Thursday, March 16, 2006

My New Polar S625x Heart Rate Monitor

My heart rate monitor arrived last week and I have been playing with it all week, to the detriment of my blog. It has quite a steep learning curve, because it has so many features and is not very user friendly. Part of the problem is that all of the devices many features are controlled with only five buttons, so it becomes vital to learn the proper sequence and levels of various options.

All of the "S Series" Polar monitors have the option to work with PC software that can track your exercise settings. In some monitors the software is sold separately, but it is included in the S625x. In fact the monitor really includes everything you need in the box. This monitor is currently the top of the line monitor for runners, but it is exactly the same monitor as the S725x. The S725x is marketed to Cyclists and comes with a speed sensor for your bike, while the S625x comes with a "foot pod" that measures speed and distance while you run. Both sensors will work for either model. The clincher for me was that the foot pod is over a hundred dollars if purchased separately, while the bike speed sensor is only forty dollars. So I went with the running model and can get the bike sensors later.

The S625x has so many features that it is hard to know where to start. The monitor can measure your heart rate of course, but can also measure altitude (actually atmospheric pressure), temperature, running speed, calories, bike speed, bike petal cadence and even petal power (the last three require optional cycling sensors). Probably the most important feature is the ability to set target zones for your heart rate. Once these zones are set the monitor will beep at you if you go over or under these targets. Then later when you look at how you did on your PC, it will tell you the amount of time you were in the zone. I love zone training and now I can do it outside! There is also a useful interval feature that provides cycling target zones just like on the treadmill at the gym. I tried out the target zone feature today in a run around my neighborhood, and it worked pretty well, but it takes too much time to set up the zones before heading out for a run. It is kind of annoying to be fiddling with you wrist watch when you just want to get up and go! There are exercise sets that you can pre-program. Then you just select which program you want and off you go. But I still haven't figured how to program all the zones yet. I need more study time with the manual.

Probably the coolest thing about the S625x is the foot pod. It attaches to the laces of your shoe, is very light and can measure the distance and speed of your stride. This information is then transmitted to the monitor, giving you real time speed and pace information. When you are use to running on a treadmill like me, this is very important. It also means that I can keep track of my progress from session to session by comparing my heart rate changes at different speeds over time. Polar's competitors, Garmin and Timex, have similar systems that use GPS to measure speed, but actually Polar's setup is much better for me. Since I still run on the treadmill sometimes I can still use the Polar foot pod, whereas the GPS units wouldn't measure any speed since I'm not really moving. I also think that the Polar unit is more accurate. Properly calibrated it is 99% accurate. GPS units are around 95% accurate. This is because if the GPS unit is even a foot off in location this could mean a significant error in speed measurement, particularly around corners or bends.

Now I'm working on what heart rate targets I want to set up. I purchased a book called Heart Rate Training for the Compleat Idiot on Amazon. There is a lot of information on the net, but much of it is contradictory, so I figured I'd get a book, especially one that seems so highly recommended. Soon I'll have some pretty charts to post. Stay tuned.

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