Technology is advancing. It took Apple 74 days to sell 1 million iphones, 28 days to sell 1 million ipads and allegedly just one day to achieve 1 million watch sales. Meanwhile, recently, wearable wristband maker Fitbit was valued at an astonishing £3.8 billion pounds. Both of these companies using heart rate monitoring (or better described as pulse rate monitoring) as a key addition to their selling deck providing more accurate data on their members health. This all raises great `awareness’ when we, in the fitness industry, are responsible for raising heart rates during the activities that we provide in our fitness facilities.
We all know that training at different intensities and heart rate zones fast track you towards your goals and are aligned with the World Health Organizations (WHO) guidelines on measuring activity. But in order to train in your zone, you need gear that will be accurate, reliable and also fit for purpose. And there lies the problem.
Wearables with so called `heart rate’ are a popular choice for many people because they are easy to `wear’ but they rely on a prediction of blood flow from the heart rather than the electrical impulses of the hearts activity and therefore are not accurate for 90% of activities in the industry. The device shines a light into the blood vessels in your wrist, and then detects the changes in blood volume that occur each time your heart beats and pushes blood through your body. Sensors on the device detect how much light your blood vessels reflect back: Less reflected light means a higher blood volume. While this method is relatively accurate at rest, it becomes tricky during movement when your muscles, tendons and capillaries can sometimes get in the way of the light measurement, causing inaccuracy in the reading.
Companies are now creating algorithms for their wristband monitors that cancel out the effects of movement (Motion artifact removal) so that if the blood is slushing through the veins at a consistent rate (such as when walking) then they can predict what pace the heart is beating. Which is great… when you know what the wrist is doing. Not so great when you don’t. Ie. In a Zumba class, or swinging a kettlebell, or any HIIT session.
Chest straps on the other hand wrap around your chest, and monitor heart rate using a technology similar to that of an EKG, so they measure the heart’s electrical activity directly, making them close to 100 percent accurate both at rest and in motion.
Fingertip scanners are the most recent addition to the heart rate monitor market. Some phones, like Samsung and the iphone, allow you to check your heart rate by placing a fingertip on the camera sensor. Hospital heart rate monitors that clip onto your finger use a similar technology, which once again can only really be used to measure heart rate while at rest.
The application and difference of heart rate monitoring in our industry is very important to understand. Clubs and trainers need to be educated to identify and be able to prescribe training accordingly with accurate data presented to them. And while the choice to use a wrist based wearable versus a chest strap is up to the consumer, it’s clear that for accurate `heart rate’, chest straps (or skin patches) are undoubtedly the most accurate option for the time being.
You see, there is a belief that the industry is under attack from consumers knowing more about their own health, bodies and the type of training to do than what our own instructors know. Technology is providing that awareness to self-efficacy, which refers to `an individual’s belief in his or her capacity to execute behaviours necessary to produce specific performance attainments and reflects confidence in the ability to exert control over one’s own motivation, behaviour, and social environment.’
So the industry must be better prepared to deal with the added influx of heart rate technology, training and devices to better capitalize on this huge surge into training. Put simply, to stay relevant to the customer, operators need to be a beat ahead!
Dave Wright is the CEO of CFM (Creative Fitness Marketing), owner of the Feelgood Fitness & Voyage Fitness Club Chains, A former Board Director of UK Active and the creator of the wearable technology tool MYZONE®. With offices in Chicago (US), Nottingham (UK) and Melbourne (Oz), Dave’s companies have worked directly with over 5,000 health clubs across 30 different countries, encouraging people to be more and stay more physically active.
He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org