Ok, I admit, I’ve been a Polar heart rate monitor (HRM) purist for more than 20 years. I’ve owned dozens of Polar HRMs, so many that I’ve started to discard them like old socks. Well, now it’s time to try out some new socks.
I recently contacted Suunto, another manufacturer of HRMs, and asked if I could test drive one of their monitors designed for runners. Suunto’s been around for a long time, since 1936 in fact, 41 years longer than Polar. Like Polar, the company is based in Finland. It is the subsidiary of sports giant Amer Sports Corporation, the parent company of Precor, Wilson, Atomic, Saloman and Mavic. Despite an extensive history making compasses, dive watches, and other precision instruments, Suunto’s foray into the world of HRMs came only recently, in 2004, when it introduced the t6. The company now offers an extensive array of monitors for all sports. They sent me the Suunto t3c designed for runners to test. Here is what I found:
Exit Star Wars, Enter Vogue – The way I see things, if you’re going to shell out a couple of hundred bucks to buy a HRM, you should be able to wear it as a watch, not just as a workout gadget. The problem is that most HRMs (Polar, you listening?) look like bling from a Star Wars costume party. Hello? Who designs these things? If you dare wear one to a social function you might as well yell “hey, look at me, I’m an athlete with no taste!” What is cool about the Suunto t3c is that it doesn’t look like a heart rate monitor. It looks like a well designed watch. Ok, sure, some of you would never wear your HR monitor after a workout. Others, well, you might like standing out in all your glory. I prefer to go undercover, and the Suunto does that very well.
What Size is Your Bra? – One of my biggest gripes about heart rate monitors is the transmitter belts you have to wear around your chest. They’re dreadful. I couldn’t guess how many times I’ve tightened my transmitter belt sooo tight around my chest, only to have it slide down to my waist less than an hour into a run. Heaven help me if I’m running for 4, 5 or more hours at a time (yes some of us do that). Do I stop and tighten the strap every hour so it stays put? Or do I keep tugging at it like an oversized male brazier? The belts made of hard plastic are the worst. The harder I run the faster they fall! NOT so with the Suunto t3c comfort belt. This belt is the most comfortable and secure transmitter belt I’ve ever worn. I’ve run for a couple of months now with this belt, including several 5 to 8 hour runs, and I’ve had zero issues with it. Once on, it stays on. It’s soft, wider than other belts and its elasticity is extremely resilient.
Don’t Forget Your Reading Glasses! – Of course, with every rose comes a thorn. While the Suunto t3c casts a vogue pose, you might need to exchange your sunglasses for reading glasses to read its display, not a good scenario during difficult endurance events. I’m using the Suunto t3c “Black Move” which has a black face and light digits. There is a large display section on the watch face, which allows you to scroll through time of day, real time heart rate, or training effect. There are also two smaller displays, which allow the user to scroll between elapsed time, calories burned, average heart rate and a few other data points. The problem, at least on this model, is that both the large and small display sections are too dim to read even in some daylight situations, and the smaller characters are just too small and difficult to read during an endurance event even in the best light.
Big Brother in a Watch. Seriously? Suunto offers a feature called the Training Effect which is designed to show you the degree “your individual workout improves your aerobic fitness”. It is said to be accurate measurement of how hard you have trained by using data from your own fitness profile and combine it with an analysis of your physiological progress in real time. The Suunto HRM then formulates your Training Effect, presented as a number on a scale from 1-5. This system could be useful for some, but for me its a little too rigid. In order to use the system properly the athlete is supposed to record every single workout with the Suunto HRM. Since I like to run gismo free sometimes, that is without a GPS and HRM, I wouldn’t be “compliant” with the Training Effect. Sometimes it nice to just for a run without monitoring everything!