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You can use your heart rate monitor during any aerobic workout. After a while you may get the feel of your workout and not need it every time, but you will still want to use it now and then to judge progress. Heart rate monitors can also be used to gauge your progress on a given workout--to see if you're going faster over the course. You can use a heart rate monitor to gauge the intensity of an interval workout. You can also use it to stay on pace during a race.
Here's how you figure your heart rate target. First, subtract your age from 220. Divide that number by 60% and 75%. If you are 35, that's 185 x 60% (111) and 75% (139). Your target is 111-139 beats per minute, and that's what you enter in your heart rate monitor. Check your heart rate while working out and stay in the lower part of the range if you're a beginner and higher if you're experienced. If you're already at a high fitness level, set your target between 70 or 75% and 85 or 90%. There is natural variation so you can make slight variations if these numbers either don't challenge you or leave you exhausted.
Use your heart rate monitor during any aerobic exercise. Your heart doesn't care what exercise put it into its target zone. This would be running, walking, biking, skating, or cross country skiing. Also qualifying are exercise machine workouts like stair climbing, rowing, or using an elliptical trainer. Most sports, like tennis or basketball, are stop-and-go so don't keep your heart rate steady, though you may get a great workout.
The main reason you get a heart rate monitor is to check your heart rate during exercise and see that you are in your target zone. Other features help you track other aspects of your workouts and make them more fun. To improve aerobic capacity and fitness, you have to spend some workout time in your target heart rate zone. It's difficult to take your pulse while exercising so the heart rate monitor is the surest way to see you're exercising at the right intensity.
A heart rate monitor is usually worn like a wrist watch. Some models include a strap worn around the chest, while others have built-in sensors. Most heart rate monitors, besides displaying your heart rate at the time, have time and stopwatch functions. Commonly, they have an alarm that tells you when you're out of your target zone. More advanced models have recording and storage functions and record and retrieve lap times. Some calculate calories burned. High end models have testing functions and advanced features that are even used in exercise labs.