May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Review, July 1997

Taking Your Training Closer to Heart
By John Lehrer
Freestyle Circuit 5, Polar Electro Protrainer NV, Precise Acumen 330
Contrary to popular belief, buying a heart-rate monitor wristwatch isn't quite as complicated as settling on a laptop, and it won't become obsolete in 18 months. Still, there's no need to pay for a gadget that merely takes your pulse — you can do that yourself for free.

Look for a model that accounts for your time spent within a predetermined heart-rate training zone, invaluable for any sort of regimented program. You might also weigh options like backlighting, zone alarms, and countdown timers — all features now available for $150 and up. Herewith, three worthy midlevel HRMs.

The stylish Freestyle Circuit 5 (top; $150; 800-776-6449) by Sports Instruments delivers a cache of premium features for a bargain: total time; time in, above, and below your zone; and average heart rate for the session. Like all three watches featured here, it boasts a backlight, a calendar, and a zone alarm to nudge you when you're loafing or warn you when you're pushing too hard.

Big display numbers and prominent buttons make the Precise Acumen 330 (bottom; $159; 800-431-2996) the essence of user-friendly. One press of the start/stop button activates the HRM, and if it happens to be between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., the backlight turns on automatically. And good news for treadmill fans: The Acumen is the rare watch that doesn't blank out near electronic gym equipment.

From the Microsoft of HRM makers comes Polar Electro's Protrainer NV (middle; $229; 800-227-1314), a unit for those whose regimens require slightly more sophistication. Besides its basic functions, the Protrainer NV logs up to 44 split times, tracking your heart rate at the end of each interval. Of course, learning to use all the features requires homework, but the instructions are perfectly clear.

Photograph by Clay Ellis

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