A triathlon heart rate monitor can give you a real edge in your training. All of the top athletes use them to enhance their performance. Find out which models are the best.
There are a lot of heart rate monitors on the market that can be used for some phases of a triathlon but not others. For example some monitors are ideal for running but can’t be used in the water. Others don’t have a proper bike attachment. So when you’re out looking for a triathlon heart rate monitor you need to look for one that will work well for all three sports.
You need a monitor that can accurately record your heart rate in the water, without interference. You then need a monitor that can easily be mounted on your bike so you don’t have to constantly look down at your wrist while you’re pedaling. Finally you need something that can easily record your activity during the running phase. And to tie everything together you need a monitor that will record splits and transitions so that you can clearly see the delineation between activities. It’s not easy finding a monitor to do all of this.
I’ve done a lot of research to determine the best triathlon heart rate monitors. I list these below. But first, if you are new to the world of heart rate monitors, here is some background information.
How Can A Triathlon Heart Rate Monitor Help You?
Whether you are a professional athlete or you just want to keep fit and healthy, a triathlon heart rate monitor can be an essential aid that can help you determine how well you are fairing with your exercise routine. This tool measures the intensity of your exercise routine by recording your heartbeat’s activity.
You can set training goals based on your heart rate zones. On more intense days your monitor will tell you to pick up the pace if you are going too slowly. Also on recovery days your monitor will let you know to slow down and not work so hard. This can help to prevent overtraining. By watching your heart rate you’ll know exactly when to train hard and when to take it easy. As result, you’ll be able to go further, faster, your times will start to drop, and your overall physical fitness will improve.
Heart monitors apply the same principle that EKG machines use to calculate the heart’s electrical impulses. Monitors are made up of two different components: a receiver and transmitter. The transmitter picks up the electrical impulse that causes your heart to beat. The transmitter should be placed directly on your skin to ensure that it can receive an accurate signal. Transmitters will record your heart rate at your chest using a chest strap, on your wrist, or even through your finger. The transmitter then relays an electro-magnetic signal with your heartbeat statistics to the monitor worn on your wrist or strapped to your bike, where your heart rate is then recorded and displayed.
Advantages of Using a Triathlon Heart Rate Monitor
- A heart rate monitor can be really motivating and push you to work harder. It’s like having a coach or training partner on your wrist reminding you that you need to move it and pick up the pace. That electronic coach will also let you know when to slow down.
- It is a priceless aid in ensuring that you are training within your target heart rate. This may sound simple; however, it is very difficult even for high level athletes to tell how their heart is responding during training just by “feel”. You need an accurate scientific device to measure how your heart is responding to the effort of your body.
- You will have a record of your progress, and hence make the necessary adjustments to your training. Over time this makes a huge difference in how much you improve. You can see charts and graphs and plan your training schedule not based simply on what your mind tells you about how you feel, but on how your heart is actually responding.
- Sometimes, too much data collected by these gadgets can confuse rather than guide you when training. Some people quit training before long because they feel intimidated by all these details. If this is the case and you are just starting out with a monitor, you should go with a simple model without a ton of features.
- A triathlon heart rate monitor is an investment and not cheap. However if you look at it in comparison to some of the other training equipment you have to buy, like your bike and its accessories, then a monitor is not all that expensive.
Things to Look for When Buying A Triathlon Heart Rate Monitor
One of the things that you need to consider when buying a triathlon heart rate monitor is its efficiency. Some low quality monitors come with straps that may not be accurate. Keep in mind that many require electrode gel to get a proper reading. As a thumb rule, read monitor reviews to see how other users rate the product before buying.
Look for special features in each monitor that you may need to use. Look out for functions like calorie counting so if your goal is to lose weight you’ll know how many calories you’re burning. Check to see if the monitor can be used with a treadmill. Many treadmills support the display of heart rate details when you’re training indoors.
Additional features that you may look for include GPS function, data comparison in multi sports and the ability to download your data to your computer or a training website for further analysis. These additional features may not be essential, but they are great to have. You can read more about selecting a monitor by reading my article on Features to Consider Before You Buy A Heart Rate Monitor.
Most good triathlon heart monitor watches will range in price from $200 – $400 and up depending on the monitor’s features and brand name. You need to know what you want, and avoid paying for features that you will never use. Most often, a simple cost effective model will do fine when the only information you need is your heart rate.
Usable In The Water
This is the key feature for triathlon heart rate monitors. If you can’t use the monitor in the water, then it’s not really for triathletes. Most watches are waterproof however the problem lies in the transfer of data from the chest strap to the wrist watch. Under water the signal gets distorted so you don’t get an accurate recording of your heart rate on the wrist receiver. Some monitors have an attachment that you can hook onto the chest strap that eliminates the need for wireless data transfer through the water, whereas others may have a signal booster. These are perfect for recording your heart rate data while swimming.
Long Battery Life
Triathlons can go on a long time and your training can go on even longer. Whether you’re training for a sprint distance (750 meter swim, 20 kilometer bike, 5 km run) or a full Ironman (3.86 km swim, 180 km bike, 26.2 run) you are going to need a lot of battery power. Before you buy check the battery life on rechargeable monitors. Look for something that will last for 12 hours plus on a full charge.
A good triathlon heart monitor should provide comfort and ease of use. Several features combine to make this possible. The chest strap should fit you comfortably, not too tight and not too loose. Also the wrist unit should fit your wrist properly. Some older units, especially the early GPS models, looked like you strapped a wall clock to your wrist. Newer models feature the latest micro-technology are much smaller and look more like hyped up sports watches.
Display Size and Readability
A bold display is very important. Ensure that your monitor is easily readable from any angle, as well as in different light settings. The last thing you want to do during your training is have to squint to take the monitor’s reading. A backlight is also good to have as you may be training early in the morning or late at night in the dark.
Most people overlook this; however, larger buttons do make the monitor easier to operate. This is more significant if you are actively using various functions and features of the device during your training and switching back and forth between screens of data. It’s also helpful to have large buttons when you are out training in the cold and using gloves.
Top 3 Best Triathlon Heart Rate Monitors
These are the monitors that I found that really stand out from the competition. They have been designed with the triathlete in mind and are ideally suited for multi-sport athletes.
# 1: Polar RCX5 Triathlon Heart Rate Monitor Watch Review
The Polar RCX5 is a top of the line triathlon heart rate monitor. You can use this monitor to easily switch data recording between different sports as you transition. For example with a press of a couple button on the wrist unit, the monitor will pick up on your bike cadence sensor and start recording that data when you transition from swimming to biking.
You can download different training programs for each link of a race based on your goals from the Polar website, polarpersonaltrainer.com. You can also upload your training data wirelessly to your computer and the website. All of the screens are customizable on the RCX5 so you can display only the data that you feel is relevant to your training.
The RCX5 makes sure you train at the right level, beeping you when you stray outside of the target heart rate zone. It also helps you stick to a target pace, notifying you if you drop under the pace and letting you know that you’ll need to pick it up if you want to meet your goal. You can easily see on the watch screen how many minutes ahead or behind the pace you are.
A really nice feature of the Polar RCX5 is that it uses a specially designed hybrid transmitter that will accurately record your heart rate data while you are swimming. For biking it also has a cadence measure you can track your pedaling rate in revolutions per minute.
As for battery life, there’s no need to worry here as the RCX5 doesn’t use rechargeable batteries. So you’ll get 8-11 months on a single set of batteries depending on use.
The Polar RCX5 also has a full featured GPS function. You can see the distance you’ve traveled, how fast you’re moving, and plot out a route on a map using the Polar website.
# 2: Garmin Forerunner 910XT Triathlon Heart Rate Monitor Watch Review
Garmin has a whole slew of excellent heart rate monitors and you can put the Garmin Forerunner 910XT right at the top of the list in the multisport training category. The 910XT is the next generation, latest model upgrade to the popular Garmin 310XT. The 910XT records an amazing array of data for swimming, biking, and running and you can easily switch recording information for each sport with the push of just one button.
Overall the Garmin 910XT is a fantastic training computer however, it will not record heart rate data while you’re swimming. It does record a lot of other cool info like stroke count, swim distance in open water, and your SWOLF score which is a measure of swimming efficiency. (Your SWOLF score combines the number of strokes you take and your time for a 25 yard swim. This means that the 910XT can accurately measure the number of strokes you take, which is pretty amazing.) You’ll even be able to see the path you swam out in open water using the Garmin Connect website. There is a setting for a lap pool and for open water. But, if you are interested in heart rate data while you swim, you won’t get it with the 910XT. If this is really important to you, then you need to look at the Polar RCX5, which I talk about above.
Some of the other features of the Garmin 910XT include time, speed, and distance recording on the bike and while running, and an altimeter for measuring elevation. The 910XT will vibrate to alert you when you stray outside of your goals, like your target heart rate range or pace. It will also tell you when you reach a split. The monitor has rechargeable batteries that will last for about 20 hours on a full charge.
The Garmin 910XT even has a body composition testing function that will record your body fat percentage, weight, and water percentage along with 6 additional measures. All of this information can be sent to your computer wirelessly through an ANT+ connection.
# 3: Suunto T6d Triathlon Heart Rate Monitor Watch Review
The final triathlon heart rate monitor that I’d recommend is the Suunto t6d. This is the latest multi-sport monitor to come out of Suunto, replacing the t6c. I have a full Suunto t6c heart rate monitor review on this site and soon I’ll have a full review of the t6d for you to check out as well.
The Suunto t6d offers full GPS capability with an optional POD, and it gives you multiple readouts of various physiological functions. You’ll be able to measure not only your heart rate but also your excess post-exercise oxygen consumption level (EPOC) which can help you adjust your training to ensure you get the maximum benefit from each workout without overtraining.
The t6d also has an altimeter to measure how you perform at various altitudes, as well as monitoring of your distance, speed, and cadence with an optional POD. It will also record your calorie consumption. You can transfer all of this data to your computer using a USB cable and load it up to the Movescount.com website for further analysis.
The t6d is great for running. For biking you need to order the optional bike POD if your monitor does not come with it in a package. Be sure to check for this. As for swimming you’ll need to purchase the Suunto memory belt. This device hooks to your chest and will accurately collect all of your heart rate data without the wrist unit. This eliminates any potential interference in the water that will garble the signal between the wrist monitor and the standard chest strap.
Keep in mind that the Suunto t6d has a number of really good features for all of the triathlon sports, however you need to purchase each sports specific POD separately. If you want all of them, it can really increase the price of the total Suunto package pretty significantly. The good thing though is that you won’t be getting and paying for something you’ll never use, which would be the case if all of these devices were already built in to the basic package.
How To Train With A Heart Rate Monitor?
All of the top athletes no matter what the sport have personal coaches. These coaches will always tell their athletes exactly when they are overworking, or under working their hearts. Now you can have your own virtual electronic coach and training partner on your wrist with a triathlon heart rate monitor. This coach will be with you round the clock, all year round, whenever you want him.
Whether you are a beginner or have been training a while, a triathlon heart rate monitor can help you measure and monitor the right exercise intensity for your training. You can then adjust your training based on scientific data about your heart. In the end you’ll be swimming, biking, and running faster than you ever thought possible.
And that’s what it’s all about.