The Polar FT4
The Polar FT4 Heart Rate Monitor Watch is one of the more basic, and less expensive (retails for $99.95), heart rate monitors offered by Polar. On their website, they recommend it for people looking to improve their fitness and “for those who want basic heart rate-based features to keep their fitness training simple.” Because I already use several different tracking programs to keep tabs on my running, calorie intake, and other activities, the FT4 was the best option to add some heart rate training into the mix without going into data overload. After using it the past few weeks, I can attest to the fact that it is definitely changing the way I workout and train for the better.
Setting up the Polar FT4 is very easy. When you turn on the watch for the first time, you simply set the time, select the units you’d like to use (kg or lbs), input your personal data (height, weight, age, sex), and you’re ready to go! The FT4 uses Polar’s formula to determine your VO2 max (maximum heart rate) based on your personal settings and then automatically calculates your target heart rate zone. Mine, for example, is from 127 to 167 BPM and seems to coincide with most other recommendations I’ve seen for fat burning to aerobic heart rate zones for someone my age. The FT4 does allow you to adjust the upper and lower limits of this zone if you so desire. Some of the more advanced Polar HRM’s also allow you to set up multiple heart rate zones (e.g., both aerobic and anaerobic zones), but as a novice to the heart rate training game, working with just one to begin with has been perfect for me.
Beginning a workout is also very simple. One thing to note is that you have to wear a Polar WearLink Chest Transmitter and strap around your chest while you exercise (both are included with the watch in the box). The strap has built-in electrodes that will pick up your heart rate and has snaps to attach the transmitter that will send your heart rate data to your watch. One important tidbit of advice is that the two electrodes must be thoroughly wet in the sink before you put on the strap in order for them to work properly. I always make sure to use warm water so I can avoid the shock of putting a cold, wet strap up against my skin! As far as comfort goes, I barely notice the strap while I’m running or working out; it stays in place and consistently syncs with my watch. Once you have the strap situated, you simply press the middle button on the right side of the watch, wait for it to pick up your heart rate, and then press it again to begin your workout!
During your workout, the watch will keep track of your heart rate, calories burned, total time spent working out, total time within your target heart rate zone, and your average and maximum heart rate. Using the up/down buttons, you can flip through several different screens during a training session to see your calories burned, check whether you are “in the zone”, see your total time, and check your heart rate. The watch can also be set up to notify you with a beeping noise when you are outside of your target heart rate zone during your workout. After you are finished, the training session is stored on the watch. The FT4 can store up to 10 individual training sessions and keeps track of your total workout time, the total number of times you’ve worked out, and the total number of calories you’ve burned.
The Polar FT4 is a solid little piece of equipment. As far as I can tell, it provides an accurate measure of both my heart rate and calorie expenditure. This is especially useful when I am doing cross-training workouts that aren’t step based, like cardio boxing or biking, where my Fitbit isn’t able to accurately determine calorie burns. During a run, it has been both interesting and helpful to be able to view my heart rate. As long as I keep my heart rate within the target zone, I find that I am able to remain fairly comfortable while I’m running, which is great for pacing. When I do push myself on a run, it helps, mentally, if not physically, to be able to look down at my FT4 and confirm that yes, I can keep going, and no, my heart will not explode out of my chest if I do.
If you are looking for a HRM, I say that Polar is the way to go. The FT4 would be a great option for beginners or for those of you who prefer a simpler form of tracking. If you are interested in being able to store more data files, transfer that data to the computer, use additional heart rate zones, or have a GPS track of your runs, Polar offers several HRM watches that include these features. One of the best features of the FT4, and most of the HRM’s produced by Polar, is that they have really found a way to make heart rate training stylish. Many other heart rate monitors are bulky and/or are not as aesthetically pleasing, but my FT4 is actually cute enough to be worn as a watch all of the time. It’s also pretty fun to get to browse through my exercise data files whenever I want!
The Polar FT4 is available to order online at Amazon (on sale for $60-80) and at REI (priced at $90). I’ve also seen them on display at Dick’s Sporting Goods. It is available in purple/pink or translucent bronze for women and red/black or silver/black for men. If you have any questions or tips about heart rate training or the Polar FT4, as always, feel free to post them in the comments or shoot us an email anytime!
Meagan is a geochemistry research lab manager, runner, Netflix binge-watcher, and Mom to a rescue dog, a bunny, and a human child. She started running in May 2011 and ran her first half marathon in October 2012, followed by her first marathon in October 2013. In July 2018, she joined the triathlon world and completed an Olympic-distance race. After an extended break (pregnancy/maternity leave), she is making a long-overdue return to running and is preparing for a high-elevation half marathon at Crater Lake National Park in August 2020.