Dear Heart Rate Monitor, I Am Not Dead.

Freshman Mohammad Ali Qusmi uses a heart rate monitor in P.E. while doing sit ups. PHOTO by Danny Thompson

Freshman Mohammad Ali Qusmi uses a heart rate monitor in P.E. while doing sit ups. PHOTO by Danny Thompson

By Rachael Kossy

rachael kossy
Senior Rachel Kossy on heart rate monitors.

We’ve all been there; it’s either too early or too late in the school day and you’re headed off to gym class.  And of course,  it’s cardio day. My sympathy runs thin for students who moan about doing crunchers or field house laps, but my heart goes out to anyone confined by the dreaded heart rate monitor.

The sweaty, reused chest bands and uncomfortable wrist watches create a displeasing class atmosphere, to say the least. As I fish for a decent strap (one my size and not tied in knots), all of them feel damp with sweat or fountain water (because wetting the monitors supposedly makes them work.) Don’t ask how many times gym teachers have questioned me, with an aggravated look at my ineptitude, “did you wet it?” when my heart rate remains at zero after I’ve run a mile.

Sophomore Nicole Nienow comments on the effects of a wet heart rate monitor.

“I feel like they’re dirty. And you have to put water on them, which gets your shirt wet,” she said.

Having no heart-rate for 30 minutes may actually be less annoying than having a constant heart rate below or above your target zone, the necessary rate to get credit for the day. With the heart rate monitors, students are graded based on if they’re in their target heart rate zone, according to their monitor. This ranges between a heart rate of 145 and 175. If a student stays in their zone for 20 minutes, they receive an A.

Personally, I run 15 miles weekly and walk home a lot, so if I’m not in the mood to do a full blown workout second period (especially because there are no showers after class,) my heart rate will not pass 130.

Senior Chris Darga has a similar problem.

“I have to sprint a mile and my heart rate barely goes up” he said.

Meanwhile, unfit kids snail the track with their heart rates at 170. They happily claim A+’s for the day.

Not to mention, on the rare occasions I do get my heart rate monitor working, it will sporadically jump way above or below my desired zone, even if I remain at the same pace. While a student may get some points for the day, without a full 20 minutes “in your zone” (a common phrase among gym teachers,) grades go down. And the only way to regain those points is by making up the workout (with a heart rate monitor) in the cardio lab after school.

Understandably, this policy leads to students walking next to each other in order to pick up another person’s heart rate.  When two monitors are close together, the heart rates combine, making it possible for a student to get into their target zone without doing much work.

Joaquin Stephenson, director of physical welfare, suggests heart rate monitors create an objective grading system in gym class that never existed before. Now, even though a student may appear slower, the heart rate monitor can verify if they’re really working, or just being lazy.

But an “objective” grading system can’t really be called effective when students can steal heart rates (essentially, a method of cheating,) or when equipment malfunctions so much that students have to make-up their workout in the cardio lab after school.

Because incoming freshman have to buy a personal heart rate monitor for class, Stephenson and Niles North director of physical welfare, Paul Swanson, wrote answers to commonly asked questions about the new equipment.

“We have not experienced inaccuracies in using POLAR technology with our students,” the directors said in response.

Yet this statement is not enforced with tangible evidence on the document. I don’t know about Niles North, but if you ask any given Niles West student about their experience with heart rate monitors, most have a story to tell.

“It’s a hassle putting it on and it takes a long time. Mine never works. My heart rate always goes up to like 500” said junior Ashley Blaylock.

Girls face an extra challenge: the wire bra. The monitors react crazily at the touch of metal, yet the straps lay directly beneath girls’ bras. A girl in her target heart rate zone will sporadically shoot up to 270, as if so overloaded on Red Bull that their heart has enough power to fly. If only that were true; I’d race to the heart rate monitors every time. But it’s not, and I don’t.

While acknowledging the equipment’s issues, gym teacher Dan VanderJeugdt still holds that the new equipment is ultimately beneficial.

“If students can stay in their goal [heart rate], it’s strengthening their heart and it’s also burning calories,” he said.

VanderJeugdt  continued to point out that current freshman have (and new freshman will have) their own heart rate monitors, which will eliminate germ spreading and equipment malfunction.

Freshman Rachel Sison does admit that the equipment effectively encourages students to work harder.

“They’re not that annoying unless you don’t want to work hard” Sison said.

Even so, the leeway for cheating, the monitor’s discomfort factor, and our school’s lack of showers, leaves me skeptical.

Perhaps these newer, individual heart-rate monitors will prove successful for the next generation, but for upperclassmen and sophomores, who are still subjected to the heart rate monitor’s downfalls, it’s time to bid them adieu.

Senior David Park sums up heart-rate monitors quite simply: “They’re a pain.”