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The Effectiveness Commercial Heart Rate Monitors

By Ngui Zee Yu (BMCC 201511)

With the rise in popularity of commercial heart rate monitors used in sports, many people spend hundreds of ringgit without realizing the types available on the market and which is most suited to their needs. First and foremost, in the book Physical Activity Assessments for Health-related Research (Janz, 2002, p.145), most heart rate monitors use electrocardiogram (ECG) to detect the electrical activity of the heart to calculate the user’s beat-to-beat heart rate. The electrical activity mentioned, refers to electrical biosignals found in muscles which causes them to

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contract. In today’s market, there are only two types of heart rate monitors available for the everyday sportsmen and both are in the form of a sport watch.

According to the book Physical Activity Assessments for Health-related Research (Janz, 2002, p.145), the first design requires a chest strap which has a small transmitter attached to it. The strap itself is a strip of skin electrodes which must constantly keep in contact with the user’s skin. A microprocessor receiver designed to resemble a wristwatch then receives wireless signals from the transmitter. In layman’s term, the user’s heart rate is detected by the skin electrodes and it is broadcasted by the transmitter to the microprocessor. The microprocessor then interprets the data to be read by the user on the wristwatch. A popular

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brand that uses this feature would be the Polar sport watches. Up to date, the chest strap is best at detecting a user’s heart rate as the strap produces high quality electrocardiographic signals from the skin electrodes embedded in it. Although it is reliable, Vidrine, Kisslinger and Brown (2000) states some users have found the chest strap to be psychologically invasive of their personal space. Aside from that, Taus (1981) says some users with sensitive skin have mentioned that the chest strap causes them severe skin irritations too. Maintenance of the chest strap proves to be an issue too as it needs to be replaced after some time due to wear and tear.

According to Ka and Wong (1999), the second kind of heart rate monitor found on the market is the pulse meter. The Fitbit, Nike+, Jawbone and Garmin Vivosmart are examples of pulse meters. The pulse meter does not require the user to wear a chest strap as it calculates the user’s heartbeat by sensing the blood flow through the user’s veins. Pulse meters use an infrared light sensor which is clasped against the user’s wrist, fingertip or ear. The infrared light is used to sense how fast the blood of the user is pumping. Although it does not require a chest strap, Ka and Wong (1999) states, the pulse meter has its’ downsides too. The sensor cannot be pressed too tightly against the user’s skin as it may limit blood flow and this can cause the reading of the user’s heart rate to be inconsistent. If the sensor is pressed too lightly against the user’s skin, then the slightest movement will give the user erratic readings.

In conclusion, based on the facts above, both designs have their pros and cons but heart rate monitor users should opt for the one which requires the chest strap if an accurate heart rate reading is required. Between the first and second design, the one with the chest strap has heart rate readings which are best compared to medical grade ones. Medical grade heart rate monitors require saline gels to be applied on the skin before electrodes are attached to the user.


Janz, K.F. (2002). Physical Activity Assessments for Health-related Research. United States of America: Human Kinetics, pp. 143 and 145. Google Scholars [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 26 February 2016)

Ka, Y.S. and Wong, P.Lim-K. (1999) Fitness monitoring device having an electronic pedometer and a wireless heart rate monitor. Acumen, Inc. Patent no. US5891042 [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 1 February 2016)

Taus, H.G. (1981) Pulse rate monitor. Taus, H.G. Patent no. US4301808 A [Online]. Available at: (Acccessed: 27 February 2016)


Vidrine, D.W., Kisslinger J.G. and Brown J.M. (2000) Heart rate monitor and method. Tectris Fitness Equipment, Inc. Patent no. US6018677 A [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 28 February 2016)









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