Self-tracking is nothing new. Professional athletes and trainers have monitored their personal metrics for decades in an effort to improve performance, while doctors and clinicians have studied medical data for even longer to improve patient health.
But in the last few years, interest in biometrics has increased exponentially, and it’s hard to find a wearable these days that doesn’t offer some form of heart rate tracking, a metric which remains arguably the best indicator of overall health.
The prevalence of heart rate trackers is particularly good news for health-conscious consumers, because in such a competitive space, getting a decent tracker no longer costs the earth.
In this article then, we’ve – in no particular order – rounded up the best affordable wearables in 2020 that incorporate heart rate tracking into your daily activity and exercise routine.
(Image credit: Fitbit)
- 1. Fitbit Inspire HR
- 2. Wahoo Tickr X
- 3. MyZone MZ-3
- 4. Jabra Sport Pulse
- 5. Polar OH1
- 7. Huawei Watch GT
- 8. LETSCOM fitness tracker with HRM
- 9. Garmin Vivosmart 4
- 10. Withings Pulse HR
- 15 Best Heart Rate Monitor Watches in 2020
- 1. Apple Watch Series 5
- 2. Samsung Galaxy Watch
- 3. Fitbit Versa 2
- 4. Garmin Forerunner 35
- 5. Polar Ft1
- 6. Fitbit Charge 3
- 7. Garmin vívosmart
- 8. Suunto 3 Fitness
- 9. Withings Steel HR Sport Smartwatch
- 10. Fitbit Inspire HR
- 11. L8star Fitness Tracker
- 12. Letsfit Fitness Tracker
- 13. Willful Fitness Tracker
- 14. MorePro Waterproof Health Tracker
- 15. Lintelek Fitness Tracker
- What (and how) we tested
- What we found
- The Results
- How Heart Rate Sensors Work
- What Heart Rate Tells You
- What’s a Good vs. Bad Heart Rate?
- Our Recommendations
- Wearing the heart rate monitor strap upside down
- Not washing the strap often enough
- Not wetting the strap fully before wear
- You got HR data, but don’t know what to do with it
- Not realizing that a lot of factors affect your heart rate
- Not accounting for the lag between effort changes and heart rate
- Not knowing your training zones — or using incorrect ones
- Using a wrist-based heart tracker for high intensity efforts
- How to get more accurate wrist heart rate readings – tips and troubleshooting steps
- Getting started
- How to wear your Suunto wrist heart rate monitor watch – better fit for better readings
- Keep in mind when wearing a wrist HR tracker
- How optical heart rate measurement works
- Good to know about wrist heart rate measurement
- Troubleshooting tips:
- Heart rate monitors
- Buying A Heart Rate Monitor
- Fitbit Charge 3
- Omron HeartGuide
- Sigma R1
- Kalenji Dual ANT+/Bluetooth Heart Rate Monitor Belt
- Lezyne HR Flow
- Garmin Fenix 5
- Moov HR Sweat
- Polar H10
- Garmin HRM-Run
- Why You Need A Heart Monitor
- The Best Heart Rate Monitors
- 1. Best For Everyday Health Tracking: Fitbit Inspire HR
- 2. Best For Guided Training: Polar Ignite
- 3. Best For Advanced Features: Apple Watch Series 4
- 4. Best For HIIT Workouts: MYZONE MZ-3
- 5. Best Value Chest Strap: Wahoo Tickr X
- 6. Best Arm Strap: Polar OH1
- 7. Best Arm Strap For ANT+ Users: Wahoo TICKR FIT
- 8. Best For Swimmers And Triathletes: Garmin HRM-Swim
- The best chest strap heart rate monitors, according to Amazon reviews
- How to choose a chest strap heart rate monitor
- How to Choose and Use Heart Rate Monitors
- Heart Rate Monitor Features
1. Fitbit Inspire HR
Inspiration to get off the sofa
Premium design Lots of tracked metrics Screen can be unresponsive
Almost all of Fitbit’s fitness trackers now offer heart rate monitoring, but it’s the Fitbit Inspire HR that we think makes the most of the Fitbit app’s HR features at an affordable price.
The Inspire HR is noticeably thin and light on the wrist, while the black and white touchscreen keeps things simple, with a left and right swiping gesture revealing your daily stats. These include your step count and calories burned, as well as your resting heart rate, which is a key indicator of overall health.
With over 15 exercise modes to choose from, it’s Fitbit’s most full-featured affordable tracker to date. Perhaps surprisingly at its budget price point, the Inspire HR is also waterproof and can track swimming lengths, too.
Still, if you’re looking for something from the same company that offers a few more fitness feature chops, check out the Fitbit Charge 3, which also makes our roundup.
(Image credit: Wahoo Fitness)
2. Wahoo Tickr X
A chest-worn option
Waterproof Accurate Feels weird at first
Despite the marketing spiel of wrist-based heart rate monitors, nothing beats a heart rate monitoring chest strap for accuracy, especially if your training regime involves irregular movement (think HIIT workouts involving various exercises in quick succession).
The Wahoo Tickr X meets these challenges and then some, offering motion analytics and real-time data through its wide compatibility with fitness apps like Nike Run Club and MapMyFitness.
The Bluetooth waterproof tracker on the strap is a plastic pebble that houses a battery which lasts around 12 months, and it features vibration alerts and two LEDs to display wireless connection and heart rate detection.
The strap also tracks calories burned as well as running analytics – including cadence and ground contact time – that can be synced after your workout. On first wear it feels weird, but it’s so light that after a few minutes you don’t even notice it. Reasonably priced, discreet, insightful – what’s not to like?
(Image credit: MyZone)
3. MyZone MZ-3
Motivating Points System Integrated workout memory Not for all-day wear
Like the Wahoo Tickr X, the MyZone MZ-3 chest strap achieves high-accuracy heart rate tracking whatever activity you’re performing, but it also gamifies your workout by tracking your heart rate zones and awarding MyZone Effort Points (MEPs) based on how hard your heart is working.
The strap streams data to the accompanying MyZone mobile app, allowing you to see which zone you’re in during your workout and ramp things up or slow down accordingly. Five color-coded HR zones indicate increasing levels of effort, and you earn a different number of MEPs for every minute you can stay in each zone.
In addition, the MyZone app offers guided workout sessions that challenge you to reach different levels of intensity. And even if you don’t have your smartphone handy, the strap’s built-in memory will record your session data and upload it to the app the next time it’s in range.
(Image credit: Jabra)
4. Jabra Sport Pulse
Heart rate-tracking headphones
Good sound Decent noise isolation Battery life could be better
The Jabra Sport Pulse headphones track your heart rate from inside your ear, because science! Basically, the heart rate monitoring and oxygen consumption tech is packed into the left earbud, where a light sensor reads off the small blood vessels close to the skin surface in your ear and sends the data to the Jabra mobile app.
Behind the right bud meanwhile there’s a USB charging port, with a single charge providing 4.5 to 5 hours’ use – not great, but not terrible considering the tech it’s powering.
The short cord on these wireless Bluetooth buds sits comfortably behind your neck, and the included clip keeps it raised to prevent it from swinging, while the conveniently placed inline remote offers volume and music playback controls.
Audio-wise, the buds pipe through the soundtrack to your run with punchy clarity, and their noise isolation is pretty decent too.
(Image credit: Polar)
5. Polar OH1
Avoids the wrist
Accurate HR tracking Arguably comfier than a chest strap No on-device display
Chest strap heart rate trackers may offer more accurate readings than a wrist-based device, but if you find them uncomfortable to wear then it’s worth taking a look at the Polar OH1, which can be worn on the upper or lower arm.
Thanks to its placement away from the wrist joint, the Polar OH1 generally achieves a more consistent heart rate reading. It’s also capable of recording 200 hours of training, so there’s no constant need to sync it to your smartphone over Bluetooth. That said, if you want to see your heart rate in real time during a workout then you’ll need to use it with the Polar Beat app.
The arm strap offers 12 hours of battery life, is waterproof up to 30 meters, and can pair with gym equipment as well as most third-party apps that support Bluetooth heart rate straps.
(Image credit: Fitbit)
Rugged activity tracking
Over 15 goal-based exercises Smartwatch features Fitbit Pay not universally supported
If you’re looking for an affordable heart rate tracker with extra smartwatch smarts that’s built for more intensive workouts, the Fitbit Charge 3 should fit the bill. It may be bulkier than the Inspire HR, but the bigger display includes features like calendar and weather, not to mention support for smartphone app alerts and the ability to send quick replies to messages.
As you’d expect, the Charge 3 includes continuous heart rate monitoring and automatic exercise recognition, but it also offers real-time heart rate zones, so you can see at a glance when you’re in Fat Burn, Cardio, or Peak zones and ensure you’re making the most of your workout.
It’s waterproof too (up to 50 meters), so you can track your time in the pool, while the breathable strap keeps things comfortable whatever activity you’re engaged in.
Fitbit’s auto sleep tracking makes it worth wearing around the clock, and can offer personal insights into your rest. To round things off, it also has a built-in blood oxygen sensor that’s able to detect breathing irregularities and can help identify conditions like sleep apnea.
(Image credit: Huawei)
7. Huawei Watch GT
A stylish smartwatch
Bright OLED display Stunning battery life Lack of HR data syncing options
Now available at half of what it launched for in late 2018, the Huawei Watch GT inches into our round-up of affordable heart rate trackers, and it comes with an impressive raft of smart features, and a fantastic 30-day battery life to boot.
Running on the company’s own LiteOS operating system, Huawei’s stylish wearable boasts a responsive 1.4-inch color OLED touchscreen that you can swipe to keep tabs on real-time heart rate, activity rings, and sleep quality, as well as to access on-watch apps like timer, weather, compass, barometer, and the like.
A wealth of activity tracking options are on offer, including cycling, swimming, hiking, climbing, and even training courses for beginner runners. You can also adjust and keep track of your heart rate zones using the Huawei Health app, although there are few ways to sync your heart rate data to other apps, which is about our only real bugbear at this price point.
(Image credit: LETSCOM)
8. LETSCOM fitness tracker with HRM
Smart features on a budget
Impressive touchscreen Smartwatch features Fiddly charging cradle
For an unabashedly budget fitness tracker, this wrist-based offering from LETSCOM has a few impressive tricks up its sleeve.
The lively color touchscreen offers four watch faces to choose from and supports multiple swipes to access various features, including up to 8 workout types, a music controller, guided breathing, fitness data (including live heart rate readings) and even smart notifications from your phone.
GPS tracking during workouts is offloaded to your mobile device via the VeryFitPro app, but otherwise the step, heart rate, and sleep tracking are remarkably accurate. Granted, it’s no Apple Watch beater, but there’s relatively little to complain about at this price.
(Image credit: Garmin)
9. Garmin Vivosmart 4
Tracks more than just HR
Seven-day battery life Swim-proof No GPS
Garmin has garnered a reputation for making fitness trackers that are packed with voluminous exercise activities and matched with deep statistical analytics, and its most affordable models don’t disappoint in this regard.
Apart from its real-time heart rate monitor, the Garmin Vivosmart 4 also features VO2 max testing for cardio workouts and heart rate variability (HRV) stress scores that can alert you to take a break. There’s even something for weightlifters, thanks to the tracker’s ability to count reps.
Garmin’s device augments all these features with a ‘Body Battery’ monitor that gauges your energy levels and can help you decide how ready you are for your next workout. And if that wasn’t enough, the Vivosmart 4 includes a pulse oximeter sensor, which can help detect conditions like sleep apnea.
(Image credit: Withings)
10. Withings Pulse HR
Sleek wrist-based tracker
Excellent battery life Sleek design No 24/7 HR tracking
Despite not being a smartwatch, this sleek tracker from Withings has several things going for it. For one, it’s hardly any bigger than a wristband, yet it manages to pack in a monochrome raise-to-wake OLED screen that displays your activity stats at a tap and tells you how close you are to your daily goal.
The Withings Pulse HR tracks a vast range of exercise types and comes with connected GPS support, so you can log your workouts on a map so long as you have your phone with you.
The 20-day battery life is also particularly impressive, although that’s offset by the fact that the Pulse HR only reads your heart rate every 10 minutes unless you’re in workout mode, which drains the battery a lot quicker.
Still, the Pulse HR’s sleep tracking smarts are commendably accurate and extend to duration, depth, regularity and interruptions. That’s great if you’re looking for insights into your bedtime habits, but if you’re also after real-time 24-hour heart rate tracking, a Fitbit is probably a better option.
- Need more inspiration? Check out the best cheap fitness trackers
15 Best Heart Rate Monitor Watches in 2020
From the gym to the workplace, there is always time to improve your overall health. Your heart is the most vital organ in the body, so why not take care of it? Whether you’re running a marathon or taking a brisk walk in the park, keeping track of your body and pushing yourself further is a great way to reach the next goal. From a novice to a pro, here are the best heart rate monitor watches to help you keep track of your fitness and wellbeing.
1. Apple Watch Series 5
Look stylish at work or on the running track wearing an Apple Watch Series 5. With an always-on display and a dedication to your health, this is sure to keep you looking and feeling great. It features an ECG app, a noise monitor, and a workout tracker to promote and kickstart your healthy life. Every health goal you want to reach becomes closer with this remarkable watch.
2. Samsung Galaxy Watch
Get a better insight into your workout with the Samsung Galaxy Watch. It’s sleek and comfortable to wear to any occasion and can help you reach your fitness goal faster than ever. This smartwatch can even help you master the art of sleep – it tracks and offers an insightful vision of your rest and monitors your stress levels. This is a stylish and versatile option for anyone who is on the move.
3. Fitbit Versa 2
Check the weather, daily news, and your health with the Fitbit Versa 2. This smartwatch looks sleek enough to wear in the office and works hard with you while you’re at the gym. You can also wear it while you’re sleeping as it tracks and monitors the quality of your rest – this is the perfect option for anyone ready to kickstart their fitness journey.
4. Garmin Forerunner 35
Take your fitness to the next level with the Garmin Forerunner 35. With its GPS enabled tracker, you can run further than ever before. This smartwatch offers helpful alerts, music connectivity, and notifications to keep you achieving your goals and will have you feeling your best. Whether you’re finding the perfect tune or deadlifting, this is an excellent option for the person on the go.
5. Polar Ft1
Feel better than ever with the Polar Ft1 smartwatch. The large screen helps you keep track of your heart rate while you’re working out or just at home. This timepiece can elevate your health levels and push you to become the best version of yourself, no matter where you are on your fitness journey. This an excellent option for someone who wants some extra motivation and will stay with you every step of the way.
6. Fitbit Charge 3
Burn more calories, run faster, and improve your stamina with the Fitbit Charge 3. With 15 exercise modes to choose from, you can swim, run, and do more than ever. From morning to night, you can stay on top of your health with ease. This fitness watch is waterproof, sleek, and has a 7-day battery life so that you can start a new adventure every day!
7. Garmin vívosmart
Track distance, calories, and your heart rate with the Garmin vívosmart. This innovative timepiece keeps a record of your beats throughout the day and reminds you to get up and move around so you can stay active. Whether you’re rollerblading or running for the bus, this will be the key you need to keep on top of your game.
8. Suunto 3 Fitness
Maintain a healthy lifestyle with the sleek Suunto 3. Featuring a stylish and a 30-meter waterproof design, you can swim, run, and play without missing a step. No matter your fitness level, this smartwatch will adapt and offer new exercises that best suit you and your abilities.
9. Withings Steel HR Sport Smartwatch
Maximize your workout and reach your goals faster using the Withings smartwatch. This steel timepiece looks stylish with any outfit and tracks every step you take. Every morning you can wake up to an insightful sleep analysis and discover the secrets to a healthy lifestyle. It is a timeless option for anyone ready to take action for themselves.
10. Fitbit Inspire HR
Keep moving all day and reap the rewards with Fitbit Inspire. This fitness tracker keeps up with your busy schedule and helps you become your best self. Whether you’re counting your calories or in need of a heart rate monitor, you can do it all from the one device. You can even wear it while you’re asleep to get the best out of your sleep. From the workplace to the gym, it will stay by your side every step of the way.
11. L8star Fitness Tracker
Put a spring in your step with the L8star fitness tracker. It is a sleek option for the person on the go and offers features like heart rate, sleep quality, and also includes six different sport modes. You can do anything with this watch, and the options packed inside can help you reach your goal sooner than ever.
12. Letsfit Fitness Tracker
Help get the family off the couch and into the garden with the Letsfit fitness tracker. This water-resistant watch can help you get up on your feet and keep you moving all day. Featuring an accurate heart rate, with a sleek design, you can wear it from the office to the gym in an instant. It’s a perfect option for guys and girls on the go and can help you achieve your workout goals.
13. Willful Fitness Tracker
Whether you’re just starting out or you’re a professional athlete, you can track and push yourself further using the Willful fitness tracker. This handy watch offers all-day activity monitoring, including your heart rate and step count. Whether you’re going for a jog or you’re picking up the kids, this will be by your side with every step.
14. MorePro Waterproof Health Tracker
Dive into the deep end using the MorePro health tracker. It is a waterproof watch that keeps up with your every move, no matter what you’re doing. The dynamic heart rate monitor allows you to reach your full potential and stay within your limits, and the calorie counter can help you achieve every goal you have. Make the most out of your day using this fantastic timepiece.
15. Lintelek Fitness Tracker
Don’t let the weather hold you back, thanks to the Lintelek fitness tracker. Featuring 14 sport modes, you can understand how to move your body accurately and hit new heights. No matter where you are on your journey, let this sleek and sturdy timepiece help you get there.
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Fitness trackers and smartwatches have become so advanced that we now expect them to give us detailed information on our heart rate by default. The optical heart-rate sensor was once a unique feature that commanded a premium, but now even budget bands track your beats per minute while you work out.
Now these devices are moving beyond basic heart-rate-monitoring during workouts. Any Apple Watch running watchOS 5 can tell you when your heart rate is too high or too low when you’re not exercising, which could be a sign of a serious health issue. The Series 4 has an even more sophisticated electrical sensor for taking electrocardiograms.
Given that heart-rate measurement is transitioning from an informative fitness feature to a critical health status, it’s more important than ever for fitness trackers and smartwatches to accurately read your heart rate.
Devices that offer medical alerts such as the Apple Watch Series 4 have to go through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to make such promises. But even if you don’t need clinical-grade features, heart-rate accuracy is important for gauging your overall health and encouraging you to meet your fitness goals.
We put several of the top-selling wrist-worn fitness trackers and smartwatches from Apple, Fitbit, Garmin and Samsung to the test against a Polar H10 chest strap to see to see how they stack up to the gold standard in consumer-grade heart-rate accuracy.
MORE: Best Running Apps for iOS and Android
Based on my experience, the Apple Watch Series 3 and Series 4, as well as the Samsung Galaxy Watch, were the most accurate in measuring my heart rate. They exhibited the least amount of lag, and the variance in heart rate was the closest to the chest-strap readings.
What (and how) we tested
Heart-rate sensors’ accuracy depends on a variety of factors. First is the fit of the device; larger devices, such as the Fitbit Ionic and Garmin Fenix 5, were a bit loose on my smaller wrist, which could contribute to inaccurate readings. Other things that can affect readings include the skin tone of the wearer, as well as the ambient temperature.
The results below are from a single person, so they’re by no means scientific; however, we plan to test these devices on other individuals, as well as test newer devices as they come out.
What we found
We’ve tested Polar’s chest straps against a Quinton Cardiac Science Q-Stress test machine in the past and found them to be within one beat per minute of the EKG reading. With that baseline, I wore the Polar H10 and each of the wrist-worn heart-rate-monitoring devices below to track my BPM during a 3.5-mile run, a half-mile brisk walk and at rest.
I then compared my average heart rate as recorded by the watch to the Polar H10’s reading; The second number in each of the cells below is the Polar H10’s reading.
|Average Running HR vs. Chest Strap||Average Resting HR vs. Chest Strap||Average Walking HR vs. Chest Strap||Overall Average Variance vs. Chest Strap|
|Apple Watch Series 3||165/166||57/57||88/89||0.67|
|Apple Watch Series 4||162/163||64/64||100/101||0.67|
|Fitbit Charge 2||162/167||72/75||111/107||4|
|Samsung Galaxy Watch||161/162||64/64||102/101||0.67|
|Samsung Gear Sport||156/155||71/69||98/94||2.3|
|Garmin Fenix 5||165/164||78/79||122/121||1|
|Garmin Forerunner 35||166/165||77/79||101/101||1|
|Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music||169/168||79/79||122/119||1.3|
|Garmin Vivomove HR||171/170||83/81||118/117||1.3|
In general, the average heart rate as recorded by the fitness trackers and the Polar chest trap were within a few beats of each other. However, the wrist-worn trackers often lagged behind the chest strap as I ramped up or slowed down my heart rate.
I noticed that there was often more variation in heart-rate averages in the shorter walks, because the BPM reported on the wrist-worn trackers often lagged behind the chest strap as I ramped up my walk, and then took longer to come back down as I ended.
MORE: Best Smart Scales Tested and Rated
I also noted the variation between BPMs on the wrist-worn device compared with the Polar’s readings in the Polar Beat app while exercising.
Newer devices, including the Apple Watch Series 4 and Samsung’s Galaxy Watch, took just seconds to catch up to the chest strap.
However, Fitbit’s Versa smartwatch wasn’t quite as responsive. I looked down at my wrist mid-run and the Versa showed my heart rate as 111, while the Polar Beat app gave me a reading of 103. The averages evened out, but that’s important to pay attention to. The Fitbit Ionic doesn’t fit me that well, which contributed to an inaccurate walking workout heart-rate average. The Ionic delivered a more accurate average when I ran, likely due to the longer period (35 minutes versus 10 minutes) that it had to measure my heart rate and come up with an average.
I found Garmin devices, including the Forerunner 35 and the Fenix 5, accurately tracked my heart rate during workouts, but were all over the map when resting or walking outside of a workout. I set out on a walk wearing the Polar H10 chest strap and the Forerunner on my wrist, and I noticed the Forerunner’s heart rate jumping from the 140s down to 120s and then to the 90s, where the H10 steadily reported a walking heart rate in the high 90s.
MORE: Best Fitness Trackers for Running, Swimming and Training
That was before I activated a Walking workout on both devices. After launching into workout mode, the heart-rate measurements were more aligned. And the Fenix 5 is so large that it might slide around on smaller wrists, which will make the readings inaccurate.
How Heart Rate Sensors Work
The optical heart-rate sensor found in most fitness trackers and smartwatches today uses photoplethysmography (PPG), which projects a green light on the skin. The light that isn’t absorbed by the tissue beneath the skin is reflected back to the sensor, which then measures the variations to calculate your heart rate.
Chest-worn monitors, including the Polar H10 we tested the wrist-worn trackers against, use electrodes to measure your pulse, which is more accurate than PPG technology. The strap is worn closer to the heart and is less prone to sliding around while exercising, which leads to more accurate heart-rate readings.
There are pros and cons to both. I prefer a wrist-worn tracker to a chest strap because I find chest straps to be uncomfortable and awkward to wear. But fitness trackers and smartwatches have to fit just so to take accurate readings. I wore the wrong-size band to initially test the Samsung Gear Sport, and the results were wildly inaccurate. (I retested with a smaller band.)
MORE: Fitness Tracker Buying Guide
“We know from our studies that the accuracy of any one of those devices can vary substantially based on the fit,” said Dr. Gregory Marcus, director of clinical research for the University of California, San Francisco’s Division of Cardiology. “Sometimes to get the most accurate measurements, it needs to be quite tight — to the point where it can be uncomfortable. It’s not necessarily the sophisticated technology inside the PPG sensor; sometimes it’s about the fit.”
What Heart Rate Tells You
For heart-rate monitors that promise medical-grade alerts, such as the new Apple Watch, accuracy is paramount. But if you’re wearing a fitness tracker to get active or track workouts, it’s not so critical.
” provides an objective measure that can be a motivator and can also inform the user as to how hard to push themselves,” Marcus said. “If you’re able to maintain an elevated heart rate more comfortably, you’re getting more out of your workout in general.”
Some devices use heart rate to simply tell you your fitness levels. But others use the sensor to tell you more about your body. Many Fitbits, including the Ionic, Versa and upcoming Charge 3, use heart rate to analyze your sleep stages and guide you through breathing exercises. Garmin devices, including the new Vivosmart 4, use heart rate to measure stress, which was illuminating for me.
MORE: Do Sleep Tracking Devices Really Work?
And Apple Watches have saved lives with heart-rate alerts that notify you when your heart rate is too high outside of a workout. A new feature tells you when your heart rate is too low, and watches running watchOS 5 will soon alert you if you’re experiencing atrial fibrillation (or irregular heart rhythm). That condition is typically asymptomatic.
What’s a Good vs. Bad Heart Rate?
Smartwatches and fitness trackers collect a lot of other information about you, including your age, weight, height and level of activity, to gauge where your heart rate should be to improve fitness or burn fat. The devices also establish a baseline of where your heart rate is normally. A sedentary 65-year-old man’s recommended heart-rate zone will be much different from mine.
Marcus said users of fitness trackers and smartwatches should wear heart-rate monitors to look at trends over time. But a “bad” heart rate is one that varies wildly in a short span — that could be a sign of atrial fibrillation, or abnormal heart rhythm.
“If, for example, they’re at maximum output and suddenly their heart rate jumps up by 40 beats per minute, that could be a cause for concern,” Marcus said.
But he cautioned that is rare.
MORE: 10 Most Surprising Uses for Fitness Trackers
“I’m reluctant to say anything that might enhance the anxiety of users monitoring their heart rate,” he said. “I do know from experience with my patients that these heart-rate monitors can sometimes induce unnecessary anxiety from the measurements.”
Serious athletes may still want to train with a chest strap, but wrist-worn heart-rate-monitoring devices become more accurate and sophisticated over time. A chest strap can’t send you notifications, guide you through breathing exercises, measure stress, analyze sleep or any of the other useful features that smartwatches and fitness trackers offer your wrist in addition to analysis of your heart rate.
And if the Apple Watch Series 4’s FDA-cleared heart features are a sign of where these devices are heading, soon we’ll have much more information about our bodies to show our doctors.
“The future application of those devices may be more relevant to detecting diseases, and there the accuracy becomes much more important,” Marcus said.
Wrist-based heart-rate monitors are still better suited for fitness tracking than clinical diagnosis, but that could soon change.
Credit: Tom’s Guide
Heart-rate monitors are some of the most popular training tools on the market for cyclists who want to track and improve their fitness. But it’s not enough to simply wear a heart-rate monitor if you want to get something out of it.
Here, we tackle the biggest missteps people take with this basic but powerful gear. (Check out our latest book, Maximum Overload for Cyclists, for more way to improve your fitness!)
RELATED: 5 Heart-Rate Training Myths, Busted
Wearing the heart rate monitor strap upside down
Thanks to fitness trackers from companies like Fitbit, Garmin, and Polar, wrist-worn optical heart-rate monitors are growing in popularity. But among cyclists, the chest strap-based HRM still reigns supreme for comfort, accuracy, and cost.
Unfortunately, wearing it wrong can affect its performance. You want it fitted snug across your chest, sensor centered across your front. It should also be right-side up.
According to Garmin’s product managers, the chest strap won’t work as well as it could if it’s worn upside down.
Check out this video to master your training zones:
Wahoo Tickr, $50.00, Competitive Cyclist
At a Glance
- Dual band ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart technology
- Compatible with more than 50 third party apps
- Claimed 12-month battery life
Not washing the strap often enough
Hero Images/ Getty Images
Not washing your HRM enough could cause what’s known as acne mechanica from the constant rubbing against your skin—but keeping it clean isn’t just a hygiene thing. It can also impact how well your HRM works.
According to Polar, dirt can affect the strap’s elasticity, as well as how accurately the heart-rate sensor functions. You’ll want to check the manufacturer website for what washing technique you should use: Some straps are washing machine-safe, while others are hand wash-only.
RELATED: This Is The Most Comfortable Heart-Rate Monitor I Have Ever Worn
Not wetting the strap fully before wear
If it takes a while for you to break a sweat, or you’re riding in cool, dry weather, you could get faulty, spiky readings at the beginning of your ride. To fix this, you’ll want to moisten your strap before hopping on the bike—a good practice even in wetter conditions.
“Wetting the electrodes with water is great, but getting the whole front of the strap a bit wet is even better,” a Garmin representative recommends.
You got HR data, but don’t know what to do with it
Westend61/ Getty Images
“What many people have yet to really understand is how to use heart rate to actually become a better athlete,” Polar USA President Tom Fowler says. “They’ll say, ‘Okay great, I went and did a two-hour ride and my average heart rate was 132bpm,’ but the question really is then, well, what does that mean? And what does that mean that athlete should do tomorrow?”
Pairing heart-rate data with training guidance from programs like Training Peaks—for which we offer specialized training plans—can help maximize your efforts and the efficiency of your workouts.
Not realizing that a lot of factors affect your heart rate
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Some days, your heart rate may skew low, while other days it may be high—and that’s perfectly normal.
Heart rate measures the body’s response to work, and it can be highly variable. Your heart rate may rise up to 10bpm if you are fatigued, overtraining, it’s a hot day, or even if you’ve had one too many espressos. Alternatively, you may find that your heart rate decreases noticeably when you’re tired or riding in the cold.
RELATED: This Helmet Has a Heart-Rate Monitor Built In
Not accounting for the lag between effort changes and heart rate
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When you make a sharp change in effort level, your heart rate won’t spike immediately.
“People training with heart rate will often start their intervals too hard as they try to get their heart rate up to a target number, when in fact, they should be giving themselves a few minutes to climb to the target range,” Nate English, cycling coach and founder of English Endurance says.
Because of this lag, English also cautions that heart rate isn’t very effective for gauging efforts under a minute.
Not knowing your training zones — or using incorrect ones
Knowing your correct training zones can focus your workouts, making them more effective. If those zones are wrong though, you may waste time and energy.
English recommends using an uphill time trial or maximal threshold fitness test in warm weather to determine your maximum heart rate. (Ideally, trying those efforts several times, then averaging the results.) Then, you can use an online calculator to distinguish five or six training zones, depending on what your coach or training plan calls for.
Using a wrist-based heart tracker for high intensity efforts
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If you prefer not to use a chest strap-based monitor, that’s fine—as long as you’re aware of the limitations of alternatives.
For relatively steady state efforts, Polar’s Tom Fowler says an optical heart-rate monitor offers a great level of accuracy. But if you’ll be sprinting or doing other kinds of short, high-intensity bursts, a chest-based strap is more sensitive, and can more quickly capture changes in heart rate that a wrist-worn heart-rate monitor could miss.
How to get more accurate wrist heart rate readings – tips and troubleshooting steps
Wrist heart rate (WHR) technology measures heart rate via LEDs that track blood flow in your wrist. This means that you can see your heart rate data during your exercise or in daily use without a chest heart rate strap. The wrist HR technology in the following Suunto watches is provided by Valencell Inc. – Suunto 9, Suunto 9 Baro, Suunto 7, Suunto 5, Suunto 3, Suunto 3 Fitness, Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR Baro, Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR, Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR.
The accuracy of optical HR measurement is influenced by a number of factors and can be affected by individual differences between people. Therefore, wrist heart rate measurement should be considered an estimate. For more accurate readings, we recommend using a compatible chest heart rate sensor such as the Suunto Smart Sensor.
How to wear your Suunto wrist heart rate monitor watch – better fit for better readings
One of the factors with the biggest impact is how you wear your wrist heart rate tracker. The right fit can help improve the accuracy of your heart rate readings. Start with the following tips, and then test and improve the fit of your watch until you find your personal sweet spot.
During daily use
Wear your Suunto watch at least 1 finger above your wrist bone and make sure the watch is snug on your wrist. Your watch should always maintain a contact with your skin, so that you can’t see the light shining from the sensor.
Test the fit – the key is to wear the watch as high up on your wrist as possible, and to prevent it from sliding down during exercise. A good indicator is to wear it about 2 fingers above your wrist bone. Again, make sure you wear the watch tight and evenly against the skin, however not too tight to cut off blood circulation.
Keep in mind when wearing a wrist HR tracker
For best possible results:
- Warm-up to get your heart rate up before starting your training. This ensures your watch provides stable readings from the start.
- If your watch loses your heart rate during exercise, pause for a moment (approximately 10 – 30 seconds). Continue once your watch is locked onto your heart rate.
Try to avoid:
- Wearing the watch too loose. Make sure the sensor is always in direct contact with your skin: you shouldn’t be able to see the light shining from the sensor.
- Wearing the watch too tight. Wearing the watch extremely tight can cut off blood flow and reduces the sensor’s ability to monitor heart rate.
Keep your skin happy:
- Regularly take the watch off your wrist, wash the watch and the strap with mild hand soap and water, rinse thoroughly and dry it well with a towel before putting it back on.
- We recommend washing the watch body and the strap after every heavy workout.
- To remove build-up of lotions and oils (such as sunscreen, insect repellent and moisturizers) that can be trapped beneath the strap: use mild hand soap, rinse thoroughly and dry well with a towel.
- Wearing your watch long-term on the same wrist may irritate your skin. Let your skin rest on a regular basis, by taking your watch off or switching the watch to the other wrist.
- Please note: allergenic substances like fruit juice, raw potato, celery, albumen, corn, beans, peas, seafood, nuts, soy, wool etc., and abrasive substances like dust, sand and some skin lotions trapped under strap may cause severe skin irritation very quickly.
Learn more about how to care for your Suunto watch and skin
How optical heart rate measurement works
In practice, the optical heart rate sensor on the underside of the watch shines light into your wrist using LEDs and measures the light that is scattered by blood flow. This is based on the fact that light entering the body will scatter in a predictable manner when the blood flow dynamics change, such as with changes in blood pulse rate or with changes in blood volume (cardiac output).
Good to know about wrist heart rate measurement
Wrist heart rate measurement is an easy and convenient way to track your heart rate. However, please keep in mind that the accuracy and reliability of optical heart rate measurement varies from person to person and may not work at all with certain types of activities or sports. Currently, the best wrist heart rate measurements stay 90% of the time within 5% of the chest-measured heart rate.
Together with Valencell, we identified the following factors that may affect heart rate measurement:
- When exercising in cool or cold temperatures, your body attempts to keep your body temperature stable by directing the blood flow from arms and legs towards the core of your body. This reduction in blood flow to the arms can make it more difficult for the sensor to measure heart rate accurately.
- If you frequently have cold hands, a proper warmup before exercising may be needed to improve the accuracy of heart rate readings.
- Arm movements and flexing muscles, such as gripping a tennis racket or doing Crossfit style high-intensity training, and sports involving strong vibration as e.g. when cycling on uneven, bumpy terrain, can change the accuracy of the sensor readings.
- The heart rate sensor may not provide accurate heart rate readings for swimming activities, as water passing under the watch affects the optical sensor’s ability to read heart rate accurately.
- Dark tattoos can prevent reliable readings from the optical sensor.
Update the software of your product
One of the most important ways to get the best wrist HR performance is to ensure your watch is on the latest software version. We continuously improve the software of our products and make performance enhancements and fix bugs that we see in the field. Learn more about software updates for your product and how to install the software on your watch.
No wrist heart rate data is recorded
During daily use: If your heart rate sensor failed (not detecting / reading your heart rate), and if the heart rate sensor lights at the back of the watch are not blinking (wrist heart rate sensor seems to be not working / turned off), check that Daily HR is activated. Open Settings > Activity > Daily HR and ensure that the toggle is green. This ensures continuous heart rate tracking during daily use.
During exercise: If the wrist heart rate sensor seems to be not working before starting an exercise, ensure that your watch is not paired with a HR belt. Open Settings > Connectivity > Paired devices. If HR sensor is listed, press the middle button and forget.
If the mentioned tips did not solve the issue, or if your watch is not picking up your pulse or if the sensor is otherwise malfunctioning, a soft reset may solve the issue. Learn how to reset your watch
Too high or low heart rate readings at exercise start
If your watch shows inaccurate heart rate readings at the start of your exercises, a warm up may solve the issue:
- Warm up for yourself: The quality of wrist-based HR measurement heavily depends on the blood flow to your arms and hands. A proper warm up for 10-15 minutes increases the blood flow and improves the quality of WHR readings.
- Warm up for the heart rate sensor: The sensor needs some time (several minutes) to lock on your heart rate. To give the sensor time to warm up, we recommend opening the exercise start screen already while getting ready for your workout (e.g. when changing clothes).
More accurate readings with a chest heart rate sensor
For more accurate readings in all circumstances, we recommend using a compatible chest heart rate sensor such as the Suunto Smart Sensor. Using a heart rate belt will enable getting heart rate readings also when mounting the watch on the handlebar of a bike or wearing it on top of a sleeve.
When having a heart rate belt paired with your watch, the heart rate icon on the exercise start screen will include a small belt. When using wrist heart rate, the icon will be in heart shape only.
Always remember that heart rate readings, optical or otherwise, are estimates and only for reference and recreational use and not intended for medical use of any kind.
If you have tried all mentioned tips and troubleshooting steps, but the issues with your Suunto device persist, please contact our Suunto Support. We are happy to assist you.
By Bob Barnett
You can monitor your heart rate for free, with two fingers on your neck and your eyes on a timepiece. Or, you could splurge for a heart rate monitor that straps to your chest and beams cool data to a wristwatch. You don’t even have to slow down to say hello to your beating heart. But is it worth the cost?
The Rumor: Heart rate monitors are the best way to get the most out of your workout
Many athletes swear by heart rate monitors. Some trainers insist on using them with all their clients. Coaches often put them all their players to monitor everyone’s heart rate in real time during training.
The Verdict: They’re cool tools for anyone who wants — and can afford — a little extra help fine-tuning their exercise program, but they’re not necessary
Many athletes swear by heart rate monitors. Some trainers insist on using them with all their clients. Coaches often put them all their players to monitor everyone’s heart rate in real time during training.
If you want to save money by taking your own pulse, go ahead. Heart rate monitors are by no means an essential tool for fitness or even competition. “A heart rate monitor isn’t necessary for anyone,” says running coach Matt Fitzgerald, author of The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition. “I know Olympic runners who never use heart rate monitors, and who’s going to tell them that they’re doing it wrong?”
Just choose the right device for you and your fitness goals, and learn to use it. “As a tool, heart rate monitors can be very useful, but they’re not automatically useful,” says Fitzgerald. “To get the benefit, you have to know a little about how to use one. If you make the effort, you can get more out of exercise.”
“Personally, I like them,” says certified personal trainer and registered dietician Karolina Starczak, wellness director for EBS Capstone in Boston. “They’re a great way to see where you are with your exertion. I see people who think they had a great workout, but they’re just walking on the treadmill and holding on — and then they wonder why they’re going to the gym five times a week and not losing weight!” Heart rate monitors are also great motivation tools. “If you’re training, say for a marathon, and you keep doing the same workout, it gets easier,” she says. “Watching your heart rate can help you keep pushing.”
Heart rate monitors
Your heart rate can be a great indicator of your overall fitness level, so if you’re just getting into the swing of a brand-new workout regimen, why not take a look at our selection of high-quality heart rate monitors? Using an adjustable chest strap while you’re exercising is one of the best ways to get an accurate reading; choose an option which features wireless connectivity so you can send your results to your smart watch and keep a record of your heart rate results over time. And if you’re looking to keep count of your steps, a pedometer is the way to go.
For those who appreciate a nifty gadget, check out our wearable fitness trackers and smart watches. For style and performance, you really can’t beat a slick Apple Watch with a host of helpful features; you can even stay connected via texts and calls. And if you like to get out and about to enjoy your workouts, a built-in compass will ensure you’re always on track.
Alternatively, how about the feature-packed Fitbit? Consider the touchscreen Fitbit Versa with more than 15 exercise modes and a seriously impressive battery life.
Of course, you’ve got to get moving to get the most out of your wearable tech! Why not check out our treadmills and exercise bikes?
Heart monitors allow you to keep an eye on your heart without having to rely on your doctor. They are incredibly handy for all sorts of situations, such as tracking your heart rate during exercise or while you’re relaxing at home.
Over the last few years, heart monitors have been transformed from bulky, unsightly devices you have to strap to your chest, to stylish, discreet devices packed with cutting-edge features to give you the full picture.
Modern heart rate monitors give you as much information as you need about your health. They record your heart data for you and allow your doctors and other healthcare practitioners to easily access the information without having to call you in for an appointment.
As with any sort of tech equipment available these days, there are many heart rate monitors from which to choose. They come in all different shapes and sizes. So how do you know which one is right for you?
This comprehensive guide will help you find the best heart rate monitor to meet all your needs.
Buying A Heart Rate Monitor
Optical Wrist Sensors vs Chest Straps
First of all, you need to decide how you want to wear your heart rate monitor.
Chest straps use electrical pulses to measure your heart rate. Wristbands use optical sensors and other technology to measure your heart rate.
Optical sensors are responsible for making wearables like Apple Watch and Fitbit gadgets easy to use. They are very accurate, making them useful to use in other applications to measure heart rates.
Wearable heart rate monitors are also available with LED lights to show you how hard your heart is working. Each color represents the heart rate zone you are in.
Wristbands are far more convenient and comfortable than chest straps, but since they aren’t placed directly on your chest, they are not as accurate as those devices. Knowing this, more brands are creating wearable heart rate monitors that are positioned higher on the arm in order to provide more reliable readings. Of course, you then need to make sure it is firmly enough attached to your arm to remain in place during intense exercise.
Ultimately, it is up to you how you wish to measure your heart rate and what type of device is most comfortable for you to wear.
This is one of the most important factors to consider. It’s no secret that wristbands and wearables are more comfortable than a chest strap and won’t chafe your skin. They fit easily on your arm and can be adjusted to your preference even when exercising.
Chest straps must be strapped tightly to your chest to stop it from sliding out of place. If not well attached, it will stop reading your heart. Refitting the strap takes longer than a wristband so, if you’re in the middle of your workout, the adjustment can be more time consuming to perform. However, make it too tight and it will chafe your skin. So care is required.
The tradeoff is ease of use and possibly greater comfort with wristband monitors versus the added accuracy of chest straps but with less ease of adjustment for comfort.
ANT+ vs Bluetooth
ANT+ precedes Bluetooth. It has become standard issue for workout machines like treadmills, cross trainers and more. Low-end heart rate monitors use this technology too, but this restricts how well it can connect with other devices. Heart rate monitors that use Bluetooth can sync with smartphones and other devices, giving you more control over tracking your progress.
Modern heart rate monitors can do more than just measure heart rate. They can also be used for fitness trackers, EKG, ECG and even to track your sleep. The more features in a device has, the more help it offers about your health. Of course, the more advanced features also come with a bigger price tag.
With these factors in mind, here is a list of the top 10 best heart rate monitors to buy right now.
Fitbit Charge 3
Fitbit is one of the biggest brands in the smartwatch and fitness tracker industry, and the Fitbit Charge 3 is one of their best. It doubles as a fitness tracker and a heart rate monitor. Other features include being waterproof up to depths of 50m (164 feet), it looks great and it also provides pretty accurate readings.
The Charge 3 uses Fitbit’s all-in-one approach. It utilizes PurePulse technology to monitor your heart rate and, thanks to its SpO2 sensor, it can monitor your sleep, too. This sensor is so robust that it can be used to diagnose sleep apnea.
Check out Charge 3 on Fitbit.com here
Like most fitness bands and smartwatches, Charge3 will count your steps, distance travelled and how many calories you’ve burned. Plus, if you start to feel tired from the day’s activities, Charge 3 is programmed to take you through breathing exercises to prevent you from fainting.
In terms of usability, Charge 3’s touchscreen is around 33% larger than that of the previous model, making interaction even easier. The battery life is very good and the device uses your phone’s GPS for connectivity. The Charge3 is customizable too, with multiple colors and styles to choose from, so you can match it to your outfit.
Other features of the Charge3 include the ability to choose from more than 15 exercise modes to track your progress. The list includes running, cycling and swimming, to name a few.
Overall, this is a great device. It has many features that will keep you motivated to achieve better health. If you’re looking for a heart rate monitor that can do it all, with a battery that lasts more than a week, this is the one for you.
Strong battery life – the battery is very powerful and will give you 7 days’ worth of power before needing to be charged. Use it all week without worrying about running out of juice.
Great interface – Fitbit Charge3 has a larger display, increasing in size by more than a third compared to the previous model. Seeing more about your health on the screen and interacting with the device is easier than ever.
It has SpO2 sensors to analyze your sleep and provide you with the ultimate sleep tracking package. Fitbit is attempting to become the industry leader for sleep tracking. There’s a good reason to do this: your sleep can tell you many things about your health. For example, if your sleep is easily disrupted, Charge3 can help diagnose such conditions as sleep apnea.
24/7 activity tracking ensures you can track your heart rate and overall health at any time you need to do so. It makes sure you are always on top of your fitness and health.
You can take it anywhere, including the swimming pool. It can resist depths of up to 50m (164 feet).
Charge3 doesn’t come with built-in GPS. This is surprising considering most smartwatches and heart rate monitors do come with this technology.
It may not be able to keep up with high-intensity activities. However, Charge3 will give accurate readings for running, working out in the gym and other light sessions.
Buy Fitbit Charge 3 on Amazon
Finally comes the Omron HeartGuide. However, just because it’s the last devices on this list, doesn’t mean that it’s the worst of the bunch. It’s actually one of the best.
HeartGuide offers a range of features to monitor your health. It is packed with a heart rate monitor, sleep tracker, blood pressure tracker, and fitness tracker. All of these features are contained into a sleek, stylish smartwatch.
In particular, its blood pressure monitor is one of the best there is. Typical trackers use inflatable cuffs that are uncomfortable to wear. HeartGuide is the opposite. Its second strap fits great and acts as a miniature cuff, making it easy to take a blood pressure reading while on the move. HeartGuide reads your diastolic and systolic pressure with high accuracy in a matter of seconds.
There are also many other features, such as tracking how many steps you take throughout the day, how far you have walked/run/cycled, etc., and how many calories you have burned.
The sleep tracker tells you the quality of your sleep, how long you were sleeping, your daily sleep pattern and more.
Finally, HeartGuide sends push notifications via a companion app on your smartphone to give you updates on your heart rate and other fitness information.
HeartGuide is certainly a device you should consider buying for a fantastic, all-in-one heart rate monitor.
Check out the Omron HeartGuide here
Easy to use – HeartGuide is very comfortable to wear and use compared to other blood pressure devices on the market.
State-of-the-art sensors are well positioned in the device, meaning it provides very accurate readings that are so accurate that its reliability closely compares to heart blood pressure readings given by equipment used in major hospitals.
You can see how your heart health compares to American Heart Association guidelines.
More than tracking – it can help you diagnose any signs of sleep apnea
Furthermore, the FDA has cleared this device to use for health tracking to give you extra peace of mind.
Multi-purpose – it can watch your sleep, track your fitness, tell you how many calories you’ve burned and monitor your heart and blood pressure.
HeartGuide is larger than other smartwatches and fitness trackers. People with smaller wrists may find it easier to wear something else.
Buy OmronHeartGuide here
The Sigma R1 is one of the best heart rate monitors for cycling. It’s a chest strap that syncs data with your smartphone via Bluetooth or ANT+. Although the device itself doesn’t come with many features, its heart rate readings are accurate.
Compared to most other chest straps, Sigma R1 is kind on the eyes too. It’s steady, unobtrusive and doesn’t need charging. It can be easily switched on and off via the app.
If you’re looking for a chest strap heart rate monitor that is purely functional, Sigma R1 is a great choice.
Sigma R1 is compatible with almost any device that connects via Bluetooth or ANT+, such as your smartphone, tablet, and your workout bike computer.
Once strapped on, it fixes steadily on your chest, even during intense bike rides.
Offers both Bluetooth and ANT+ connectivity options.
Great value for the money.
As with all chest straps, it can chafe your skin.
The lack of other features may make it undesirable.
Buy Sigma R1 on Amazon
Kalenji Dual ANT+/Bluetooth Heart Rate Monitor Belt
The Kalenji heart rate monitor is another chest strap. It is cheap but extremely effective. It can connect to devices using both ANT+ and Bluetooth – something that a few expensive monitors cannot do.
The strap itself is fairly comfortable to wear and will dry out fairly quickly after an intense, sweaty session. This belt also has a very long battery life. You can expect to get a few month’s worth of use out of it before it needs charging.
Long battery life – you will get long periods of use before having to recharge.
Comfortable on the skin compared to other chest strap heart rate monitors.
Not suitable as a medical device. It should only be used for sport and leisure purposes.
Buy Kalenji on Amazon
Lezyne HR Flow
The award for the best budget heart rate monitor goes to the Lezyne HR Flow. If you are spending large sums of money on a gym membership, food and supplements, equipment and workout outfits, it’s nice to find a device that works well for a low price.
This device connects to all your devices, such as your bike, smartphone, smartwatch and computer via Bluetooth. The battery is small but lasts for a long time and the device itself is easy to maintain.
Most importantly, the Lezyne Heart Rate Flow measures your heart rate. You can get all this for less than $50.
If you want a heart rate monitor that does the job well for cheap, this is probably the device for you.
Affordable – at less than $50, you can monitor your health on a budget. It uses monitors found in devices that cost more than double the price of this one.
The tracking data is accurate.
It’s very lightweight.
No ANT+ connectivity, meaning it may not be able to connect with some of your devices.
Not many other features. The technology is basic and the device has no onboard GPS.
Buy Lezyne HR Flow on Amazon
Garmin Fenix 5
This heart rate monitor is for those who are looking for that little bit extra. Garmin has been setting the standards for heart rate monitors for years. The Fenix range, in particular, is accurate and durable. The Fenix 5 is no different, except this model has a better battery, a large display for better interaction and contains more features than the previous model.
Fenix 5 can sync with all your devices thanks to both ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity, making it easy for you to track and record your heart rate and other fitness-related data.
In terms of the heart rate monitor itself, the data is fairly accurate. You can also expect an altitude meter, GPS tracker, sleep tracker and more.
Keeping with the theme of high-end heart rate monitors, Garmin has designed the Fenix 5 to look like a luxury item. It comes with a hefty price tag, but if you’re willing to pay the price, you’re getting one of the most holistic luxury heart rate monitors on the market.
Fenix 5 is well-designed, both inside and outside, giving the appearance of a luxury item that many smartwatch wearers desire.
The battery will work all day and night without disruption
There are multiple features that come with the heart rate monitor.
Expensive – if you haven’t got the cash, there are similar products available for your budget.
Buy Garmin Fenix 5 on Amazon
Moov HR Sweat
The Moov HR Sweat is a little different from other heart rate monitors. For starters, it’s not a chest strap or a wristband – it’s a headband. The heart rate monitor measures your heart rate from your temple.
The Moov device also acts as your own personal trainer. It will give you live feedback on your workout for all different types of exercise. All you need to do is tell the app what workout you’re doing such as interval training, cycling or bodyweight movements, and the Moov will talk you through it. It will even tell you if you need to work harder or if you’re heart rate is in the sweet spot.
You can also link the device with other apps for non-coached training.
If you don’t like wearing headgear this may not be the heart rate monitor for you but if you don’t mind it, you will get a great workout and an accurate reading.
One of the first devices to use real-time coaching to measure heart rate.
Good heart rate monitor
Headbands aren’t popular. They can be uncomfortable, especially when you get sweaty.
Buy Moov HR Sweat on Amazon
Polar is yet another company that is an integral member of the heart health industry. The Polar H10 is priced at just under $100 but you definitely get a bang for your buck. The monitors provide accurate heart rate readings. It is waterproof for up to 50m (164 feet), so you can take it swimming. It has a solid battery life.
H10 has an onboard memory so it stores your heart rate data as you exercise, even when you are not using your phone/computer. The H10 is a chest strap heart rate monitor so although it packs a punch, it might not be for everyone.
Regardless, the Polar H10 is one of the more comfortable chest monitors on the market and will stay in place even during high-intensity training.
The device does not require a smartphone to work. The readings are accurate and consistent.
H10 is waterproof up to 50m (164 feet), so it can be used while swimming or in the rain if you train outside.
Its internal data storage can hold up to 100 hours of data.
H10 is comfortable and doesn’t chafe your skin
The battery life is decent and, considering the price, it is much better than most monitors in the same range.
There have been some reports that features like GymLink lag from time to time.
Maintenance costs can add up quickly. You could be charged extra for industry-standard features.
Buy Polar H10 on Amazon
This device is another on this list that has many extra features in addition to the heart rate monitor. The Garmin HRM-Run is unique and perfect for anyone who loves numbers. For example, it comes with an accelerometer and is compatible with a host of other fitness trackers.
HRM-Run tracks 6 advanced metrics: vertical ratio, stride length, ground contact balance, ground contact time, oscillation and cadence.
And because it’s made by Garmin, you be sure you are getting a great product, even if you do have to spend that little bit more.
Collects 6 advanced stats that can provide detailed insight into your health when combined with a compatible fitness tracker. The heart rate readings are accurate so the overall picture can provide reliable results.
It is stylish and comfortable to wear.
The device doesn’t track the information itself – you must connect it to another device.
It only works via ANT+. If your device has Bluetooth or GPS, you won’t get any use from it.
Buy Garmin HRM-Run on Amazon
The MyZone MZ-3 is very expensive, especially for chest strap heart rate monitors. However, it does provide something that no other device on this list can offer: MyZone Effort Points (MEPs). These are awarded in line with how much effort you put into your workout. When you hit the right heart rate zones, you earn MEPs.
The MyZone system is not just for exercising on your own, either. Many gym classes use it, so you can track and compare your efforts with those of other people in the class. If anyone else owns an MZ-3 heart rate monitor, you are ranked against them via effort points in the partner app.
For anyone who likes to compete, this should be something to consider.
Other points to note include a long-lasting battery life and both ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity so it will work with most trackers.
The battery will last for 7 months before it needs to be recharged.
Live display of data via smartphone app, watch or ‘in club’ displays.
99.4% accuracy to an EKG/ECG machine.
Expensive compared to other chest strap heart rate monitors that can provide just as accurate results.
If you don’t go to a gym that uses the MyZone system, the functionality is irrelevant.
Buy MyZone MZ-3 on Amazon
Why You Need A Heart Monitor
Here are some of the main reasons you will benefit from a heart rate monitor.
Measuring Workout Intensity
The American Heart Association says that monitoring your heart rate is important for two reasons: it tells you how hard you are working and whether your overall fitness is improving over time.
Sure, there are other methods for measuring workout intensity. Measuring how hard you are breathing after so many minutes of an exercise, or how tired you are can be useful. However, heart rate tracking is the most reliable method to judge progress from your workouts. Plus, heart rate monitors create data that can be analyzed from multiple angles, giving you deeper insights into your health and fitness levels.
Working out too hard and overtraining can lead to injury and put unnecessary stress on your heart. Heart rate monitors allow you to workout safely so that you can readily tell when your heart is working too hard and you can quickly change behavior to reduce its load.
Advanced heart rate monitors can also tailor your workout by demographics, such as your height, weight and age group – thus making your workout more effective and keeping you safe from injury.
Being Your Own Personal Trainer
Heart rate monitors can act as your own personal trainer. A monitor can tell you when you are ready to increase the intensity of your workout, when you need to tone it down a bit or when you’ve hit the sweet spot.
Modern heart monitors are also very accurate, so you can use one as encouragement to know you are on the right track and doing the right thing.
Using As A Recovery Tool
When you finish your workout, you need to give your body plenty of time to rest and recover before working out again. Heart rate monitors can indicate when you’re ready to go again. This is because raster recovery rates are a sign that your heart capacity is increasing, also indicating better fitness and overall health.
These are some of the main advantages of using a heart rate monitor but there are plenty more. No matter whether you want to improve your workouts or you need to manage a heart problem, heart rate monitors provide ideal assistance.
The next part of this guide will show you what you need to look out for when choosing a heart rate monitor.
Marina has been calling Chicago home since 2007. She’s a world traveler and an avid reader.
Steps once reigned supreme as the go-to metric for fitness trackers, but nowadays heart rate monitoring has become the essential feature. It’s a welcome development (although we still think 10,000 steps is a worthwhile goal) because tracking your heart rate allows you to see how hard you’ve pushed yourself in an individual workout, especially if you or your tracker figures out the time your spent in each heart rate zone; it also provides a measure of your overall fitness over time through your resting heart rate or an estimate of your VO2 max.
These features are appearing on more trackers than ever before, but you won’t only find heart rate monitors on the back of wrist-worn devices. There are also dedicated heart rate trackers available which are worn around your arm or chest.
Of the three places on your body you can wear them, the chest is your best bet if accuracy during a workout is key for you – if you’re doing a HIIT session or basing your training around heart rate, for example. The readings from chest strap monitors are more reliable and recognise changes faster than those you get from wrist and armband trackers.
Wrist trackers are more comfortable and convenient to wear, though, and by keeping them on at all times you’ll get info on your resting heart rate – a very helpful measure of your general cardiovascular health – plus more in-depth sleep tracking. Newer fitness trackers are also improving their accuracy during workouts, especially if you have a light, small device that sits snugly against the wrist, and have the advantage of a screen to show you how hard your heart’s working. Some more advanced devices can also guide you through heart rate-based workouts.
Armband trackers sit somewhere between the two. They are optical heart rate monitors, just like the ones in fitness trackers, but by positioning them on your forearm, upper arm or even around your thigh, you get a more reliable reading than on the wrist. They’re easier to slip on than a chest tracker and generally they are as accurate, but you don’t wear them outside of workouts so you can’t gain the benefits of knowing your resting heart rate or improved sleep tracking.
To help you decide which type and model of heart rate monitor best suits your needs, we’ve chosen the best heart rate monitors out there and outlined what they’re best for.
The Best Heart Rate Monitors
1. Best For Everyday Health Tracking: Fitbit Inspire HR
Fitbit epitomises the change in fitness tracking from steps to heart rate, with all but one device in the brand’s current line-up including an optical heart rate monitor. All of Fitbit’s best features are linked to the HRM as well, taking the heart rate information it tracks around the clock and using it to provide easy-to-understand insights into your health and fitness.
In the partner app you can view your resting heart rate over time, which is a solid indication of whether you are getting fitter – you want that number to go down – and also your Cardio Fitness Score. This is Fitbit’s equivalent of a VO2 max measurement and another useful stat that shows your general cardiovascular fitness. In this case, you want the number to go up over time. The HRM also feeds into Fitbit’s sleep tracking, and for both your slumber and Cardio Fitness Score, your numbers are compared with those of other Fitbit users of your age and sex, so you can see how you stack up.
We’re recommending the Inspire HR because it’s the cheapest Fitbit with an HRM, and it’s great value at under £100. If you’re a committed exerciser, however, you’ll be better served by the Charge 3 (£129.99), which has a larger body and a thicker strap, and which we found tends to return more accurate readings when you’re working up a sweat.
Buy from Fitbit | £89.99 | Fitbit Inspire HR review
2. Best For Guided Training: Polar Ignite
The Ignite’s slender design means that it’s easy to get a snug fit against your wrist, which results in accurate heart rate tracking even during high-intensity activities, but it’s what Polar does with that data that makes the Ignite stand out.
This starts with the running event training plans offered through the Polar Flow website and app, designed to improve your fitness and speed. Workouts based on heart rate sync to the device for you to follow.
However, it’s at night when the Ignite really comes into its own. It uses its heart rate monitor to track your heart rate and heart rate variability, which is a useful measure of how physically stressed your body is, to record how well you’ve actually recovered during your sleep. The next morning you’re given a rating of how well you’ve slept and how well your autonomic nervous system has recovered, which leads to recommendations for workouts based on your actual readiness to train that day.
Even outside of these features, the Ignite is a solid all-round sports watch that’s one of the very best available under £200. If you’re keen for insight into how you can use heart rate to shape your training it’s undoubtedly your best bet.
Buy from Polar | £174.50 | Polar Ignite review
3. Best For Advanced Features: Apple Watch Series 4
The latest version of the Apple Watch has solved the heart rate accuracy issues that blighted earlier editions and added some impressive heart health features to boot. The Watch tracks your heart rate continuously throughout the day and will alert you if it notices an abnormally high or low heart rate, as well as recording this in the Apple Health app. If you are experiencing inexplicable highs or lows regularly you can take this information to the doctor to check that it’s not a symptom of an underlying condition.
As well as tracking your heart rate during exercise the Watch will measure how quickly you recover from your workout, providing details on how fast your heart rate returns to a normal level. A quick return to your normal rate is an indication that you are in good shape. The Watch also measures your resting heart rate over time, and you can add a graph of your heart rate over the past few hours to the main watch face if you like.
The Watch is also capable of taking an electrocardiogram measurement, which you can do manually or set the Watch to do regularly. The test looks for signs of atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat), a condition which should prompt a visit to your GP to check the diagnosis and discuss treatment.
Buy from Apple | £399 | Apple Watch 4 review
4. Best For HIIT Workouts: MYZONE MZ-3
The MYZONE tracker is dead set on making your heart rate the focus of your workouts by awarding Effort Points based on the heart rate zone you’re in, whatever kind of training you favour. So time spent in a higher heart zone earns more points, which contribute toward a monthly goal and appear in rankings against fellow MZ-3 users. You can watch those points roll in live via the MyZone app, which also has a vast array of easy-to-follow heart rate-based workouts called Zone Match games. They are especially useful if you’re stuck for an idea for your next exercise bike or treadmill session – all you have to do is match your heart rate zone to the one demanded by the workout and you’ll earn extra points. On the other hand, if you’d rather not be tied to your phone while you exercise, the MZ-3 can store 16 hours of data so you don’t need to sync it after every workout.
Buy from MYZONE | £129.99 | MYZONE MZ-3 review
5. Best Value Chest Strap: Wahoo Tickr X
Like the MZ-3, the Tickr X is a highly-accurate chest strap tracker with space for 16 hours of workouts before you need to sync it up. It will also link up with dedicated Wahoo apps RunFit and 7 Minute Workout to track your exercise in more depth, including rep and calorie counting. You can also connect it to popular third-party apps like Strava to add heart rate data to your exercise.
Buy from Wahoo | £64.99
6. Best Arm Strap: Polar OH1
If you find chest strap trackers annoying to put on and refuse to give the prime real estate of your wrist over to a heart rate tracker, this device might be right up your street. Meet the Polar OH1, which you can wear on your upper or lower arm. (Probably the former – it looks better.)
Beyond the OH1’s body placement, its tracking credentials are impressive. The OH1 is waterproof to 30m, can store 200 hours of training and has a 12-hour battery life. It will pair with many third-party apps, devices and gym equipment via Bluetooth, and you can also use it with the Polar Beat app to view your heart rate in real time during workouts.
Buy from Polar | £69.50
7. Best Arm Strap For ANT+ Users: Wahoo TICKR FIT
As if Wahoo was going to sit on the sidelines and let Polar dominate the arm-based tracker sector. Its challenger to the OH1, the Wahoo TICKR FIT, is an optical tracker you can wear on your upper or lower arm. (Probably the former – it still looks better.)
The TICKR FIT edges out the OH1 in a couple of important ways – it has a 30-hour battery life and connects via both Bluetooth and ANT+ (the Polar OH1 only uses Bluetooth). However, the OH1 has a built-in memory to store your workouts to sync with apps and other devices later, whereas the TICKR FIT doesn’t – it transmits your heart rate during a workout just fine, but won’t store it offline.
Buy on Amazon | £64.99
8. Best For Swimmers And Triathletes: Garmin HRM-Swim
It can be tricky for even waterproof trackers to get a reliable heart rate reading when swimming because the water buffets them about and interferes with the optical sensors used on wrist wearables. This chest tracker from Garmin has a non-slip strap to keep it in place when you push off from the end of a pool, and can be used for open-water swimming as well. If you’re using another compatible Garmin device, the HRM-Swim will beam your heart rate to it every time your chest pops out of the water, but it also stores the data to upload to your smartphone so you can review it after your workout.
Buy from Garmin | £79.99
The best chest strap heart rate monitors, according to Amazon reviews
Using a chest strap heart rate monitor can give you accurate, actionable insights to help improve your running.
When your sport of choice is a distance-based activity, like running or cycling, data is king. Distance, speed, cadence, stride length, calories burned, elevation, altitude and — perhaps the most important — heart rate can offer so many actionable insights to help you fine-tune your training plan.
In addition to training metrics, heart rate readings can offer valuable insight into your overall health and help you get fitter than ever. That’s why choosing the right wearable heart rate monitor (and pairing it with the best app on your smartwatch and fitness tracker) is so important for your health and fitness goals.
Of all the different types of heart rate monitors out there, chest straps are some of the best for distance athletes because they tend to get more accurate readings than wrist-based monitors or a traditional fitness tracker. If you choose the right one, you’ll forget it’s even there.
Read more: Best fitness trackers for 2020
How to choose a chest strap heart rate monitor
When it comes to choosing a chest strap heart rate monitor, many of your purchase decisions will be based on personal preferences and your workout regimen.
Strap width: This factor comes down to personal preference, but before you buy consider whether you’d be more comfortable with a heart rate sensor that uses a slim strap or a wider one.
Module size: Some chest straps use tiny modules (the plastic pucklike part) that don’t extend over the edges of the strap. Others, however, use larger monitors. Which one you choose for your workout also depends largely on personal preference, as well as how tight your running shirts are.
Internal memory: If you don’t like to hold your smartphone when you exercise, opt for a monitor that can store your heart rate data on its own. You can later transfer data to your phone via your monitor’s companion app.
Metrics: Consider what you want your monitor to, well, monitor. Higher-end models capture real-time data covering everything from run cadence to stride length, while more basic models might capture only your heart rate.
Battery: Wearable heart monitors can have all kinds of power sources. Some have a rechargeable battery. Others may have superlong battery life, but the battery isn’t replaceable or rechargeable. A longer battery life is always convenient — no one wants a monitor to peter out during a run — but there are lots of options. Make sure to check the description for battery life before purchasing a monitor.
Without further ado, here are the seven best chest strap heart rate monitors that are great for runners.
Polar’s H10 chest strap heart rate monitor is a refinement of the popular H7, which many runners heralded as the gold standard heart rate sensor when it came out in 2013. The H10 features a 400-hour battery life, comfortable strap at a medium width and built-in memory for one training session.
What buyers say: “Best heart rate monitor I have ever seen! Physical therapist and doctor recommended.”
Read more: The ultimate beginner’s guide to running
Polar / Amazon
The Polar T31 is not so much a heart rate monitor in and of itself — meaning, it doesn’t do all the fancy things that other devices on this list do. The T31 is actually a transmitter that works by capturing your heart rate readings with a waterproof ECG and sending it to your fitness tracker or smartwatch. It can also connect to treadmills for indoor runs.
What buyers say: Reviewers praise this heart rate transmitter for its accuracy and ease of use, plus its ability to connect to multiple third-party machines and devices.
Read more: How to lower your resting heart rate
Can’t stand carrying your smartphone on your run? Fret not, as the Shanren Beat 20 stores data for up to 100 training sessions, which you can later transfer to your phone via the Shanren Sport app. This heart-rate monitor tracks your heart rate zones and also offers a unique vibration alert feature that warns you when you’re approaching the maximum heart rate you set in your app.
What buyers say: “It is extremely user-friendly, easy to read and understand, lightweight.”
Another phone-free chest strap, the Wahoo Tickr X connects to just about anything, including phones and tablets, Garmin watches and more than 50 fitness apps. This monitor features a wider, soft strap that adjusts from 23 to 48 inches.
What buyers say: Reviewers praise this unit for its accurate readings and ease of use, but do warn that it could be more durable.
Read more: 18 health and fitness devices that sync with Apple Watch
A super thin chest strap with an impressive year-long battery life (if you run for one hour, once a day), the Garmin HRM-run features a small, lightweight monitor that captures six cool running metrics: cadence, vertical oscillation (“bounce” in your run), ground contact time, left/right balance, stride length and vertical ratio (oscillation height to stride length).
What buyers say: “Best HRM chest strap! The fit is comfortable. It performs flawlessly and never loses connection.”
If you sprinkle in other forms of training for your overall fitness — specifically, biking and swimming — you should check out the Garmin HRM-Tri, which captures all the data that triathletes need to know and reports it all back to fitness apps on any compatible devices you sync it to.
What buyers say: “Easily the best chest strap heart rate monitor that Garmin has made” and, simply, “Best thing ever!”
If you’re looking for a budget buy to take your workout to the next level, this is it. The CooSpo IP67 chest strap uses ANT Plus technology and Bluetooth, which allows it to sync and work wirelessly with likely any device you already have, so there’s no other costs associated with getting heart rate readings. Coming in at just $30, buyers love the value for the price of this wearable device.
What buyers say: “Great alternative to name brand units for less money,” and, “Great price and will easily pair with all popular devices and products. Strap feels comfortable and transmission is very accurate.”
Originally published last year.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.
How to Choose and Use Heart Rate Monitors
Heart Rate Monitor Features
Basic HRM models time your workout and give you continuous, average, high and low heart rate data, as well as the high, low and target heart rate reached during your workout. Many models can be partnered with a foot pod that attaches to your shoelaces to track your speed, distance and cadence.
Other models have GPS receiver capabilities to track speed and distance, also providing elevation and navigation functionality. The most advanced (pricey) models have an extensive and ever-growing array of features.
Target zones: Basic models offer up to 3 target zones; advanced models have from 3 to 6 target zones. With the capacity for multiple target zones, you can preprogram your heart rate monitor for a series of different workouts (e.g., endurance, aerobic and anaerobic variations). If your HRM offers only a single aerobic target zone, you’ll need to reprogram it every time you want to change the exercise parameters.
Sport watch: Heart rate monitor watch models include features such as a clock, alarm, countdown timer and calendar.
Stopwatch and lap/split times: After each lap at a track or every mile on a marked-distance race course, hit the “Lap” button to see how your pace has changed throughout your workout or race (a.k.a. your “split”).
Recovery heart rate mode: Tracks the time it takes your heart to return to its normal, resting rate. It’s a good indicator of cardiovascular fitness and especially important if your workouts include sprints or interval training.
Time in target zone: Tracks the time you spend exercising within your target zone. Some zones and goals require more time than others.
Calorie counter: Estimates the calories burned during exercise. This can be especially handy if your workouts are part of a weight-loss program.
Speed and distance monitor: Calculates the speed and measures the distance covered in a particular workout. This is typically done via a GPS receiver for outdoor use or a foot pod for indoor use or use in an outdoor area with limited satellite reception. A foot pod uses an accelerometer to determine the length of each stride.
Digital interface: Connects your heart rate monitor to your home computer or smartphone so you can download training statistics for analysis, sharing and storage. This may be wireless or require a separate computer connection.
Tethering: Wirelessly pairs with your smartphone to allow wrist-top control of phone functions such as text messages, music, push notifications, fitness apps and social media—all without taking your phone out of a pocket or armband.
Fitness trainer: Provides alerts for intensity levels that fall above or below your chosen training zones.
Coded transmitter: Encrypts transmissions from the heart rate monitor chest strap sensor to the wrist unit to prevent crosstalk (signals from the wireless HRMs of others exercising around you).
Sport-specific features: These can include speed and cadence feedback for cyclists or pool-lap counters and stroke recognition for swimmers.
Battery replacement: Some HRM wrist receivers use consumer-replaceable or rechargeable batteries to simplify maintenance.