Best Heart-Rate Monitors for 2020
These days, it’s rare to find wearable fitness tech that doesn’t have a built in heart-rate (HR) monitor. Many of the big names in wearable tech have made huge leaps in the technology they use to track heart rates. As such, it’s fair to say that most devices will be pretty accurate. That said, the type of HR monitor and quality of the model you choose will affect the accuracy of the data you get. This in turn could reduce the benefits you can reap from such information. You’re probably here because you want to invest in the best HR technology – whether it’s for your health or training purposes. Below you’ll find our top 5 heart-rate monitors on the market. As different people find different styles more comfortable than the next, we’ve included an inclusive range of models including wrist-based options and chest straps. Find out more about HR monitors in general below.
Our Top Five Recommended Heart-Rate Monitors
Heart-Rate Monitors: An Overview
There are two main types of heart-rate monitors: wrist based (such as fitness trackers and sports watches) and chest straps. Chest straps tend to measure heart rate via electrical pulse, and are generally regarded as more accurate. The strap then sends your HR data to a connected device such as the machine you are training on (if it supports wireless pulse monitoring) or your smart device. Wrist-based models use something called optical technology.
Why Buy a Heart-Rate Monitor?
Heart-rate monitoring isn’t just for fitness buffs. Using them for training is beneficial, and probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think of this type of product. In reality, tracking your BPM can be useful information for monitoring your health and wellness in general.
- Training: Runners use HR training to run faster, train for marathons, learn to recover better, and more. There are a number of workouts and methods for tracking and training your heart rate. Typically, runners or athletes that are using HR tech for training purposes want the most accurate number as possible, so chest straps are the most popular tool for this. HIIT workouts also rely on heart rate.
- Optimizing Workouts: There are differing studies that discuss the benefits (or lack thereof) of working out in the so-called “fat burning zone.” However, many who are looking to lose weight utilize HR monitoring to hit that zone. Fitbit lets you know when you’re in the zone, making it a useful tool.
- Heart Health: For some cardiac patients or individuals looking to improve their heart health, HR trackers can be useful tools for keeping an eye on your heart health on a day-to-day basis. You should always check with your doctor first for recommended devices and to get their take on how to utilize a HR monitor. With your doctor’s guidance, a HR device can be incredibly useful for monitoring your resting and active heart rate, and for living a healthier lifestyle overall.
- Stress Tracking: Some devices give you information related to stress (like the Garmin Vivosmart 4), but even without dedicated data about stress, using a HR monitor can help you watch for times when you are stressed or anxious. It can also help you understand trends and what tends to stress you out by showing you an overview of your day’s heart behavior.
What to Look For When Shopping
As mentioned, be sure you’re under the guidance of your physician if you are seeking a heart-rate monitor for heart health purposes. Your doctor will likely have recommendations for which devices are best for your particular situation.
- Accuracy: When shopping for a new heart-rate monitor, you should consider accuracy as one of the key features of the device. These days, most new wearable tech is advanced enough to give you fairly accurate results. When comparing devices, usually ECG measurements are used as the baseline from which to compare. Regardless of the device you choose, you will want to note that nearly every device experiences deviations from actual BPM during activity – especially intense activity. Many dedicated athletes use both a watch and a chest strap to get more precise readings.
- Connectivity: Some devices only pair with certain devices or operating systems. For example, Apple Watches only work with iPhones, and some Android Wear watches only work with Android phones. Adding something like a chest strap to a fitness tracker means accounting for that kind of connectivity too. For example, watches and fitness trackers that use ANT+ will only work with ANT+ chest straps. Related to that is connectivity to your favorite app, if needed. If you are picking up a chest strap, for example, you’ll want to either check out the app it comes with or ensure it will integrate with the fitness app you already use.
- Comfort: Watches and fitness trackers have to sit snugly (but not too tightly) against your wrist in order to have the best chance for accurate readings. It’s worth it to read the manufacturer’s information about how and where to wear the device. Chest straps are notoriously uncomfortable, but some are more comfortable than others. Read reviews from athletes who are doing the same activities as you to get a sense of which one might be best for you.
1. Polar H10
The Polar H10 is a durable, top-value heart-rate monitor from a reliable brand. Polar is known for their consistent and accurate readings, and the H10 is the most accurate heart-rate sensor in their history. It offers top-spec ECG measurement. An updated version of the H7, the H10 boasts improved electrodes and a comfortable, interference-free strap. It stays put and hidden under your clothes even during your toughest routines. You can wear it for basically any workout, from rowing to cycling to swimming. As it’s fully waterproof, you can wear it in the pool and catch up with your stats after your session. The internal memory allows for one training session. This way you can record your HR data within the sensor and then transfer it to the app after your swim. A few customers have noted some issues with the monitor when used for swimming, so this is something to keep in mind if that is your primary training preference. Regardless, with Bluetooth, ANT+ and 5 kHz, the H10 has an inclusive variety of connection options. Pair up your Garmin, Apple, or Suunto smartwatch, or keep tabs on your data via Polar Beat and your favorite fitness apps such as Strava or Nike. You’ll also be able to connect it to any cardio equipment that supports wireless heart-rate monitoring so you can keep on top of your pulse stats on-screen. The ANT+ and Bluetooth connections can be active simultaneously. It can connect to two Bluetooth devices at once, such as your preferred fitness app and home gym equipment, your Polar watch and gym equipment, or whatever you train with. Overall, it’s a versatile, dependable heart-rate monitor that can take you from your spin classes to the pool.
2. Fitbit Charge 4
The Charge 4 is Fitbit’s most advanced tracker. A major highlight is the built-in GPS for pace and distance, which allows you to leave your phone at home when you go for a run or hit the gym. It also features up to a week of battery life—the most featured in their range—and 24/7 heart-rate tracking for all-day calorie burn and real time heart-rate zones. You can choose from 20+ goal-based exercise modes. The Charge 4 isn’t just for use in your training sessions: it can be used for better understanding your health as a whole. Use the sleep tracking mode to track your sleeping habits, and open the doors to a wide range of other insights with the Fitbit app. As well as daily activity and sleep tracking, you can get personalized breathing sessions, female health tracking and more. Then there’s all the extras like tap-to-pay, call notifications, access to apps such as Spotify and more. Overall, it has all the features of an advanced smartwatch packed into a fitness tracker size.
3. Garmin HRM-Tri
The Garmin HRM-Tri is a lightweight heart-rate monitor designed for open-water swimming, cycling, and running. It’s an ANT+ heart rate strap which stores and forwards pulse data to a compatible Garmin device. 20 hours of pulse data is stored internally during swims, and then syncs to a compatible device at the end of your session. It’s worth noting that the HRM-TRI shouldn’t be used in the pool because it will slip down when pushing off the walls during laps and differing swim strokes, and it won’t hold up well to the pool chemicals. It works best when worn with a wetsuit, as then it will stay securely in place. If you prefer pool workouts, we would recommend pairing the purchase with Garmin’s other strap, the HRM-SWIM. You can often get the two in a bundle. For running, the HRM-TRI delivers feedback on running form and dynamics and measures cadence, vertical oscillation and ground contact time when paired with a compatible device. It has an accelormeter which measures your torso movement when running. The soft edges and lightweight design allow you to remain comfortable even through your longer training sessions. With one hour per day of use you’ll get up to 10 months of battery life; it’s safe to say you don’t need to worry about it running out. After your workout is through you can get the full picture via Garmin Connect, the brand’s free online community. Here, you can save your data, monitor your progress and plan your next sessions. Detailed swim metrics include heart rate graphs, swim pace, stroke type, and mapping.
4. Garmin vívosmart 4
Garmin makes another appearance on our list with this Vivosmart 4, a lightweight, smart activity tracker with an impressive range of features. It’s an excellent device for someone trying to improve their overall health and wellness. Advanced sleep monitoring is part of the package so you can better understand your resting hours. The tracker can gauge blood oxygen saturation levels throughout your sleep with the wrist based Pulse Ox sensor. Keeps tabs on your daily activity with the estimated wrist-based heart rate, all-day stress tracking, Body Battery energy monitor and more. The Body Battery energy monitoring is an insightful feature which uses a combination of stress, heart-rate variability, rest and activity data to display insights into your body’s energy reserves. This allows you to plan your day so you can get the most out of your activity and rest times. Tap into the relaxation breathing timer at points of stress to practice breathing techniques and reduce stress throughout the day. When connected to your smartphone’s GPS you will get accurate tracking during outdoor running and hiking trails. It also supports notifications for calls, text messages and more on the go, so you can stay connected without reaching for your smartphone. Overall, it’s a comfortable, versatile fitness tracker that will take you from the yoga studio to the pool and help you keep in tune with your overall wellbeing.
5. Polar OH1+
The Polar OH1 is a versatile 6-LED optical heart-rate monitor that can take you from the gym to the pool. It measures heart rate from your arm or temple. Like other Polar models, connectivity is seamless and versatile. Its Bluetooth and ANT+ connectivity allows you to pair it with a variety of fitness apps such as Strava, as well as most smart watches. It also has built-in memory for up to 200 hours of training. After training in the pool you can sync your workout data to Polar Flow via the Polar Beat (the brand‘s free training app). The Polar OH1+ package includes a swimming goggle strap clip (as well as the optical HR sensor itself, an armband, and a USB charging adapter), making it suitable for just about any type of workout. Some users have noted that the flashing LED light (which indicates different modes and states such as pairing, low battery etc.) has quite a few flashing combinations, which can be confusing. These can be learned in time, but it’s just something to keep in mind for when you first get the model. Although being small has its benefits, this has been another issue some customers have brought up; it’s an easy model to misplace due to the compact size. All in all, however, it’s a versatile piece of kit with a variety of impressive features for the price. The connectivity to fitness apps opens the doors to detailed workout feedback which you can use to plan future sessions and monitor your progress as well as overall health and wellness.