A heart rate monitor is a simple and effective way to monitor your workouts. It gives you the most accurate picture of how much effort you are putting in and how much more you can really give. All of the best smartwatches or running watches offer a built-in heart rate monitor, so it’s the easiest option for most runners and cyclists, whether on a machine or out in the wild.
I’ve been using a NordicTrack treadmill for about six months and until recently I was monitoring my heart rate on my Apple Watch, to make sure I was in the right “zone” for the activity. As the iFit instructors dig deeper into you, you can calculate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. To get my light intensity of around 75%, I would then multiply that by 0.75, and that’s it. is where I would keep my regular rhythm running.
iFit machines have a cool feature called SmartAdjust, which controls the speed and incline of your machine based on what the trainer is doing. This means that when they start running it speeds up and when they start climbing a hill the incline increases. The general speed can then be adjusted according to your physical condition. The same feature is available on exercise bikes, rowers, and ellipticals that use iFit.
This is by far my favorite part of the iFit system because it really immerses you in the running. I’ve climbed Machu Picchu, explored Vietnam, hiked Maui, all with the help of SmartAdjust. But there’s a second feature on iFit treadmills that extends SmartAdjust called ActivePulse. This adjusts the intensity of your workout based on your heart rate.
To use ActivePulse, you need to connect your heart rate monitor to your machine. You can use any Bluetooth enabled heart rate monitor, but currently not the Apple Watch. I found apps that streamed heart rate from Apple Watch to treadmill, but they weren’t that reliable.
So for my connection, I opted for iFit’s SmartBeat heart rate monitor, which costs around $99 in the US. It’s a simple-looking device with a material strap and a small black plastic square with an iFit button and LED on the outside and sensors on the inside. It also comes with USB charging that magnetically snaps into the back, giving you around 30 hours of use per charge.
I like that there’s no screen or anything in it because I always wanted to use my Apple Watch to record my time and didn’t need anything else to distract me. The SmartBeat wristband is designed to be worn on your forearm, but can easily go up or down if you prefer. To connect the device, simply press the iFit button on the wristband and select it from your treadmill’s Bluetooth devices.
Once connected, you can start your workout as normal (although it won’t work on manual or live workouts at this time). If you haven’t enabled SmartAdjust and ActivePulse yet, you can do so from the training menu. The SmartBeat band takes a few minutes to calibrate, which is normally related to the warm-up period of your workout. The on-screen ActivePulse monitor gives you a choice of views to show what it’s doing (you can also hide it if you want).
While SmartAdjust will always change speed and incline to match the on-screen environment, ActivePulse will change intensity, primarily by changing speed. iFit has assigned zones to the different stages of its workouts which correspond to a rate of perceived exertion (RPE). Based on your age and your resting heart rate (which you can enter in your profile), iFit has calculated the heart rate range for each of its five RPE zones. If your heart rate drops below this range, it will increase your intensity. If it goes above, it will decrease your intensity.
As ActivePulse relies on these calculated areas for its monitoring, it is important that you have the correct information in the system. If you lie about your age, it might push you too hard. Likewise, giving an accurate resting heart rate will affect the zone ranges. The other important parameter is your maximum running speed.
When I first started using the SmartBeat I realized my top speed was set at 7.5mph which is quite a sprint and knocked various items off my desk as I tried to follow him. I also learned that what I considered reasonable effort was often a little less than what was required.
I used to finish a 30 minute workout feeling a little exhausted, but with the ActivePulse on, I end up like a sweaty mess. My speed is pushed above my normal jog to something board running and often beyond what I think I can achieve. I would say the ActivePulse can be a little slow to respond at times. It left me sprinting over 15% inclines before registering my heart rate exploding and needing to slow down. Likewise, during cool downs, he finds that my heart rate drops too low and speeds me up again, which I’m sure isn’t the point of a cool down.
It’s definitely something that works better for workouts with longer intervals than those that last a minute or two. Otherwise, the moment it registers the change, you change gears again. You can also override the speed using the normal touchpad if it’s too high, which I had to do a few times.
There’s definitely a part of me that’s tempted to give up the SmartBeat, because my workouts were so much easier before – and arguably more enjoyable. However, I know it’s the only way for me to really push myself to work harder. It’s a bit closer to having a personal trainer with you, but much cheaper.
If you have an iFit treadmill, I highly recommend connecting your heart rate monitor to it. And if you don’t have a compatible device, buy the SmartBeat.