By now almost everyone who is serious about fitness has heard about the concept of target heart rate. Keep your heart rate in your target range for fifteen or twenty minutes and you have your basic workout. That's great, but how do you measure your heart rate while you're skating? My wrist guards cover one of the primary pulse spots and I have trouble getting a good pulse from my throat while skating. If I stop skating, my heart rate drops quickly, making the count inaccurate and interrupting the workout.
My solution was to buy a heart rate monitor. The typical heart rate monitor consists of a chest strap transmitter and a wristwatch- like receiver that displays heart rate and other statistics. The monitor continuously displays your heart rate, allowing you to adjust your level of effort to keep it at the desired rate.
In monitoring my heart rate I've made some interesting observations. First, in-line skating is a better workout than I thought. You can get a good aerobic workout with good steady stoking on flat ground. On the other hand, it's real easy to goof off and let your heart rate get too low. I also observed that during a long hard workout, my heart rate increases even though I continue to expend the same amount of effort.
The standard way to determine your maximum heart rate is to subtract your age from 220. (Update: New formula published) That's OK for a starting point, but is actually an estimate. By that formula, mine is supposed to be 172 (220 - 48). But I clocked my maximum rate at 178-and lived to tell about it! Want to know your real maximum heart rate? Measure it with your new heart rate monitor.
Before I tell you how, I have to put in a disclaimer. This test is very stressful and should only be attempted if you know that your cardiovascular system is in good condition. If you are unsure, see your doctor or have a monitored stress test first. If you're still ready to go, strap on your heart rate monitor. The basic approach is to gradually increase your effort until you reach an all out sprint. Climbing a long hill or at least finishing on one will result in plenty of exertion without having to skate too fast. Warm up for least 15 minutes (the longer the better), gradually increasing your effort until your heart rate is at or above your anaerobic threshold, about 85% of your calculated maximum. Now is the time to go for your max. Keep increasing your effort until you are sprinting. Hold the sprint for as long as your legs can go, then quickly check your heart rate monitor. Log this as your maximum HR.
Polar Electro Inc. in NY makes eight models; ranging in price from $99 - $399. More info: (800) 227-1314. I use the Pacer model. It's simple and has proved reliable and accurate. However, the buttons are too easy to push, making it annoyingly easy to reset when worn on my wrist. Mounted on my bicyle handlebars with a foam spacer, it works fine. (Update: Liz got the new improved Pacer for Christmas '98. The buttons are better protected and it has improved functionality. Recommended.)