How to Fit and Place Your Heart Rate Monitor for Great Performance

Just like wearing a wrong bra size is common for ladies, going into a workout with a heart rate monitor (HRM) strap that’s not adjusted well is pretty common among exercisers. In fact, Polar, a company that’s been cranking out HRMs for decades, asserts that wearing a misadjusted strap is the most common HRM error people make. Wearing your strap wrong is a big issue because it affects how accurate the readings you get are and, subsequently, what you do during your workout and with your diet plan. If you really want to get good results from your monitor, you need to take the time to double check the placement and fit of your chest strap before you get moving.

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How to Get an Optimal Fit and Positioning

Everyone’s body is a little different, and there are tons of great monitors, such as the HeartQ, for you to try. In general, however, the following steps can ensure your strap is where it will work best:

• Use your thumb or fingers to find the bottom of your sternum, where the rib cage starts to divide. Typically, your strap should go around your torso in this general area, right below your pectoral muscles. The heart is centered in your chest and more to the front of the body, so this placement means the sensors on the strap are in a great place to detect what the heart is doing easily.
• Use a cloth tape measure to figure out the circumference of your chest below your pectoral muscles. Adjust the strap so that the length roughly matches your measurement.
• Wet the strap sensors or apply some HRM gel to them. Position the chest strap around you and secure it in place with whatever fasteners are available. Any logo usually faces up.
• Raise your arms above your head. Inhale and exhale deeply, checking that the strap does not slip when you let out your breath. The strap should feel tight, but it should not restrict your breathing.
• Tighten the strap if it is too loose or loosen it if it is too tight, keeping in mind that the strap will stretch a bit and get more comfortable as the workout proceeds.
• Attach the transmitter to your strap if you have a transmitter that can detach.
• Check that the monitor is sending a signal to your receiver.
• If the monitor is having trouble, check that there is not a significant gap between the sensors on the strap and the skin below your pectoral muscles. This issue is common for pro bodybuilders, individuals with certain medical conditions and some people with very poor posture. Slide the strap to one side or the other to make sure the sensors can detect your heart’s activity if needed. A small number of individuals might find they get the best readings if the sensors and transmitter are worn on the back.

Keep in mind as you try to fit your HRM strap that manufacturers usually supply more than one size. If you’re not sure which strap to buy or order, check with a customer service representative or check the sizing options on the manufacturer’s website, comparing your chest size with the measurements indicated for each type of strap. Don’t assume that different manufacturers will classify your size the same way, either—you might need a small strap for one type of monitor and a medium in another, for instance.

Adjusting Your Strap to Your Changing Body

Most people who use HRMs on a regular basis end up losing inches as they drop unwanted pounds, but depending on what you’re doing, you might find that your chest circumference actually increases as you pack on more muscle. In either case, let your HRM strap give you a clue about whether you’re progressing. You’ll likely need to tighten or loosen it up a bit as you get more fit. If you’ve already tightened the strap as much as it allows, you sometimes can sew it to the length you need or just secure it to your desired length with a clip or safety pin. Conversely, if the strap is already out all the way, you might get some more use out of it by using a connector extension, although you might need to make one yourself depending on the type of fasteners your strap uses. Replacing the strap entirely with a new one in a different size works, too. Just keep in mind that most chest straps will stretch out slightly over time, especially if you use them every day. For this reason, looking at the fit of both your strap and your clothes, in addition to taking some new measurements, is the best way to figure out if you’re really moving forward.

Readers Speak Out:

What method do you use to make sure your HRM strap is in the right place and properly tightened? How have you dealt with straps that are just a little too small or big?

References:

Polar Service Center (n.d.). Important User Information.

About Wanda Marie Thibodeaux

Wanda Thibodeaux is a prolific fitness writer based in Eagan, MN.

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