Most people who exercise will tell you they want to lose weight or simply get fitter. Not many people, however, know what their heart rate is, or where it really should be.
This means that often, they are not training in the most efficient way to achieve their goals. The only way to actually know how many calories you’re burning while you’re exercising is to have a heart rate monitor that is consistently hooked up. All top athlete’s heart rate train, as they know this will help them to reach their top potential in the shortest amount of time possible.
Heart rate sensors typically come in one of three forms. The chest strap style, the wrist band style and more recently the armband style. There are pros and cons to each type.
A chest strap detects your pulse electronically and sends that data to a receiver, such as a smartphone or a wrist-worn tracker. This is similar to what you can see in hospitals with patients who have sensors strapped to their chest. These type of monitors tend to be highly accurate. The same is the case for heart rate rate trackers that you slip on to your upper or lower arm.
Essential reading: Heart rate zone training with wearables
Fitness trackers, such as those made by Fitbit, Apple or Garmin, monitor your heart rate from the wrist. They operate by shining a light, which is then reflected by blood vessels passing through your veins. When your heart pumps, the blood moves through your veins at a quicker rate, causing less light to be reflected back. The wrist worn device then calculates your heart rate using an algorithm.
While this is a more convenient way of tracking your ticker, the accuracy can never compare with chest or arm band style monitor. Particularly for high intensity workouts. If you are very serious about heart rate training, a chest or armband monitor is still the way to go.
What follows is our pick of recommended devices. While compiling the list, we’ve examined functions and features carefully and thoroughly. We try to test every device personally, but where not possible we took user reviews into consideration and dismissed devices with bad customer reviews and low ratings.
Chest strap style monitors
The H10 is an updated version of Polar’s best selling H7 heart rate monitor. Just like its predecessor, it includes a soft fabric chest strap that seamlessly adapts to your body shape. There is a new buckle mechanism and silicone dots that help keep it in place during training, and interference-preventing electrodes that help ensure heart rate is captured accurately.
The H10 now provides internal memory. This can be handy in situations where you want to leave your phone behind. The tracker can only store one heart rate training session at a time so you need to sync right after the session.
You can use your H10 strap with a number of different products as well as compatible gym equipment. The device is waterproof so you can wear it for swimming although the Bluetooth connectivity will not work.
If you want a reliable heart-rate monitor and can live with strapping onto your chest, the H10 is one of the best options out there.
Tickr X is the most advanced of Wahoo’s three heart rate training chest straps. In addition to information on your ticker, the device measures calorie burn, running form metrics, indoor run, spin cadence and counts reps during strength training.
Its internal memory can store up to 16 hours of heart rate data allowing you to leave your smartphone behind and sync later. The tracker is compatible with over 50 third-party apps including Nike+ Running, MapMyFitness, Runkeeper, Strava, Apple Health, and Cyclemeter/Runmeter.
Both ANT+ and Bluetooth 4.0 capabilities allow the Tickr X to connect to GPS watches, iPhones and Android devices. You can also link the strap directly to the Apple Watch to get heart rate data in the Workout app.
All things considered, you’ll struggle to find a better value in a heart rate monitor than the Wahoo Fitness Tickr X.
MyZone has been in the chest strap heart rate monitoring game for a while now, mainly dealing with gyms and health clubs. The company’s latest device, the MZ3, aims to add a level of competition to regular heart rate training.
As the name suggests, everyone has different fitness zones that change over time. The MZ3 identifies, rewards and adapts those zones and displays that information in five tiles based on the intensity. It then uses a points based system to turn fitness into a fun exciting game. The company claims that its chest straps deliver readings with 99.4% EKG accuracy.
The MZ-3 allows you to view your physical activity data on your smartphone via bluetooth in addition to on-screen at participating gyms via ANT+. It also works with a host of third party apps.
This is a heart rate strap specifically designed for triathletes.
The built in accelerometer reports six running dynamics metrics including: cadence, stride length, ground contact time, ground contact time balance, vertical oscillation and vertical ratio. The HRM-Tri stores heart rate data even when underwater, then forwards it to your wearable at the end of your swim.
This is Garmin’s smallest and lightest heart rate monitoring module and it fits within the width of the strap. The strap’s soft, rounded edges and covered seams it super-comfortable in or out of the water. The battery lasts an impressive 10 months (assuming 1 hour/day use) with user-replaceable CR2032 battery.
If you like to cycle, swim and run, this is the one you want.
Size really matters. At least it does if you ask Suunto. The company says their product is the smallest Bluetooth Smart compatible heart rate sensor on the market right now. And they might be right. The sensor module is tiny and weights only 40 grams, while the strap width is only 30 millimetres.
When running, the tracker provides real-time heart rate data and calories burned. You can use it while swimming as well, as its water resistant up to 30 metres.
While you are in the pool the sensor stores up to 3 hours of heart rate data. When you are back on dry land, sync the device to your Ambit 3 watch or the Suunto smartphone app on your Android or iOS phone for post workout analysis.
Moov is a company which has consistently taken an innovative approach to activity tracking. The outfit has recently come out with HR Burn, its first heart rate monitoring chest strap. It joins the EKG-accurate HR Sweat, which was announced last year.
Both trackers will guide you to get the most out of your workouts and keeping burning those calories hours after your workouts. Simply follow the voice coaching which will keep you in the correct heart rate zone. Workouts are adjusted with variety and intelligence to get you the right intensity.
While HR Burn functions like a regular chest strap, HR Sweat sits on your high temple to get what Moov says is a more accurate pulse reading than from your wrist or chest. The device shines a LED light to illuminate the skin and measures changes in light absorption. The amount of light absorbed by the tissue is affected by the perfusion of blood that occurs as blood pulses through your body. HR Sweat uses these changes to determine your heart rate.
In terms of design, the sensor slips into a sweat-absorbant headband. It also comes as Moov HR Swim, the exact same technology in the form of a swim cap. This means you can get reliable heart rate data during those pool sessions.
Armband style monitors
The next generation of Scosche’s hyper-accurate armband heart rate monitor has officially launched. Still boasting both Bluetooth Smart and ANT+ connectivity, RHYTHM24 brings a number of improvements over the original. As its name implies, the gadget will now run a full day between charges, a significant boost to the 8 hours of its predecessor.
Another important upgrade is waterproofing. The second generation device has an IP68 water-resistance rating, which means it will just about survive a swim session. Just as important, RHYTHM24 also comes with internal memory which safely stores your readings allowing for phone-free training.
There are five training modes and two multi-modes to choose from and a LED battery indicator with lights to indicate heart rate zones. On top of that, the device boasts a heart rate variability (HRV) mode that monitors the time between each heartbeat for stress and recovery tracking. There are also profiles for a number of activities such as swimming, running and cycling.
Polar’s middle of the road solution features a great design with a few options in term of where you can wear it. There is actually very little not to like. What impresses most, though, is the accuracy of readings. Its close to what you would get with a heart rate chest strap and much better than a wrist based heart rate device. The latest version comes with BLE/ANT+ connectivity and attaches to swim goggles to measure heart rate from the temple.
Its main competitor is the Scosche Rhythm24. Identical in price, both dish out data of similar quality. In OH1’s favor is waterproofing, and the fact that it’s smaller and more discreet as all lights are on the underside of the unit.
This is another heart rate monitor for those that like accuracy but dislike the chest strap. Similar to its two competitors, the Tickr FIT comes in a comfortable form factor. The elastic band can be slipped on either the inside or outside of the forearm, but unlike its competition not on the upper arm.
The heart rate monitor uses a trio of green LEDs around an optical sensor to ensure accuracy. It comes equipped both with Bluetooth and ANT+ technology to pair with fitness apps, smartphones, and GPS bike computers and watches.
This is a solid offering that comes in at a reasonable price. If you’re in search for an alternative for a chest strap it may be an option worth considering.
The latest addition to this list, MioPod comes with Valencell optical sensor technology to deliver a cleaner signal with less noise than typical heart rate straps. It performs particularly well at high intensity exercises such as HIIT and weight lifting, and can stream heart rate to other devices thanks to NFC / BLE / ANT+ Connectivity.
Whats more the device delivers haptic alerts and LED with colour prompts for heart rate zones. Around 30 hours of biometrics can be stored on the thing, it is swim-proof (5 ATM) and battery life is around 24 hours.
In addition to performance analytics and a personalised training plans, the accompanying smartphone app dishes out a bunch of Firstbeat analytics including Recovery Time, Training Effect and Training Load. The gizmo also plays nice with other apps such as Runkeeper, Strava and Zwift.
Like this article? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter and never miss out!
*Disclosure: We are a review site that receives a small commission from sales of certain items, but the price is the same for you. We are independently owned and all opinions expressed here are our own. See our affiliate disclosure page for more details.