All recent Garmin smartwatches and fitness trackers have the ability to monitor your ticker. But sometimes not all functions as it is intended. Here’s what to do if the device on your wrist is not or has stopped recording heart rate.
Most Garmin watches can track heart rate
Gone are the days where you had to place a chest strap around your chest to get a heart rate reading on your Garmin watch. Sure the accuracy is not yet on par with such devices, but it is edging closer with each passing year.
Essential reading: Best fitness trackers and health gadgets
You can have confidence that at rest and lower intensity activity, the device on your wrist will churn out pretty accurate readings. It is only at high-intensity exercise where accuracy is slightly compromised.
That is why for those very serious about training and their athletic pursuits, we still suggest strapping on a heart rate armband or chest-strap when performing intense workouts. For everything else, using the heart rate sensor on your watch is perfectly fine.
You don’t even have to choose a Garmin product. The company’s watches will work with chest straps and armbands from other companies such as Polar and Suunto.
But what if the Garmin has stopped tracking your heart rate? Or the heart rate widget has disappeared from your watch. Here are some troubleshooting steps which will hopefully get rid of the problem.
Garmin is not or has stopped recording heart rate
Unless you have a very old Garmin watch it should have the ability to track your heart rate. You can view the readings either on the watch itself or via the Garmin Connect app/website dashboard.
The Garmin watch widget shows the real-time heart rate and a chart with the last 4 hours of data. You can also see a chart with your resting heart rate values over the past week. For longer-term trends and more detail head over to the smartphone software or website dashboard.
Check that wrist heart rate has not been switched off
Let’s say the heart rate widget is there on your Garmin watch but it is not showing any readings. Clearly there’s a problem. You are probably see something like a greyed-out heart with a slash through it. You might have even noticed that the optical heart rate sensor lights on the back of the watch are not on.
The first thing to do is to check that the Wrist Heart Rate feature has been switched off! Yes, this is one of the options but not on all the watches – only on some of them. The setting can typically be found by going to:
- Menu>Settings>Widgets>Heart Rate>Heart Rate Settings or
- Menu>Settings>Heart Rate/Heart Rate Settings
Restart your watch
Yes, the good old restart. You’ve checked that the Wrist Heart Rate feature is switched on but there are no flashing lights in the back of the watch. A restart of your watch resets the sensor and can restore its function.
No heart rate readings
The functionality is switched on and you can see the lights in the back are flashing. Still no readings? Perhaps you are not wearing the watch correctly or there is some other issue. You are probably seeing the following icon instead of your heart rate measurements.
Here’s a troubleshooting list to go through:
- Make sure you are wearing the watch correctly. The sensor should be continuously in contact with your skin (on the outside of your wrist), and the watch should be snug but not too snug. It definitely should not be moving around but pulling the strap too tight might restrict blood flow. Silicone bands are recommended when it comes to high-intensity activity rather than leather and other material.
- For certain types of activities it might be a good idea to move the watch slightly farther up the wrist. This can be particularly effective with activities such as weight-lifting or racket sports- as they involve flexing of the wrist
- Keep the sensors on the back of the watch clean. If this is not done on a regular basis there could be a buildup of rust and corrosion that can interfere with readings.
- Tattoos can cause accuracy issues, so keep them well away from the watch. This is because the ink has the potential to block light from reaching the heart rate sensor.
Heart rate widget has disappeared from the watch screen
The most likely reason that the widget has disappeared is because it has been removed or hidden. The good news is that this is easily rectifiable. Once again, the route is device dependent. Tweak the setting either by:
- Menu>Settings>Widgets>Heart Rate>Heart Rate Settings (you’ll see options to remove or reorder), or by going to
- Menu>Settings>Display Options>Visible Widgets
My Garmin is not showing data from an external heart rate arm or chest strap
As mentioned above, strapping on a heart rate chest strap or armband is a good idea when performing intense exercise. It will give you confidence in knowing the data is more accurate that what you would get from a wrist-based heart rate sensor.
How to add an external heart rate monitor to your Garmin watch
Remember, before first use you do need to add the external device to the list of available devices on the Garmin watch. Simply go to:
- The device’s settings
- Choose Sensors & Accessories
- Select Add New
- Choose Search All.
If all goes well the Garmin should pick up on the external device and add it to its list. From that point on the two should connect automatically – as long as both are on.
At times, though, you might have trouble pairing the external device to your Garmin. Or perhaps the readings or not displaying or you are receiving erratic heart rate measurements. Go through this list to resolve:
- Keep your Garmin watch close to the device you are pairing with. They can communicate up to a certain distance.
- Is the external heart rate monitor charged up? If it works on a battery – perhaps the battery is drained and needs replacing?
- Make sure you are wearing the strap correctly with the external sensor pointing the right way. It should be snug against your body and not allowed to slide.
- You should be wearing the external device while you are attempting to pair it. It will start broadcasting readings which should make it easier for your Garmin to speak to it.
- For chest straps, typically you need to wet the sensors before strapping the band around your body. Wetting the electrodes helps to establish a electrical connection between the device and yourself.
- Make sure the sensors are clean.
- If you are in a group, it is worth taking a few steps away from others. They may also have a heart rate chest strap and it might be interfering with your device’s broadcast signal.
- It is a little known fact that the type of clothing you wear can effect readings. Shirts with synthetic fibres can rub up against the heart rate strap creating static electricity. As this can interfere with signals see if wearing a cotton shirt makes any difference.
- Switch on and off the external heart rate monitor. Rebooting any electrical device often resolves issues.
You’ve tried all of the above and nothing has worked. The second to last step is to try adding the external heart rate chest strap as a new device. So go through the motions as if you were trying to pair it for the first time.
The last step? Well, there could always be a chance there’s something wrong with your Garmin watch or external heart rate monitoring device. That’s a more serious problem which might require replacing one or the other.
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