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Usefulness of Heart Rate Monitoring???

Old 06-09-14, 08:55 AM
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Usefulness of Heart Rate Monitoring???

I finally bought a heart rate monitor that supposedly feeds to my Cateye Stealth 50 computer. It took me almost an hour to figure out how to "pair" it with the computer, after which, while sitting at my desk I monitored my heart rate. It read from 40-43...I Googled what it should be at rest, and this is quite a bit low, particularly for my age (63+ yoa). I went on one training ride, and took it pretty easy, since I was getting ready for a century ride, riding an average of 17 mph over 25 miles. While I didn't do intervals, I went over 20 a couple of times (once over 24 mph), and the highest my BP went, according to my bike computer, was 123 bmp. I wasn't out of breath, but I could feel a little burn in my legs.

I suspect there is something wrong with either my computer or the monitor, since I expected the numbers to be higher. I don't think there is anything wrong with me since I've never had heart problems, I ride 150-200+ miles a week, I feel fine, and I'm in pretty good shape for my age. I used a formula I found on this forum and it said my maximum rate should be 169. I sketched out my 6 "zones" and I never got out of zone 2.

Is the goal of monitoring the heart rate to find your true maximum and then by looking at the computer know how much "power" you have left? I'm going to ride intervals this week and see how high I can make it go, but I'll admit it is distracting to keep staring at that number on my computer and not know exactly why. It also kind of creaps me out to think constantly about my heart beating.
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Old 06-09-14, 09:04 AM
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A simple test is to manually measure your resting heart rate. Just put two finges to your neck or wrist and measure the pulse. While looking at a clock, count how many tiems you feel a beat in 1 minute. Then compare that to your resting heart rate as measured by your heart rate monitor.

Also, you might want to use electrode gel to improve contact as poor contact may result in poor heart rate data.

As for heart rate maximum formulas, I've also used them and when riding at zone 5 (95-100% of max), I didnt really feel like I was putting out my maximum effort. And herein lies a problem. Those formulas are just formulas. They don't always give you YOUR maximum.

Last edited by WK95; 06-09-14 at 09:09 AM.
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Old 06-09-14, 09:11 AM
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Most training plans (those not based on power) are centered around your heart rate zones. The HR formulas are sketchy at best; you'd be much better off doing a max HR test and establishing your zones from that.

There probably isn't a problem with the monitor being inaccurate, if you want to check then just count your pulse as you're using it.

To answer your last question, the goal of monitoring your HR is to make sure you are in the proper zone for the type of training and goals you are working on. HR is merely a measure of your body's exertion, since your body responds in certain ways at different levels of exertion. For instance, you wouldn't work on increasing your threshold by riding in zone 2 or zone 6 all the time. It's simply a gauge to tell you what you're doing.

If you aren't working towards a specific goal or training plan and it is just distracting you, then I'd say you probably won't get much benefit from it.
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Old 06-09-14, 10:06 AM
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Originally Posted by kv501 View Post
For instance, you wouldn't work on increasing your threshold by riding in zone 2 or zone 6 all the time. It's simply a gauge to tell you what you're doing.

If you aren't working towards a specific goal or training plan and it is just distracting you, then I'd say you probably won't get much benefit from it.
I just took my pulse, and got 45 sitting at my desk and on my 3rd large coffee (if that matters). So maybe the monitor is not that far off.

When you say increasing my "threshold," what are you referring to?

As far as a specific training plan, my plan is very general, to ride as fast and far as I possibly can...for as many years as I can. One of the guys I ride with on weekends uses a power meter and says he doesn't worry about his speed, and bases his ride on the power he is exerting. He is a very strong rider. If I can do the same with the heart rate monitor then great, if not, I suspect I may need to bite the bullet and buy a power meter of some type.
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Old 06-09-14, 10:18 AM
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Originally Posted by Yankeetowner View Post
As far as a specific training plan, my plan is very general, to ride as fast and far as I possibly can...for as many years as I can. One of the guys I ride with on weekends uses a power meter and says he doesn't worry about his speed, and bases his ride on the power he is exerting. He is a very strong rider. If I can do the same with the heart rate monitor then great, if not, I suspect I may need to bite the bullet and buy a power meter of some type.
FWIW, I personally wouldn't think of going out and getting a power meter unless you plan to race. In today's tech world, it's easy to get hooked onto data, but if you don't need a particular number and/or don't know what to do with it, then it's just a useless piece of information. I do use a HRM strap and find it useful in the sense that it gives me another indication of how my fitness is improving.

As far as your actual number, I don't suspect it's that far off. But as others point out, electrode gel can help smooth out the inconsistencies in HRM data, especially those in the beginning. HRM straps often take a few minutes before they'll give you reliable readings on the bike.
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Old 06-09-14, 10:56 AM
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Unless you are seeking to do a specific HR based training plan, then knowing your max and knowing your "zones" really won't be worth much to you. What is worth knowing is the HR you can maintain for a specific period of time. For instance, when I first started, I set my HR monitor max HR at 180 based on a formula. I have since figured out that my max is probably closer to around 170. However, I set the HR monitor to display in terms on % of max HR instead of Bpm. Over the course of several weeks of spin classes and quite a few rides on the road, I figured out that I could maintain something around 78-80% all day long...which equated to around 143 Bpm. I also found that I could maintain around 82-84% for periods of time, but if I stayed there for more than about 10-15 minutes, my legs would start to hurt and my speed would start dropping off. Over 85% was an area I could ride in for a few minutes at a time, but if I did more than a couple of minutes there, I would pay for it for the rest of the ride. Even though it was unscientific in nature, just by practice and repetition, I was generally working out what my lactate threshold and aerobic threshold were. If you are riding below your LT, it will feel like you can do it all day long. If you are riding above your AT, it will feel like you are blowing up or ready to blow up at any minute. In between will be hard, but sustainable for a period of time.

How I use that information now is in what groups I choose to chase during group rides, how long and hard I go when I am on the front of a group, etc. I have a tendency early in group rides to let the excitement and adrenaline get to me. I will suddenly look down and realize 10 minutes into the ride that I am at 88% of max. That is when I know I need to back off and let somebody else take a pull or ease up and catch the next group. If I fall in with a group and find that I have to pull 84% just to stay with them, I know it isn't a group I should plan to hang onto all day long, and that if I find myself at the front, taking a pull will probably be a short lived affair. If I am riding along at 78% and see a group going by slightly faster, I know I am in good shape to chase them and fall in with them, knowing I can take my turn at the front without blowing up. Using the HR for that purpose basically takes the perceived effort level out of the equation. No matter where the wind is and what the slope is, I know what HR I am capable of riding, and that allows me to decide whether to go harder or not.

You could accomplish the same thing with power data...but it will cost a lot more.
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Old 06-09-14, 11:00 AM
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Originally Posted by Yankeetowner View Post
When you say increasing my "threshold," what are you referring to?
Threshold usually refers to "lactate threshold", aka "anaerobic threshold", the point where lactate starts building up in the blood, you are producing it at a greater rate than your body can dispose of it, and will have to slow down at some point relatively soon after it gets to some level. A bunch of training programs base target heart rate zones off of this, determined by a field test of some sort (often some protocol involving time trial effort of somewhere in the 20-30 minute range), rather than off of max heart rate, which can vary considerably from formulas and is hard, maybe slightly dangerous to test outside of a lab w/ a doctor.

You can train just fine with a heart rate monitor, I agree if not racing a power meter is major overkill. I'm planning on trying Carmichael's "Time Crunched Cyclist" program, he gives guidelines for training both for those with power meters and those without. Basically depending on your goals (racing or just faster century type rides), he gives a training schedule for doing intervals of various durations at a particular intensity of effort.

Last edited by stephtu; 06-09-14 at 11:12 AM.
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Old 06-09-14, 11:04 AM
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I don't use a heart rate monitor, and I don't have a power meter. It just seems like way too much information overload--too many complex formulas to try and figure out.

Basically, I listen to my body. I know when I can push it, and I know when to back off. Sounds old-fashioned, but it works for me.
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Old 06-09-14, 11:05 AM
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Originally Posted by txags92 View Post
If you are riding below your LT, it will feel like you can do it all day long. If you are riding above your AT, it will feel like you are blowing up or ready to blow up at any minute. In between will be hard, but sustainable for a period of time.
I think in the above statement, "LT" and "AT" should be switched, if referring to lactate threshold and aerobic threshold respectively.
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Old 06-09-14, 01:00 PM
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Originally Posted by RIRview View Post
I don't use a heart rate monitor, and I don't have a power meter. It just seems like way too much information overload--too many complex formulas to try and figure out.

Basically, I listen to my body. I know when I can push it, and I know when to back off. Sounds old-fashioned, but it works for me.
For many years, I rode with this exact attitude and was pretty happy with my results. The only problems I had occurred when I went out for long and challenging rides with riders who were more fit than I was, and then find myself barely able to turn the pedals with 30 km left to ride. I'm finding the monitor useful for deciding when its time to gracefully fall off the back.
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Old 06-09-14, 01:25 PM
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Originally Posted by Yankeetowner View Post
When you say increasing my "threshold," what are you referring to?
Specifically what I had in mind was functional threshold power (FTP) which is the maximum power output you can sustain for one hour. You aren't using a power meter so it doesn't particularly apply to you, but the idea is the same. I know (through testing) what my FTP is, and by training in specific zones for certain amounts of time it should increase as time goes on and fitness increases. If I didn't know what zones I was training in and just went out and rode without any structure my FTP may get better or it may not. Studies have shown that certain training regimens have certain results, and seeing data (power, HR, etc.) is just a way to be more focused and get the best bang for your buck in training. Sounds complicated but it isn't really.

I'd say if you're not interested in racing or don't have specific goals in mind then monitoring HR might not be very important. You will definitely get faster and stronger just by riding more. When you mention getting a power meter, keep in mind that there is a lot of cost there (might not be an issue), and to get the most out of it you have to spend some serious geek out time on your computer looking at data. Check out "Training and Racing With A Power Meter" by Allen/Coggin and you'll see what I mean.

Long story short, if I were in your position...

You already have the HRM; keep it and find your max HR. Define your zones and do a little training. There are plenty of good workouts online based on HR. You will see results. Don't get too hung up on data at this point, especially if you're not racing. Mix up some intervals with lower intensity stuff, and most importantly just get a feel for what your body is doing. As you go you'll get more in tune with the results you're seeing, and after that if you feel you need more from your training maybe look at a power meter.
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Old 06-09-14, 01:30 PM
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Originally Posted by Yankeetowner View Post
I just took my pulse, and got 45 sitting at my desk and on my 3rd large coffee (if that matters). So maybe the monitor is not that far off.
No, your monitor seems VERY far off. 120's is not even close to accurate for 24mph unless it was downhill. Even if you're a fairly strong rider, your heart should at least rev up to 140's.

Last edited by EnsitMike; 06-09-14 at 01:35 PM.
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Old 06-09-14, 01:32 PM
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Originally Posted by Yankeetowner View Post
When you say increasing my "threshold," what are you referring to?
The Ultimate Cycling Workouts and Core Training Systems | How Strong Are You FTP TEST
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Old 06-09-14, 03:11 PM
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Originally Posted by stephtu View Post
I think in the above statement, "LT" and "AT" should be switched, if referring to lactate threshold and aerobic threshold respectively.
Correct. I was thinking anaerobic and aerobic thresholds and swapped out which one was synonymous with LT.
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Old 06-09-14, 03:41 PM
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Originally Posted by txags92 View Post
Unless you are seeking to do a specific HR based training plan, then knowing your max and knowing your "zones" really won't be worth much to you. What is worth knowing is the HR you can maintain for a specific period of time. For instance, when I first started, I set my HR monitor max HR at 180 based on a formula. I have since figured out that my max is probably closer to around 170. However, I set the HR monitor to display in terms on % of max HR instead of Bpm. Over the course of several weeks of spin classes and quite a few rides on the road, I figured out that I could maintain something around 78-80% all day long...which equated to around 143 Bpm. I also found that I could maintain around 82-84% for periods of time, but if I stayed there for more than about 10-15 minutes, my legs would start to hurt and my speed would start dropping off. Over 85% was an area I could ride in for a few minutes at a time, but if I did more than a couple of minutes there, I would pay for it for the rest of the ride. Even though it was unscientific in nature, just by practice and repetition, I was generally working out what my lactate threshold and aerobic threshold were. If you are riding below your LT, it will feel like you can do it all day long. If you are riding above your AT, it will feel like you are blowing up or ready to blow up at any minute. In between will be hard, but sustainable for a period of time.

How I use that information now is in what groups I choose to chase during group rides, how long and hard I go when I am on the front of a group, etc. I have a tendency early in group rides to let the excitement and adrenaline get to me. I will suddenly look down and realize 10 minutes into the ride that I am at 88% of max. That is when I know I need to back off and let somebody else take a pull or ease up and catch the next group. If I fall in with a group and find that I have to pull 84% just to stay with them, I know it isn't a group I should plan to hang onto all day long, and that if I find myself at the front, taking a pull will probably be a short lived affair. If I am riding along at 78% and see a group going by slightly faster, I know I am in good shape to chase them and fall in with them, knowing I can take my turn at the front without blowing up. Using the HR for that purpose basically takes the perceived effort level out of the equation. No matter where the wind is and what the slope is, I know what HR I am capable of riding, and that allows me to decide whether to go harder or not.

You could accomplish the same thing with power data...but it will cost a lot more.
Nice post.
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Old 06-09-14, 06:52 PM
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Originally Posted by EnsitMike View Post
No, your monitor seems VERY far off. 120's is not even close to accurate for 24mph unless it was downhill. Even if you're a fairly strong rider, your heart should at least rev up to 140's.
Rode my daily 25 mile training ride with HRM. My legs are a little tired since I did a century Saturday (18.9 mph) and a 28+ mile recovery ride Sunday (17 mph). So I wasn't up to doing my usual intervals, but I did push a slightly uphill 1 mile segment at 19-20 mph and I only got to 126 bpm, my legs were burning some and I was breathing pretty heavily. I suspect something is wrong with monitor...or me???
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Old 06-09-14, 07:24 PM
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Originally Posted by Yankeetowner View Post
Rode my daily 25 mile training ride with HRM. My legs are a little tired since I did a century Saturday (18.9 mph) and a 28+ mile recovery ride Sunday (17 mph). So I wasn't up to doing my usual intervals, but I did push a slightly uphill 1 mile segment at 19-20 mph and I only got to 126 bpm, my legs were burning some and I was breathing pretty heavily. I suspect something is wrong with monitor...or me???
Yes, that is a bad reading. Heavy breathing is pushing in or around the 160-170BPM range, possibly into 180. What HR monitor did you buy?

However, if it is not jumping around with spikes in the rate I find it odd, as that is what usually happens when it is a reading problem. There are medical conditions that cause abnormally low HR, though I believe those are usually accompanied by blatant fatigue. If you are in fact breathing excessively heavy at 126 BPM then it might be something to look into, though it is much more likely that you have a bad monitor.

I would like to point out that your resting heart rate for your age is very low, as you mentioned. None of us are experts, but as you tested that manually, it would be a completely legitimate thing to speak to your doctor about. (edit: before you worry too much, avid cyclists are known to have very low resting heart rates.)

Last edited by EnsitMike; 06-09-14 at 07:28 PM.
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Old 06-09-14, 07:37 PM
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Originally Posted by EnsitMike View Post
Yes, that is a bad reading. Heavy breathing is pushing in or around the 160-170BPM range, possibly into 180. What HR monitor did you buy?

However, if it is not jumping around with spikes in the rate I find it odd, as that is what usually happens when it is a reading problem. There are medical conditions that cause abnormally low HR, though I believe those are usually accompanied by blatant fatigue. If you are in fact breathing excessively heavy at 126 BPM then it might be something to look into, though it is much more likely that you have a bad monitor.

I would like to point out that your resting heart rate for your age is very low, as you mentioned. None of us are experts, but as you tested that manually, it would be a completely legitimate thing to speak to your doctor about. (edit: before you worry too much, avid cyclists are known to have very low resting heart rates.)
I bought a Cateye like my computer. There is no jumping around of numbers. I think I'll set up a physical with my doctor.
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Old 06-09-14, 08:07 PM
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txags92 post is a great summary of how/why to use HR.

https://www.bikeforums.net/road-cycling/952822-usefulness-heart-rate-monitoring.h7tml#post16835016

And ya, you probably should try a different monitor (I might have missed a post that you did) otherwise see your Dr. That HR of yours seems incredibly low.
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Old 06-09-14, 08:46 PM
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Originally Posted by Yankeetowner View Post
Rode my daily 25 mile training ride with HRM. My legs are a little tired since I did a century Saturday (18.9 mph) and a 28+ mile recovery ride Sunday (17 mph). So I wasn't up to doing my usual intervals, but I did push a slightly uphill 1 mile segment at 19-20 mph and I only got to 126 bpm, my legs were burning some and I was breathing pretty heavily. I suspect something is wrong with monitor...or me???
It doesn't sound like there is anything wrong with you or your monitor. Everyone's HR is different. What's important is your cardiac output which is a function of your heart's stroke volume and heart rate. Your heart just pumps a little more volume per stroke than others. I know other fit 65+ yr olds with resting HR in the low 40s. If you have a low resting HR it's likely your HR during normal riding will be lower as well.

When HR monitors have trouble they usually read too high due to static on clothing. Haven't heard of a monitor reading too low.

If you have no symptoms I wouldn't worry about your HR but it never hurts to get tested if you have any concerns.
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Old 06-09-14, 10:04 PM
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Originally Posted by gregf83 View Post
When HR monitors have trouble they usually read too high due to static on clothing. Haven't heard of a monitor reading too low.

If you have no symptoms I wouldn't worry about your HR but it never hurts to get tested if you have any concerns.
HRM straps, particularly Garmin straps, are notorious for reading too low for the first few miles unless you either wet them or use electrode gel. I've had 2 in the last few years and even the new one that's on its second season doesn't often register correct HR in the first few miles if I don't wet it beforehand. If anything, HRM straps will more commonly report a reading that's too low rather than too high.
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Old 06-09-14, 10:12 PM
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Originally Posted by cafzali View Post
HRM straps, particularly Garmin straps, are notorious for reading too low for the first few miles unless you either wet them or use electrode gel. I've had 2 in the last few years and even the new one that's on its second season doesn't often register correct HR in the first few miles if I don't wet it beforehand. If anything, HRM straps will more commonly report a reading that's too low rather than too high.
Never heard of it although I've heard and seen many graphs where the strap was reading too high. In dry environments a loosely fitted jersey flapping in the wind generates static which triggers false readings. Nearly always high. I can show you multiple plots from multiple straps Garmin & Polar showing the same effects.

Regardless, the OPs strap seems to be reading fine as he manually confirmed his HR was in the 40s.
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Old 06-09-14, 11:49 PM
  #23  
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Originally Posted by Yankeetowner View Post
I bought a Cateye like my computer. There is no jumping around of numbers. I think I'll set up a physical with my doctor.
Just read this about a cat eye sensor on Amazon reviews:

"I have had this for 2 months now and it does not work properly. The listed HR is always 50 beats too low. First HRM I have had in 20 years that transmits a signal but is interpreted incorrectly."

50 BPM sounds exactly where you're at. 126BPM on your 19-20mph effort for that mile on the slight incline would put you at 176-- that seems exactly on point. 20mph on an incline is a strenuous effort for most and that heavy breathing was you entering oxygen debt. Oxygen debt correlates with 176BPM as a general number, and given that your max may be around 185-190, that means you should have felt close to maxing out at the end of the effort with not much left in the tank. All of which is normal.

That was a bit of jibber jabber, but basically 50BPM too low seems to line up with everything you've said.
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Old 06-10-14, 12:12 AM
  #24  
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It's not that hard to ride hard for awhile, then simply take one's own pulse for 15 seconds then x4 to see if the HR monitor is in the ballpark, in which case it is very likely reading accurately. There's no particular reason to believe the HRM is 50 beats off. He wasn't going all out. No reason to believe that max pulse rate for a 63+ year old with resting pulse rate in 40s is going to be 185+. Max heart rate does drop with age, even though it will often depart from the usual formulas, which is why field test and zones based on LT instead is recommended. Last Saturday I rode a 14 minute (for me) hill climb near all out, I am 40, I hit 168 max. 19 year old kid on same hill (faster) said he was 190+ pretty much the whole way. People's ranges differ, and older is expected to be lower.

I have same Cateye strap & computer. First strap I bought started going flaky after working fine a few months, it was replaced free under warranty. But it didn't malfunction by reading 50 too low. Things it did were:
- stay frozen at 78 despite my heart rate going much faster
- then some drops to zero, not reading at all
- with a changed fresh battery, climbing to 199 and staying stuck there
Replacement has worked fine for months.

Last edited by stephtu; 06-10-14 at 07:05 AM.
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Old 06-10-14, 06:22 AM
  #25  
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Originally Posted by EnsitMike View Post
Just read this about a cat eye sensor on Amazon reviews:

"I have had this for 2 months now and it does not work properly. The listed HR is always 50 beats too low. First HRM I have had in 20 years that transmits a signal but is interpreted incorrectly."

50 BPM sounds exactly where you're at. 126BPM on your 19-20mph effort for that mile on the slight incline would put you at 176-- that seems exactly on point. 20mph on an incline is a strenuous effort for most and that heavy breathing was you entering oxygen debt. Oxygen debt correlates with 176BPM as a general number, and given that your max may be around 185-190, that means you should have felt close to maxing out at the end of the effort with not much left in the tank. All of which is normal.

That was a bit of jibber jabber, but basically 50BPM too low seems to line up with everything you've said.
First I am going to get a new battery and try it.

Second I am going to schedule a physical. My insurance plan pays for one every two years, and it's been about 5-6 years since I've had one. I'm going to take my monitor and computer and ask the nurse of PA to take my pulse while monitored. If I can get the new battery by Saturday, I'll wear it on a 40-60 mile group ride, and make sure I do several hard pulls. We had an insurance nurse take our BP, pulse, and cholesterol about a year ago. I don't remember my BP or pulse, but my cholesterol total was 130, and I was told everything else was normal.

I've never had chest pain (ride 150-200 miles/week), and I'm 6' 2 1/2" tall and weigh 173 pounds, so I'm a normal weight. I have never even been concerned about my heart, although I do have a family history of heart attacks. I'm going to make a doctor's appointment for a physical today.

Thanks to everyone for your input. I'll let you know what the doctor says and what I find out about the monitor for those who are interested.
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