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How important is a Heart Rate Monitor when cycling for weight loss?

I have an old Everlast HRM watch, but it cannot display the average HR after a workout. I am using RunKeeper to track my rides and I have noticed that it has a field for average HR.


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This is a medical question, so I should preface this with I am not a doctor and you should consult one in regards to this question. That being said, not too high, not too low - your doctor should be able to help you decide what a good regime is, for your heart. – Batman May 3 '14 at 23:02
Well, the heart rate monitor probably weighs about 4 oz, and hence will make you work that much harder, burn more calories, and lose more weight. – Daniel R Hicks May 4 '14 at 0:23
Yesterday, you exercised for 1 hour at an average HR of 150. Today, you were tired and had 3 cups of coffee, and you exercise at the same intensity for an hour, but because of the caffeine, your HR is 175. Did you burn more calories because your HR is higher? – JohnP May 5 '14 at 14:47

The short annswer is not at all important. People trained and got fit for decades without heart rate monitors. Current thoughs in some camps is to dump heart rate altogether. For someone just wanting to get fit and loose some weight, heartrate monitoring is usually an interesting distraction. The drive for it comes down from pro level sports to trainers and manufacturers selling 'extras'.

Unless you know you maximum heart rate (The 220-age formula is wrong as often as its right - do not use it), a monitor gives little useful information, and is more likely to put you wrong. You also need your aerobic threshold for it to anything more than marginally useful. Its very hard to establish aerobic threshold without knowing average heart rate, but you also need to know a lot more than just average.....

You should use the watch during training to ensure you are in your target bands- just look at the watch occationally. The proviso is that you can accurately establish the correct heart rate bands. If you have a trainier, averages, time in band etc might help them tune your training program, but if you had a trainer, they would tell you if this is needed.

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Do you have a reference to support the "wrong as often as right" part? – andy256 May 4 '14 at 21:59 is a pretty good start. – mattnz May 4 '14 at 23:39
More importantly than how often it is accurate, imagine an unfit young adult who may have not exercised for 10 years with a max HR of around 160 tring to train in target based on around 190 (220-age). – mattnz May 4 '14 at 23:49
Good. I'm thinking it would improve your already good answer by including sth like "According to Froelicher and Myers, cited by Wikipedia, the 220..." – andy256 May 5 '14 at 7:11
Actually, the 220-age is just plain wrong. It's one of the worst myths in exercise science. – JohnP May 5 '14 at 14:46

Are you at risk of a heart attack? If so it is probably useful. Seriously, I have a (mid-fifties) friend whose doctor advised him that everybody "over a certain age" should wear a HRM when they exercise.

Also, there is a regime of training that is heart-rate-based. Clearly if you subscribe to this, then you will need a heart rate monitor to see how you're doing. But there are also regimes which emphasise cadence, or power, or probably other parameters too. So heart rate is not the only metric by which to judge "progress".

But since you say you're cycling for weight loss, would it be fair to say that none of these specific metrics interests you (yet)? In which case, I wouldn't get too stressed about not having a HRM. If what you want is weight loss, getting on the bike in the first place will start to achieve that.

One thing I would say - and I am someone who started cycling to achieve weight loss, and who has worn a HRM since the start - is that by measuring things like heart rate data over time, you get to know how your body is working, what its limitations are, how your fitness is improving etc., which can be useful. But is it useful enough to go buy an HRM? Well, that's really your call. (After all, if all you're interested in is weight loss, then a set of scales will suffice!)

Lastly I'd echo what @Batman says - if you think there's any cardio risk with you jumping on a bike in the first place, you should really consult your doctor before doing so.

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If you use a bluetooth or ANT+ heartrate monitor, you can plug that data right into your app. You'll have to explore their website to figure out which one is compatible with your cellphone and app version.

I use Abvio's Cyclemeter along with a Polaris bluetooth HRM and Wahoo cadence+speed sensor. I find that it's usually a big pain to use the HRM and just go with the cadence + speed, which is more important for me. Part of what you want to do is to increase your distance and effort over time.

You can also look into power meters that hook into your rear hub but they are considerably more expensive.

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Heart rate monitors can be useful for training and for weight loss. They are used for tracking in which heart rate zone you are (aerobic or anaerobic, divided in usually 5 zones). For weight loss you would like to be in an endurance zone. Heart rate zones limits calculations depend on your age and resting state heart rate. There are heart rate calculators all over the internet, so you can easily find one.

However, I think that only biking for weight loss can be not very effective without changing how and what you eat. I would not bother to use HRM, because good ones are relatively expensive and you can know when you are going too fast/hard and slow down even without using it.

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Second Para is untrue, or rather I suspect it is only true if you are only marginally overweight. For someone quite heavily overweight, as I once was, I cycled, ate what I'd always eaten and still lost loads of weight. I probably lost 30kg in the first couple of years that I cycled, but have only lost <5kg in the last couple of years (during which time my weight would be considered normal). To lose weight now, I'd have to modify my diet, but certainly not at first. – PeteH May 5 '14 at 11:27
The first para is also wrong, and filled with misconception. If you exercise for more than ~2 minutes, you are exercising aerobically. Anaerobic is "without oxygen", and is short burst only. Also, as in my comment above, if you have external factors artificially raising your heart rate, are you also suddenly burning more calories? (Not to mention the recent attention to HIIT training, which does have weight loss implications). – JohnP May 5 '14 at 14:50

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