Know Your Beat

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, April 2000 Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7

Know Your Beat

Clay Ellis

For many athletes, an electronic device that monitors the vagaries of one's heartbeat may seem like a frivolous addition to the gizmo shelf of the gear closet. When you're dealing with live ammo, however, every last one of those beats per minute can be critical. "For the shooting, you have to come in at the same heart rate each time," explains Jay Hakkinen, the United States's top-ranked biathlete. During competition, Hakkinen, 22, must cross-country ski at a breakneck aerobic pace, pause, recover just enough to take steady aim, and then nail a target with a .22-caliber rifle. "There's an optimal rhythm and balance that goes with a certain heart rate," he says, "and you don't know when you've hit it without a monitor."

Hitting—and staying within—one's target training zone (typically 60 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate) is essential for any serious athlete. By nudging you to slow down when you're going too fast and urging you to speed up when you're going too slow, an HRM enables you to build speed, strength, and endurance far more efficiently than the unexamined athlete. Quite simply, there's no fooling yourself about the quality of your workout. Each of the five monitors below comes with an .adjustable chest-belt transmitter that wirelessly beams data to a display on your wrist. —SARAH FRIEDMAN

Sensor Dynamics Gemini The Frank Stella model—no bells, no whistles, no nothing aside from your beats per minute strapped on by a Swatch-inspired, see-through wristband. Idiotproof: All you have to do is read the number; not a single button to push. Robust, easy-to-read digits beneath a throbbing heart reminiscent of a Popeye-inflamed Olive Oyl. Zen minimalists and technophobes. $49
CardioSport Autozone Uses your age to set five different target zones for easy days and hard days within a range of activities (from anaerobic sprints to long, steady aerobic runs); beeps when you exit the current zone. A cinch. Setting the target zones is simply a matter of entering your age. Your heart rate is displayed both in beats per minute and as a percentage of your aerobic max, so there's no need to do any math. Ecumenical athletes who are prone to swapping one sport for the next. $89
Acumen Basix Plus ES Built-in watch and stopwatch. Includes fitness index that automatically sets your target zone based on your age, counts the calories you've burned, and rates your post-workout recovery on a scale from one to 99 (the higher the number, the fitter you are). Logical and intuitive. Barely need to use the manual. The brightest of the bunch, thanks to a neon-blue light that practically illuminates the road ahead. General fitness buffs who don't need a nuanced breakdown of their athletic performance. $149
Sports Instruments ECG 5 More than a stopwatch, the ECG 5 records time and average heart rate for each lap and provides a post-workout review of the minutes spent at, below, and above target heart rate. After a long, hard session with the handbook, you may—or may not—emerge as the master of this sophisticated machine. Clear, uncluttered, and encased in stylish black-and-silver shell. The reverse backlight stays illuminated as long as you're fussing with buttons. The serious athlete teetering on the verge of compulsive gear idolatry. $150
Polar XTrainer Plus Keeps track of the time, average heart rate, and recovery time of multiple laps. It can record up to 67 hours of training information—including mileage and speed—all of which downloads to your PC for hours of post-training analysis. Given the eye-glazing number of functions, the big red "back to home" button is a much-needed beacon. Easy-to-read symbols help make sense of a data-crowded screen. Performance obsessed, computer savvy hardware freaks. $280

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