Several weeks ago I purchased the Polar RS800CX with Stride Sensor technology. I’ve been an owner of polar heart rate monitors for nearly fifteen years so it was kind of like putting on an old sweater.
Polar is the world’s pioneer of heart rate monitor technology and they have dominated this market for decades. But their market share has ebbed in the last five years as athletes turned to GPS technology from Garmin and other companies. I’ve been using both the Polar RS800CX and a Garmin 405 in training and have learned a lot about the strengths, and weaknesses, of both. Here is what I found:
You’re Not Having a Heart Attack! Even though I’ve been using Polar monitors since 1992 I haven’t always been a happy customer. In the early days it seemed like false heart rate readings were the norm. I can’t remember how many times I’d be running along at a leisurely pace only to see my heart rate fluttering around 240. Oh my god, am I having a heart attack?! Fortunately after so many false readings my worry was eroded by buyers remorse. Thankfully those days are over. The most recent Polar monitors I’ve owned, including the RS800CX, have given me consistent and accurate heart rate readings.
Batteries Optimal - As an ultra runner, battery life is a huge issue for me. If you're training for over eight hours at a time, it will be for you too. The battery life on my Garmin 405 is less than eight hours. This is not an issue for a 5k runner, even a marathoner. But what if you train or race for eight, twelve, even sixteen hours or more? This is where GPS technology starts to falter. Its all too common for me to look down at my Garmin 405 GPS to see a blank screen from a dead battery on runs over six hours. Sure, other Garmin models (201 and 301) might last a little longer. But until technology improves, consider GPS devises a luxury with a short leash, that leash being a limited battery life.
Battery life is not a concern with the Polar RS800CX. Not only do you get accurate heart rate readings, but your distance traveled can be measured using Polar's Stride Sensor without the timing limitations inherent with GPS units. This is a water resistant foot pod that measures your speed/pace, distance and cadence. Based on my own experience, I found the Stride Sensor to be quite accurate. On a recent long run the Polar Stride Sensor was within 3/10s of a mile of my Garmin around mile 30 before the Garmin ran out of batteries. Better yet, you don’t have to charge the Stride Sensor every time you use it! For an additional cost, the Polar RS800CX comes with an optional GPS unit that can be used in lieu of the Stride Sensor. I chose not to purchase this.
Cadence, Dear Friends, Cadence - When Lance Armstrong assumed the throne in the cycling kingdom, “cadence” was knighted his silver bullet. Fast, efficient peddling at 90 RPM, it was said, launched Lance from zero to hero. So happens, 90 SPM (strides per minute) is the magic number for runners -- that is if you want to run as efficiently as the elites in the sport. Anything slower than this, regardless of pace, is not as efficient. Once I realized the RS800CX measured cadence, I measured mine right away. I was pleased to find it was between 86 and 88 SPM. I was less pleased with the concentration it took to maintain 90 strides per minute. What’s cool about the Polar RS is that it monitors your cadence real time—up hills, over trails, on the street—then gives you an average cadence for each run.
Beam me up, Scotty – one of the things I found with the RS800CX is how easy it is to transfer data from the device to my computer. Polar utilizes infrared technology to send data from the device to a pod that plugs easily into any USB port. My experience with this system, despite very little patience with software in general, has been very good. I hold the Polar up to the pod, push go, and within 30 seconds my workout information is loaded on the computer. Polar uses a proprietary software – Pro Trainer 5 – which provides extensive analysis using charts and graphs. Distance, heart rate, pace, and cadence are all tracked real time and graphed out automatically for you to see visually on your screen. Averages for all of these data points and outdoor temperature are also recorded.
Running Index, Flatlanders Only? The RS800CX contains a unique fitness measurement program called Running Index. This is designed to measure your training progress and fitness changes. This is simply a measurement of your running economy. The faster you run at a give heart rate, the better your score. This is a great method to track your condition, but it's not without its flaws. When testing myself, I've scored a 62 on certain runs ("very good"), and under 50 ("average") on other runs. What I've learned is that this system is only good for running on flat courses, because it doesn't recognize when you're climbing hills. For example, if you happen to be running up a long mountain hill, all it knows is you're running slow and at a high heart rate. Result? A low rating. You might as well be fat and out of shape. Nonetheless, you can still use the index to measure your fitness progress by comparing your score from week to week on the same course.
Do I recommend the Polar RS800CX? I'm not one to make hearty recommendations for products. What I've learned is that people have their own biases for and against products. What one man says is great another man despises. Yet, if I were to compare the Polar RS800CX to the Garmin 405 which I also own and have used extensively, I must say I prefer the Polar. The Polar doesn't have limited battery life, it provides good distance and heart rate measurement, it measures cadence, transfers data easily to my computer and, yes, it looks cooler!
Replacing the battery on the wrist watch is not without its challanges. It would appear to be an easy turn of the seal on the bottom of the device. This I did. Getting the gadget to come loose of the watch once turned is the challenge. I broke one my best steak knifes trying to pry this succer out! Polar, help!
Post Script: I need your help! As you can see, I don’t write this blog for money…hence no annoying pop up advertising. However I do write to encourage and inspire others. My only way to know I am succeeding is getting feedback from and building a following of readers. If you have found value in this blog post, please leave a comment below and follow my blog by entering your email at top of page or on Twitter by clicking here.