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Polar Personal Trainer review

Kat Orphanides
28 Dec 2011
Our Rating 

Polar Personal Trainer isn't pretty, but it provides a powerful range of online planning and analysis tools to help you keep on top of your training, with particularly good features for endurance athletes

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Whether you're trying to shed a few post-Christmas pounds or training for a triathlon, you'll probably hit a point where you want to be able to collect and analyse more information about your fitness, progress and calorie burn than you can easily handle with a pen, paper and stopwatch.

Polar is a renowned maker of sports and fitness tracking equipment, most notably heart rate monitors (HRMs). To test Polar's Personal Trainer software, we used Polar's FT7 monitor. At around £70, it's an entry-level monitor without the extra features of some rivals. A strap goes around your chest to track your heartbeat and wirelessly send that data to the HRM computer, which takes the form of a rather snazzy looking digital watch. Both strap and watch are waterproof, so you can track your performance while swimming as well as on land.

When you start the HRM's monitoring mode, it logs your heart rate in real time, along with whether it's within your personal "fat-burning" (70% to 80% of maximum heart rate) or "fitness" (80% to 90% heart rate) zones. The ability to display your current heart rate is a valuable aid to training, particularly if you use intervals of high-intensity anaerobic exercise interspersed by slower recovery periods. Based on this data, the HRM will store a log of your training session, including peak and average heart rate and total estimated calorie burn.

You can look at the key data, including weekly stats, on the watch's mono LCD display, which also makes it easy to enter key information about your age, weight and height, which is required to calculate your personal heart rate training zones. However if you want to analyse your performance properly, you'll need other tools and a free subscription to the Polar Personal Trainer website.

[IMG ID="158401F"]Polar FT7 + Flowlink[/IMG]

We used the Polar FT7 Heart Rate Monitor in our tests. It comes with the essential chest strap, but the FlowLink USB dongle is sold separately

To get data from our FT7 heart-rate monitor to the site, we had to use the Polar FlowLink USB device and WebSync software (available for PC or Mac OS X), which sends the latest data from your HRM to the website when you put the watch down on the FlowLink receiver. It's a fairly hassle-free process, but you'll have to buy the FlowLink separately for around £35. It's worth noting that some of Polar's more expensive HRMs such as the £161 FT80 come with an included FlowLink module.

The Polar Personal Trainer website isn't much to look at, but it's bursting at the seams with features. Left to its own devices, the website simply stores all the data you upload to it and plots each training session as a calendar entry, including all the data recorded by your HRM. The next step up is to add your favourite sports and disciplines to your personal profile. With that done, you'll be able to pick a sport for each training session and sort your uploaded data accordingly.

A section for strength training exercises allows you to list personal records in the form of one-rep maximums for a range of popular weight lifts and allows you to assemble your own strength workouts. You can add your own exercises, which is helpful, because the limited pre-set lifts, which come with instructive animations, lack many standards, including deadlifts. It's perhaps not surprising that strength training is a little underrepresented. The core use of HRMs - and other Polar products such as cadence and stride sensors - is for cardio work. To this end, there are tools to help you build and track training programs. You can choose between running, cycling outdoor and general aerobic fitness.

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