One of the things I like best about running is how simple it is: Just dress for the weather (or not), throw on some running shoes and head out the door. That’s one of the reasons I never used a heart rate monitor to help me improve my performance. I found the monitor cumbersome, the strap around my chest constricting, and it seemed an unnecessary complication that might dissuade me from getting out there.
But I did wonder how my training for long-distance races might change if I monitored my heart rate. With all the inexpensive apps out there, I decided it was time to try one.
I picked the Instant Heart Rate app by Azumio because it is rated highly for accuracy and costs only $1.99. All you have to do is place your finger on your phone’s camera lens. (The directions note you shouldn’t press too hard and your fingers shouldn’t be cold. Oh, and you should remember the app is only for fitness, not deciding whether you’re having a heart attack.)
When I compared the app to the time-honored practice of measuring your pulse finger-to-wrist, it was nearly spot on. But the app was much faster, and it saved and organized the information. I could even take my pulse while running.
I could store information with Azumio-created tags such as “Post-workout – Within 3 hours of exercising” or “Tired – Less than 6 hours of sleep last night.” (Lack of sleep affects one’s heart rate?) Or, I could create my own tags and add notes. The app also features a real-time heart-blip graph, heart rate zones, pulse waveform graphs, Twitter and Facebook sharing, and, for an extra $4.99 for the premium version, insight reports sent to your email address.
I made the most use of the data storage and insight reports – and they profoundly affected my approach to running and training. Was my heart rate in the correct zone while running at tempo pace? No. I wasn’t running fast enough. Were my easy runs easy enough? No. I needed to be running more slowly. The app helped me see the progress and effectiveness (or lack thereof) of my training runs and to increase the variation.
But I soon found myself compulsively checking my heart rate even when I wasn’t training. Was it different when I was standing or sitting at my desk? Slightly. After I’d taken the stairs? Significantly. I began trying to vary my heart rate over the course of the day.
Of all of my activities, the one that most effectively raises my heart rate quickly is trying to keep up with my new puppy on our morning sprint/walks. It’s a good reminder that the best ways to increase your heart rate tend to be spontaneous and joyous.
What: Instant Heart Rate
Operating system: iOS, Android
User ratings: Apple, 4 1/2 stars out of 5 (8,120 ratings); Google Play, 4 1/2 stars out of five (11,805 ratings)
Bottom line: Helpful for those who want to get in better shape or tweak their current workouts.