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Gadget Review

Heart Rate Monitor from Sigma Sport

By Kailas Narendran

STAFF writer

I like to exercise. I like to exert myself and push my body to its limits just for kicks. I love the rush of riding down a huge slope on my mountain bike after busting a lung, barely making it up to the top. Even though my net change in potential energy is always zero after a ride, the burn in my muscles and my pounding heart tell me that I’ve somehow actually accomplished something.

With the opening of the new Z-center, I’ve seen a huge increase in the number of people in the MIT population that seem to be interested in exerting themselves for fun. I’ve been a regular of the exercise room ever since it was a dank dungeon with an eclectic soundtrack.

Since the opening of the new room, I’ve been waiting to see the surge of new faces peter out, but it hasn’t happened. I came to the amazing revelation that members of the MIT population might actually be interested in health training products, so I decided to check out the PC1600 heart rate monitor (HRM) from Sigma Sport.

HRM gives workout statistics

The PC1600 HRM is a new device that gives you all sorts of statistics about your heart rate and work out. The system comes in two parts: a pretty ugly-looking watch on your wrist which acts as the user interface and displays exercise statistic readouts, and the heart rate sensor that you strap around your torso below your breasts. As you workout, the device keeps track of your heart rate, monitors zones of activity, calculates calories burned, etc. It has quite a bit of functionality beyond that of the HRMs available through the handles on most aerobic exercise equipment.

My only experience with HRMs before the PC1600 was the type integrated into most elliptical walkers, treadmills, or other exercise equipment. I was fascinated by the fact my heart rate would jump around more than the crowd at a Cypress Hill concert.

Avoiding flatlining during exercise

With traditional HRMs, many times I would flatline, and then return from death magically by the end of my workout. I attribute this to the fact that the system looks for tiny electrical potentials generated across my body as my heart beats. If the connection between my hands and the handles isn’t good enough, the reading is erroneous.

The PC1600 tries to circumvent this problem by strapping the pickups to your torso. The trade-off is that the pickup pads on the torso strap need to be moist (not really a problem since people generally sweat while working out).

The bigger problem I had with this system was that it’s really annoying to have a strap across your chest. I sweat a lot, and I didn’t appreciate the large, extra sweaty stripe across my midsection. In addition, the shape of my body encourages the torso strap to slide down around my stomach.

I had a very hard time with the interface for the PC1600. The display is pretty small, and the buttons are not very easy to reach while you’re in mid-stride. Navigating the interface menus is like setting the time on a cereal box watch from the mid-80s. There’s no nice alphanumeric readout that tells you exactly what the HRM thinks its doing, which resulted in a lot of confusion for me.

Sigma gives bang for the buck

Despite the interface problems, the Sigma Sport line of HRMs gives you the most number of features for your dollar.

Comparable HRMs from other brands retail for upwards of $70, where the PC800, the introductory HRM from Sigma Sport, is only $60. I found that the system wasn’t too comfortable, and the benefits were marginal (uncomfortable and hard to read) if you are just using the equipment in a gym. While monitoring your heart rate is key for effective fitness training, a wearable HRM might not be worth the cost and effort unless you’re exercising outside.

The Sigma Sport line of HRMs runs from $60-$80. You can find out more information at <http://www.sigmasport.com>.