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I was a regular gym user for about a year, faithfully following my trainer's programme and going to the gym three or four times a week, when my trainer left my gym, life got busy and I lost my motivation. After hearing from some gym junkie friends about the benefits of heart rate monitors I'd been thinking about getting one for a while, but only when I decided I needed to get back into the gym did I start to seriously consider getting one.
My main concern was that I would buy the HRM and then not use it enough - but it's first and biggest plus has been the motivation it's provided to get me there. I've had my F11 for a month now and I think it's worth it's weight in gold.
I bought my F11 online for £78 - they are one of the more expensive Polar watches, usually retailing for around £95, but if you look hard enough you can get a good deal. Included with the watch was a Polar WearLink coded transmitter, which is a more comfortable version than you get with other models (the F5 and F6), and the coding means that it doesn't cross-talk with other HRMs if you are doing a class, it will protect the information received from your heartrate without getting mixed up if others are also wearing HRMs. I've found it really comfy and sometimes forget to take it off after being at the gym.
My HRM is the F11 female version, which has the same functions as the standard F11 but in a slimmer watch design. It's a good size to wear and I've been happy to wear it in daily life as my watch. It's a stylish piece of kit but the thing I like most about it is the motivation it has given me.
The F11 comes with a function called 'Keeps U Fit', which allows you to create a programme, great if you are just getting into exercise and aren't sure what you're doing, or, like me, need something to nag you into going. Programme is the 5th tab on the main menu, and is very easy to find, only needing to press 3 buttons to enter the programme section. You will have set up your basic user information (DOB, height, weight, activity level) the first time you turn the watch on, and after this has been saved, you can go to Programme and from there click 'create' - Polar will ask some questions based on your user info, and make recommendations as to how much exercise you should do and at what heart rate you should be working. You can choose how many sessions you want to do a week, and this is a great motivation for actually going - since I created my programme I have been going to the gym more often than my programme tells me, to make sure I reach all my goals for the week. If you do find that the programme is too easy or hard, it is easy to amend the required heart rates to make it suit you better.
Once you have your programme (you can exercise with or without one), it is easy to set the watch to record your training session. There is one button to press, which you can either hold down to go straight into whichever session was next on the list Polar's Keep U Fit programme made, or general exercise if you aren't using a programme, or you can press the same button three times. If you want to select which training session you are doing (for example, if the HRM says you should be doing an hour workout, and you only have timefor half an hour), it is easy to change to choose the right exercise within the programme.
After you have finished exercising, the HRM gives an overview of what you've done during the session - how long you exercised for, what your maximum and average heart rates were, and how many calories were burnt. This data is stored and you can find further info but going to the second item on the menu, File, in which you can choose to look at your last 12 exercise sessions, or see what you've done over the past 6 weeks, or your totals since the start of your HRM use (able to be reset at any time). The daily information gives you the date and time of exercise, calories burnt and what percentage of time you spent burning fat, maximum and average heartrates as a number and percentage, and the time you spent in the heart rate zones (low, moderate and hard) that were recommended by the programme. It's a lot of information for one little watch to store, and it's great to have a record of exactly what you've done.
Obviously all the data you create can't be stored on the F11, so it has a nifty device where you can transfer information to the Polar Personal Trainer website, which will store your programme and create a diary of all your activity and information - really handy for long term progress. It's free to register for Polar Personal Trainer and it also has tips and hints on using HRMs and diet and exercise, etc.
The other really nifty function is the fitness test - some clever scientist type has come up with a way for the HRM to take fitness tests based on your heart rate. It's equivalent to the standard VO2 max tests, and is apparently quite accurate. It's another good way to track your progress over time and see how your fitness improves.
It sounds like there is a lot to the HRM, and there is - there are Polar HRMs out there that have less functions. I chose the F11 because it had everything I wanted and a few more things that I thought I might want in the future. Since buying it, I've found that I use almost all the information it provides and it is really easy to scroll around and find out different things while exercising. Once your heart rate is being measured, you only need to worry about the up and down buttons on the side to choose what you want to look at. There are five options - heart rate is on all of them (you can choose to view HR as a number or percentage) and you can choose between time spent exercising, calories burnt, time spent exercising within the prescribed zone, time spent in each heart rate zone (my personal preference - it makes it really easy to tell at a glance how hard I should be working and what level of work I still have left to do) and the final one gives the programme prescibed time and calories that you should be aiming towards.
Your heart rate zones are determined by the HRM at the start of each exercise (you can turn this off if you want to use one previously set) and you need to work in these to avoid the nagging beeps of the watch. There are three volumes - mute, 1 and 2, so you can set it to as loud as you need or turn it off. The screen will flash and show up or down arrows to tell you to work more or less so you will always get the information, even if you do mute the sound.
I highly recommend this HRM - it's attractive, easy to use and full of useful information for whatever you want to do. Different heart rates provide different benefits (weight loss, increasing fitness, etc) so to have something that helps you focus your workouts to what you want to achieve is really helpful. The F11 is a more expensive option, but it really is worth the extra and the additional functions in no way make it over-complicated - it makes it easier to get the information you need. Make sure you have the manual next to you just in case when you first play with it, but it's actually surprisingly easy. The big benefit is the OwnZone function, which is the one that automatically reads what your HR zones are - it means you don't have to sit down and work them out based on your age, which might not be accurate.
If you are keen to ensure you are getting the most out of your exercising, you should seriously consider getting an F11. Happy training!
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