Heart rate monitor – how it was made?

Heart monitoring has a long history in endurance sports. Long before the construction of electronic devices, endurance athletes realized that the pace of their heartbeats is inextricably linked to the effort, and therefore with sports results. It was obvious. When they practiced with a lot of effort, they felt their heart beat faster. As they slowed down, the heart worked much more slowly. 

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An old method of measuring the pulse before the era of the heart rate monitor 

During exercise, endurance athletes checked their wrist or neck, but to do this they had to slow down or stop completely. Of course, when the intensity of effort decreases, the heart beats slower and the heart rate drops. The longer they stood and kept their fingers on the neck or wrist, the lower their heart rate. Counting for a minute was completely pointless. Therefore, to get the correct number, the player had to count only for 10 seconds, so that the heart rate would not slow down too much. Then the result multiplied by 6, which gave the approximate value of the pulse, very inaccurate. Unfortunately, research has shown that this method of calculating the heart rate led to an error of at least 9 beats per minute. Subsequent tests showed errors up to 17 beats per minute. But what else could athletes do? 

It became clear to trainers and athletes that this way of calculating the heart rate is too inaccurate, and the medical equipment designed to measure the pulse was too expensive and too large to be carried. A small, inexpensive device was needed that would check the pulse during exercise and not during rest. 

Two breakthroughs 

In the 1970s, there were two breakthroughs. At the beginning of this decade, the Australian sport psychologist, and later also the world-famous swimming coach, Dr. Robert Treffene, began to deal with heart rate measurements. Soon, he constructed a pocket monitor with electrodes and cables, with which the pool trainer could check his swimmers’ heartbeats as soon as they finished swimming and stopped at the pool wall. 

The second breakthrough came in 1977. Seppo Säynäjäkangas (pronounced say-nayya-kong-as), a 33-year-old electronics professor at the University of Oulu, on the west coast of Finland, was an avid skier, like many Finns. In 1976, he wanted to help a local ski coach, a frustrated lack of ability to monitor the pulse of his novice athletes. The professor invented a heart rate monitor with batteries placed on the fingertips. He knew that he was on the trail of something big, when the National Ski National Team of Finland wanted to use this device, so in 1977 he founded the company Polar Electro Oy. 

The first heart rate monitor 

A year later, Polar introduced the first Tunturi Pulser pulse. It was a heart rate monitor connected by cables to the chest band. Five years later, in 1983, Polar presented the first wireless heart rate monitor, using an electric field for data transfer – Sport Tester PE 2000. The next year, the company released a device with a computer interface – Sport Tester PE 3000. The era of modern training has come. 

Modern training with a heart rate monitor 

Surprisingly, trainers and athletes at first approached the heart rate monitor very cautiously. But in 1984 something happened that mastered the covers of all magazines dealing with endurance sports. This year, Francesco Moser, an Italian cyclist, beat Belgian Eddie Merckks’ record in an hour-long ride – the distance a cyclist can cover in one hour while driving alone on the track. The amazing Merckks record – 49,431 km was established in 1976 and was considered unbeatable. In the end, Merckx was considered the greatest rider of all time. Many great athletes tried to break his record, but it failed. Moser was considered a decent cyclist, but he was not the best, and he was approaching the end of his career. But in Mexico, on a cold January day in 1984, within an hour Moser rode 51.115 km – an entire 3 percent more. 

Interesting in the case of the Moser record was how he trained. Until then, the training of cyclists was based strictly on the well-being. Most of the training took place in groups, thanks to which individual riders could mobilize each other for better results. Instead of following the tradition, Moser trained under his trainings preparing for hour-driving under the supervision of the Italian doctor Francesco Conconi. Dr. Conocni, using the Säynäjäkangas pulse during the race, made an interesting discovery. When, after training on the treadmill, during which he ran faster and faster with each lap, he created a graph showing the pace and heart rate, he noticed something that he considered an intriguing phenomenon. The dots on the graph were connected by a solid line. The line went up from the lower left corner of the chart to the upper right. He expected it. However, at the top, something interesting happened on the right – the line was breaking down a bit. Conocni recognized that the point of refraction is an anaerobic threshold (later studies have questioned this discovery). This is how Conconi’s test was born. 

Conconi knew that a man could keep his effort on the anaerobic threshold (AT – anaerobic threshold) for about an hour. When Moser reported to him, looking for tips on how to train to break the record, the doctor already knew how to prepare it – using the heart rate monitor and performing the Conconi test to determine the anaerobic threshold and then train at the determined pulse rate. It worked. 

The confusion that Moser and Conconi introduced caused that riders, runners, swimmers, skiers and other strength athletes around the world decided to try out training using heart monitors. Conconi’s test has been described and praised in many journals, in different languages ​​and in different time zones. A new training method has been born. 

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You can read also: Cardio trening – not as bad as its seems

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