Many recumbent exercise bikes include hand pulse sensors as one of their extras. They are included in the handlebars that are on both sides of the seat.
These sensors are there to detect your pulse to give you a measure of your heart rate that shows on the bike’s console. You are required to grip them both with your hands to get a reading.
They can be a way to monitor your heart rate when you want to exercise and training in the heart rate zone that’s best for you based on your age and level of fitness.
(This article from the American Heart Association has more information on your heart rate at different ages Target Heart Rates
Moderate exercise is 50 – 69% and for tough physical workout is 70 – 90% of your target heart rate for your age.
You can measure your own heart rate by counting your pulse in your wrist for 10 seconds and multiply for 10 seconds.
But a heart rate monitor is easier.
What Is The Use Of Them
The recumbent exercise bikes can use the heart rate information from the sensors for a variety of purposes. At the most basic it can be used to display it on the monitor so you can monitor it and stay in the zone you have set yourself.
With more advanced consoles and bikes there are pre-set programs that monitor and adjust the workout for you to stay within the zone you’ve selected.
It can also be used to determine a fitness score with the bike monitoring your heart rate during a workout for a set period of time – normally scoring you between very poor and very good based on your age.
They can also perform a recovery test to see how well you recover from exercise – where it takes your heart rate just as you finish your exercising and then 2 minutes afterwards to determine how well you recover. Some notes on heart rate recovery are here.
Disadvantages Of The Hand Pulse Sensor
Though they can make it easier to measure your heart rate than measuring it yourself and you can see it while you exercise and more there are a couple of things to be aware of.
The first is that both your hands have to be in contact with the sensors to have any chance of a reliable reading. It means you can’t be holding a book etc while trying to get a reading and becomes more important when using a heart rate program.
Often they can unreliable as many people find they can’t get a good reading from them no matter how they grip them. This does seem to a common problem with them no matter what the model of the bike it is.
There Are Some Things You Can Do
To overcome the accuracy and reliability there are a few things you can try to have a better experience.
It starts with assembly – when you are putting the bike together you need to be careful that you have the wires properly connected between from the sensors to the monitor. A loose connection or pinching the wires can cause an intermittent or no reading. Also if covered with film for packaging this needs to be removed.
Grip – You need to grip both sensors firmly with both hands to get the required reading. You do need to be careful here as too tight a grip can also cause the same problems as a loose grip with the sensors not picking up your pulse.
Hands. There are 3 things to look out for here.
If you use hand cream this can stop them from getting a reading, so you do need to remove.
Next if your hands are dry this can prevent a reading by slightly dampening your hands this can improve the ability of the sensors.
Finally if your hands are cold this can interfere with the sensors ability to read your pulse so again you may need to warm them up.
However, sometimes you may find you just can’t get a reliable reading and unfortunately that is just the nature of them.
The best way to get a reliable reading of your heart rate is with a heart rate strap, although many bikes aren’t compatible with them so you need to monitor separately.
There are some bikes like the Schwinn 270 where you can use a Polar Heart Rate Strap (uncoded and you have to buy separately) as well as the hand pulse sensors that come bike to use with the console
When hand pulse sensors work they can be a great aid to help with your exercising. They can help you train at the correct intensity. They can also help you monitor your progress with fitness scores and recovery rate.
However, they can be unreliable so the real benefits are not available. Also your hands are tied into a fixed position when you want to use them.
I prefer the heart rate strap for reliability but not many recumbent exercise bikes offer that option and you often have to buy one separately.