Garmin Forerunner 50 Heart Rate Monitor

I’ve had my HRM (Heart Rate Monitor) that I got for my cycle training for about 6 weeks now so it’s time I did a bit of a write up.

Why Bother?

First of all, why bother with an HRM? (If you haven’t spotted already I’m the kind of person that thinks a LOT and so my process of purchasing a new gadget is usually a long and drawn out one that involved justifying my spend and lots of research on the options before actually spending any cash)

Well, I’ve been cycling more and more and longer distances and spending longer in the saddle. Unfortunately for me I’m the kind of person who naturally pushes myself to my physical limit. I need no encouragement to go faster or harder, I’m always trying to go as hard and fast as I can. This, it turns out, is not good for you. And you can increase aerobic capacity (fitness) by training in the right zones.

So I wanted an HRM to encourage me to ride at a reasonable pace, so as to:

  1. Not knacker myself out on longer rides.
  2. Help actually improve my fitness and endurance.

Makes sense.

A bit about Training Zones

I’m not expert but it goes something like this.

Any training programme recommends spending time at different heart rate “zones”, which are percentages of your MHR (maximum heart rate). It is generally considered that there are 5 zones called various things depending on who you ask but something like:

  1. Rest/low activity
  2. Recovery
  3. Aerobic
  4. Anaerobic
  5. Maximum

It turns out that I was spending most of my time in Anaerobic or maximum. No wonder I was getting tired!

The theory goes that spending time at Zone 3 increases aerobic capacity and endurance, Zone 4 builds strength, and zone 5 is for, well, sprinting and hill climbing.

Why the Garmin?

There are plenty of HRMs on the market. I chose the Garmin Forerunner 50 because:

  • It didn’t look rubbish
  • It was reasonably priced (relatively)
  • It’s a watch so I can use it for running/gym work as well as on the bike (I had considered a bike computer with built in HRM but dismissed this idea as lesss flexible)
  • It has all the features I need.
  • It has a data storage function that can wirelessly upload to Garmin software. (I’m a bit obsessive about how fast/far I’ve gone – now I can track my heart rate too!)
  • It has the option to link to a foot pod (pedometer) and a bike sensor to expand its functionality.

Is it any good?

The HRM is fine! Does what it says on the tin. I’ve had a BIT of interferance from the bike computer on one ride, suggesting that it doesn’t use a coded signal (this would allow the watch to only count wireless pulses from the HRM), but it’s only been tempremental the once. You need to make the chest sensors wet for it to work well too!

The sensor takes a bit of getting used to but is comfortable. I imagine that this is true of any monitor.

The watch is a little bulky but not too un-cool. If you have small arms it might look a bit silly. The display is clear and large. Turning your wrist slightly to look at the numbers while on the bike is a bit annoying. In some ways I wish I’d got an integrated bike computer/HRM, but I chose not to and that’s the price I pay. It’s not too much of a problem though.

The warning alarm that tells you if you’re outside of your (configurable) training zone is plenty loud and annoying enough. In hindsight I’d like two different alarms, one to say I’m a little over and one to say I’m REALLY over.

I read one review that suggested that the instructions weren’t that good and I tend to agree, I’ve found a lot out just by playing and button-pushing.

Data storage and transfer works well and is very simple. You can review some of the data on the watch itself but after upload to the Garmin software you can see detailed graphs (data is, I think, every 5 seconds). The software really wants you to be using a more expensive GPS device and functionality is limited when just using the Forerunner 50.

It’s a little annoying in that the HRM can’t take into account your circumstances. If you’re pounding uphill, or in traffic, or trying to keep good up pace on a busy road, or fighting a headwind, you need to be pushing a bit to stay safe, or to get where you’re going and having the watch beep at you every 5 seconds doesn’t help. Perhaps a mute button would be useful?

Has it worked?

YES! Well, I think so. It’s certainly slowed me down as my stats show. This is frustrating at times, like when you find your training zone only allows you to do 12mph uphill into a slight wind. But I recover quicker and feel better after long rides and evidence would seem to show that I’m getting fitter.

It’s helped me “tune in” to my body a bit, know where I’m pushing too hard and where I could go harder – even without the watch now! And as time has gone on and I’ve done more long rides at lower pace, I seem to be able to go faster for the same heart rate – evidence that my fitness is improving after only a few weeks? I hope so!

So, despite the few things that niggle me about it, I’ve found the experience pretty good and would recommend an HRM as a training tool for anyone doing regular lengthly exercise. And the Forerunner 50 is a fine place to start!

Update: Bizarrely, just today, BikeRadar published this article about training zones and getting fitter by riding slower. They’ve renumbered the zones slightly but it’s the same theory. And it is only a theory – some of the commentors there disagree with that theory too!