pedometers Make You Move!
Extras: as far as extra features go on a pedometer it doesnt get much more exciting than an FM radio and calorie or distance estimation functions!
Price: you can expect to pay anywhere from $20 for a basic model, up to $50 for a pedometer with a radio, calories counter, and other features.
The verdict: pedometers are inexpensive and useful, so well worth buying if you are aiming to increase your general activity levels!
Heart rate monitors are electronic devices that usually take the form of a watch with or without a chest strap. The main idea with these is that your heart rate gives you the best information about how hard or intense your training session is and with the right monitoring you can train in the correct zone for maximum results in fitness and weight loss.
Extras: heart rate monitors range in features from a simple display of your current heart rate to recorded data on highs/lows/average which can be downloaded to your computer and graphed. The Polar series of watches has a bewildering array of extra features that we dont have time for here, such as calorie expenditure, BMI, fitness tests, altitude and more!
Brands: For our money you can't go past Polar heart rate monitors. They are a very reputable international brand, have been on the market for years, and are able to repair your watch right here in Australia with minimum fuss. They have a huge range of heart rate watches from simple to elaborately sophisticated, and they all work extremely well. Check out their very cool website here: Polar website.
You will see they have quite a range of heart rate monitors.... which can be rather overwhelming! Which watch you choose wcomes down to what you intend to do with it, but in general we have found the A3 and the A5 models to be very good. They both give your heart rate, training timeon a stop watch, calories (on the A5 only), and record 1 data file with your average heart rate. This sort of watch with the essential data will be pefect for general fitness training and those aiming to lose weight. Retail price is around $160 for the A3 and $210 for the A5.
Price: there is a big range in price for heart rate monitors. You will need to spend at least $150 to get a reasonable heart rate watch which can give an average reading of each session and store a data file, but can go as high as $700+!
The verdict: you should get a heart rate watch or monitor if you are aiming to increase your fitness or lose weight because you need to know how hard you are working at each session!
The next step up from a heart rate watch or monitor is getting a GPS watch that uses satellites to accurately track your exact position over a training session. These watches are very clever and use the GPS (global positioning system) satelillite system to give you exact your position anywhere in the world! Neat huh?
The great thing about this technology is that you know exactly how many kilometers you've walked or run on a training session to within the meter. No more driving back over your course to see whether you broke your 5km PB, the watch tells you. Are they accurate? You bet! The best brands will only be 1-2m out over a 1000m distance so it's pretty much spot on.
Brands: the best brands in my mind are Garmin and Timex. Garmin has recently released the Forerunner 301, which not only does all the distance, times, and elevation, but now includes a heart rate strap and monitor. The 301 records heaps of data and you can take lap times, splits, and even use the software (PC only) provided to download, graph, and create sophisticated workouts.
Timex has a range called Ironman and they are a good watch from a reputable company. They come with a GPS watch but no heart rate strap (as yet) so you'll need to wear a separate heart rate monitor to keep track of this data on your training runs. Until Timex come up with a GPS watch that has all the features of the Garmin 301 I believe you're better off with the 301!
Price: these kind of watches retail for around $600+ in Australia, so I recommend buying from overseas where you can get something like the Garmin 301 for around A$350 delivered from the US.
The verdict: if you are after more than just a heart rate and get a kick out of tracking exactly your distance on each walk/run then these watches are fantastic. I think it ultimately comes down to what sort of person you are: if you like numbers and need more information from your sessions then a GPS watch will add another dimension to your training program. However, if you arent "into numbers" and merely need to keep track of your heart rate then a GPS watch is a big (and expensive) overkill!
To find out more about training gadgets, heart rate monitors, GPS watches, pedometers, or aerobic training to lose weight please contact us!