Monday, September 19, 2011

Polar FT2 Heart Rate Monitor Review

The Polar FT2 heart rate monitor falls within the category "Fitness & Cross-Training".  It doesn't boast any advanced features like computer uploading, second-by-second HR recording or sensor compatibility- all of the things necessary to perform sub-maximal graded tests and determine aerobic/ power weak spots.  Instead, this HR monitor provides the essentials needed to get the fitness benefits from any form of aerobic exercise.  I found that in specific cases, a basic model such as the FT2 could even be used for competitive purposes.  By saving money and going with a lower model, you also won't have to worry about poor quality- all Polar heart rates have the ability to measure with ECG accuracy.

To see Polar's full line of heart rate monitors, visit their website, PolarUSA.

I initially purchased the Polar FT2 for 5k training.  Because 5k's are short in duration, I chose the FT2 because I needed something that could ensure that the work/ rest portions of my intervals were at the correct intensity.  My interval program involved progressing to 400 meter work x 200 meter rest x 12-14 repetitions.  Prior to running with a HR monitor, I always ran the work/ rest intervals too hard and never had enough energy to complete all of the intervals.  By manually setting my zone on the FT2, I was able to complete all of my intervals.  I set the upper limit to just above my lactic threshold and my lower limit at the low end of the recovery zone to promote recovery.  Over the course of two years, I broke 20 minutes and eventually set a new PR of 14:58.  I found that special features like stride sensors were not necessary to become a more efficient runner.  Practice and help from experienced runners will improve your efficiency more than data from a stride sensor.  I would recommend that runners of any level stick to one of the basic Polar models with zone alarms such as the FT2.

I attached the watch to the cables.  It worked!
After retiring from running, I switched over to cycling.  This was where I found some limitations with using a basic HR monitor to improve performance for competition.  Because cycling criteriums and many time trials are based off of a set duration of 30 minutes or longer, the ability to upload heart rate, power and cadence data points throughout a 0.5 to 3 hour ride is crucial to guarantee quicker improvements.  This information is important for determining weaknesses caused by the aerobic or strength training program.  I get farther into the competitive topic because the FT2 wasn't designed for competition.  For fitness purposes, the FT2 can still provide instant HR feedback to keep the intensity at the right level whether anaerobic or aerobic improvements are the goals.

One feature that I never thought I would use was the HeartTouch ability.  This feature is activated during the "Exe" function.  While running, I found that it was a lot more convenient to bring my wrist up to the chest strap.  This function is especially convenient when thick gloves are on because the temperatures are close to zero.

One problem I experienced with the FT2 involved interference from several nearby power lines surrounding factories and low hanging power lines.  By "low", I mean that if you were standing on top of a car, you could touch the power line with a broomstick.  In these two rare conditions, I found that the FT2 could not obtain an accurate reading.  Rather than displaying an error code, the watch would display an extremely high heart rate somewhere in the 200's until I was far enough to avoid the interference.  Luckily, the watch would correct itself once the source of the interference was gone.  On the plus side, cycling next to and almost beneath one row of power lines did not cause any problems at all.

I found that the features of the FT2 are similar to the FT1 with the exception that the FT2 automatically determines upper and lower limit heart rates based on age (220 - age = HRmax).  Though if you know how to calculate your maximal heart rate and target heart rate zones, this extra feature really isn't necessary.  Looking back, I should have gotten the FT1, but I am still pleased with my purchase since it has been reliable for the two years I used it.

Troubleshooting Tips:
Here are a few tips that may solve a lot of the problems that many run into with heart rate monitors.
  • Intermittent loss of heart rate readings: Wet the electrodes on the chest strap prior to exercise.
  • Receiver can't get a reading from the chest strap:  Make sure the electrodes are wet, the chest strap is upright, the sensors are flush with the skin and the chest strap is located just below the sternum.
  • Erratic heart rates: May be caused by a dirty chest strap due to electrolyte build up from dried sweat.  Rinse the chest strap electrodes with water and if it still does not work, clean with mild soap and water.

  • Automatically determined zones makes it great for beginners
  • Accurate HR readings
  • May be attached to a bike with a little creativity
  • THR zones can be set manually
  • Automatically calculates a safe target heart rate range for most people interested in improving fitness
  • Heart touch eliminates the need to physically touch the button to scroll through HR, duration and time.
  • Can be used below freezing (rated to 14 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • If you're experienced with heart rate training, the extra feature (auto zone) is not worth the extra cost
  • Determines maximum heart rate through the less accurate 200-age=HRmax equation
  • Will lose signal when more than one power line is close-by
  • Stores only one exercise summary

The following list summarizes the Polar FT2 menu screen.
Main screen of the FT2 HR monitor.  The small tabs above move to signify the day of the week.
Main screen (watch mode):

  • Time, day of the month
  • Tabbed display of day- M-Su above digital screen (see picture above)

File (exercise summary):

  • Total duration: min:sec
  • Average HR
  • Max HR
  • Date of session

Zone (THR range):

  • Beep Options: on/off
  • High limits: 128 min - 199 max
  • Low limits: 30 min - 159 max

Time settings:

  • 12 or 24 hour format

Date settings:

  • month/ day
  • adjust tabs display of day (see picture above)
  • Age - automatically sets zone.