People come in all kinds of glorious shapes and sizes, and that’s something to celebrate. When it comes to getting great performance out of a chest strap heart rate monitor, though, having a chest that’s more on the concave (hollowed out) side can be a serious pain in the derrière. You’ll need to know how to troubleshoot the problem if you really want your device to deliver the biofeedback you need for safety, body contouring and weight control.
The Concave Problem
Electrocardiogram (EKG) machines, which are the gold standard for heart rate monitoring, utilize sensors that pick up very tiny changes in your skin. These changes occur because of the natural electrical depolarization that happens when the heart beats. Most traditional chest strap heart rate monitors, including the HeartQ, use this same basic technology, meaning they are extremely accurate when you use them properly. Unfortunately, in order for the sensors in chest strap to detect the activity of your heart, they need to be in contact with the skin, just as the electrodes for an EKG machine do. When your chest has a concave shape to it, a small gap might remain between your skin and the chest strap sensors. As a result, the sensors can’t detect what’s happening consistently, or in the worst case scenario, they don’t detect activity at all and your HRM gives you a “check heart rate monitor” reading. Another issue is that the HRM, in misinterpreting the skin’s reactions, might tell you that your heart rate is spiking to your upper zones when in fact it isn’t. In any of these three scenarios, the result is that you don’t get a picture of where your heart rate really is sitting. Anything else the HRM does that requires the heart rate as a basis, such as calculating your calories burned, won’t be accurate, either.
How to Make Sure Your Chest Doesn’t Leave You with Hollow Results
In many cases, the first thing you should try if your chest strap heart rate monitor isn’t performing well due to a concave chest is just to tighten the strap. You know you have the right degree of tightness if the strap feels a little snug at the beginning of the workout but then becomes forgettable as you go through your routine. The strap shouldn’t slide or shift down your torso. If you are very petite and you can’t tighten a small strap anymore, permanently sew the strap to the shorter length you need. This method works best if your shape is just a little concave.
If you’ve already tightened the strap and your chest shape still is acting up, try adding some heart rate monitor gel to the sensors. The gel works as a conductive agent, and it can make the difference between the sensors working properly and serious frustration. In a pinch, you can use aloe vera gel, which is cheaper and has additional benefits for the skin.
Your next option is to play with the placement of the strap. Although wearing the strap with the sensors and transmitter centered just under the pectoral muscles is what the bulk of manufacturers recommend for best results, some people find that they get much better skin-to-sensor contact if they shift the strap to the left or right. In fact, for a small number of HRM users, the best placement is with the sensors and transmitter on the back. The caveat here is that, depending on the thickness of the transmitter, a back placement can be a bit uncomfortable on particular moves, such as supine abdominal work or bench presses.
If none of these options work for you, don’t despair. Companies now are starting to manufacture workout clothes known as smartwear, which has sensors worked right into the fabric. You can find bras, tank tops and shirts with this type of technology, so both guys and gals can experiment with different outfits to find something that works. You also have the option of selecting a HRM that is upper arm or wrist based, sans chest strap. These still aren’t as accurate as the chest strap heart rate monitor, especially at high intensity, but they can give you at least a rough estimate of what’s happening. Take their readings with a grain of salt.
Many people have trouble getting accurate readings with chest-strap HRMS because of their chest shape, failing to get good contact between their skin and the sensors of the device. Nevertheless, tightening the strap, using a conductive gel and modifying the strap/transmitter placement usually help. If you must, smartwear or arm/wrist HRM models are available, although their readings aren’t as good as what you’ll get with a chest-strap design.
Readers Speak Out
What solution mentioned here works best for you if you have a concave chest shape?