polar, myzone, and the gamification of heart rate training

first some background on polar and myzone,

the idea for a wireless, portable heart rate monitor was first conceived by finnish cross-country skier, coach, and professor seppo säynäjäkangas. he conceived the idea initially to aid the training of the finnish national cross country ski team. in 1977 he founded polar electronics, and in 1980 polar filed a patent for the very first wireless ekg heart rate monitor. in 1982 their first wireless heart rate monitor hit the market, and in 1986 polar released it’s first heart rate training analysis software.

not only are polar products used by fitness enthusiasts and elite athletes, but they are also used in various scientific studies. polar changed the way the world trains not only with their wearable heart rate monitors, but also through the data analysis offered in their user interfaces. the possibility of monitoring and recording heart rate during an entire training session or a competition provided unique insights on how an athlete’s body reacted to training and strain. were they doing too much, or too little? could they push their limits or were they on the brink of overtraining? polar products were the first to revolutionize these aspects of training.

myzone was founded in 2011 with the goal of engaging and motivating people to be more physically active. myzone did not innovate their own product. they licensed patents form polar to create their myzone technologies! myzone’s goal to get people to be more physically active is based on the world health organizations recommendation that healthy adults perform a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week. to say this is an oversimplification of fitness is an understatement! it is certainly helpful and life changing for many, but is also rather myopic.

while both polar and myzone, divide heart rate training into five zones, myzone then takes time spent within each zone during a workout and assigns a point value system to it called myzone effort points (mep’s). this gamification brings a socialization aspect to exercise, and may help create camaraderie and competition as participants compare points.

one issue with assigning a point value system to heart rate data, instead of looking at the data itself, is that the complexities that characterize heart rate training and the many components that fitness encompasses (agility, coordination, speed, power, endurance, strength, mobility, stability – ideally all done in a multiplanar fashion in a proprioceptively enriched environment) are oversimplified.

just because an individual achieves myzone’s recommended 1,300 mep’s per month, or even earns the most mep’s in their fitness facility, or has the goal that with every workout they should always earn as many mep’s as possible; this does not equate to a well rounded optimal fitness program. this is an un-nuanced over simplification that equates more with being better. the myzone mep’s gamification works to motivate participants to do more and to work harder, however, training “harder” is not synonymous with training smarter.

as long as an individual is educated on all the above nuances, mep’s still do have a relative value within a narrow scope. statistically speaking, a simple reward and point system for measuring effort may be effective in motivating an individual to be more physically active, but does not speak to a broad encompassing scope of fitness. polar products are more well rounded as they take all components of fitness into consideration when their products are used with their full data analysis capabilities.

breaking down heart rate training into 5 zones is not unique to polar or myzone. in my next blog post blog, i will discuss the intricacies and nuances of the various physiological responses of training within each heart rate zone. the general idea is that with aerobic exercise, the higher an individual’s heart rate gets, the more they are relying on glycogen from carbohydrates for fuel, however, this is a very cursory explanation.

what i have learned from almost two decades of analyzing my polar heart rate data, currently through flow.polar.com, has given me priceless insight into my health. in a future blog post i will show the full functionality of flow.polar.com. this data analysis goes well beyond a simple points system.

disclaimer: i was a brand ambassador for polar for two years, and then a polar sales rep for two years. i no longer have any affiliations with polar.

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