The best heart rate monitors are those that you can easily forget you're wearing, while gaining consistent, accurate and insightful data. The humble heart rate monitor can provide insight into training effort, exertion, fatigue and more.
They range from lightweight chest straps to small optical wristbands that track your pulse. The latter is now used in fitness trackers and smartwatches at all price points. Each option can map other metrics like heart rate viability, remember workout data, and even determine cadence.
Here’s our pick of the best heart rate monitors available today, and if you're unsure what separates a good heart rate monitor from a bad one, here’s what to look for.
Things to look out for
ECG or LED
The classic heart-rate chest strap uses sensors pressed up against your skin to measure the electrical impulses that control the contraction and expansion of the muscles in your heart (ECG). In contrast, optical sensors shine light through your skin (LED) and measure the variance in blood flow.
Even with significant advances in technology, the classic ECG based chest strap still reigns supreme in terms of accuracy.
Optical sensors need to maintain consistent contact with your skin for an accurate reading, but bumps, jumps, and even muscle tension from gripping your handlebars can stymie the sensor. With the contact required, optical sensors come with precise fit instructions; constant shaking on your arm from road imperfections and sweaty sunscreen-covered skin can cause them to slide around enough to impede accuracy.
In our experience, a chest strap offers far superior point-to-point accuracy, however, the optical sensors are still pretty good at determining trends in heart rate.
Most of today's smartwatches have a built-in optical sensor, and some can even connect to your head unit to serve as a sensor.
As with speed/cadence sensors and power meters, heart-rate sensors can connect to devices with ANT+ or Bluetooth, with most options now doing both. Which is right for you largely depends on the devices you'll be connecting.
Most GPS head units will support, at the very least, ANT+ or Bluetooth with the majority speaking both languages — if you're looking to save a few bucks pick a heart-rate strap that only does one (just make sure it's the right one).
If you're looking to use a cycling computer while riding outdoors and also take advantage of training apps such as Zwift, TrainerRoad or The Sufferfest on the turbo trainer, consider a dual-band sensor. With a dual-band heart-rate monitor, you can connect seamlessly to your ANT+ enabled computer and laptop, phone or tablet without needing an ANT+ dongle or a second sensor.
Another consideration to make is that most Bluetooth devices can only communicate with one other device at a time, while ANT+ can broadcast to an unlimited amount. If you're one to ride on Zwift but record the ride on your head unit or watch, it's something to keep in mind.
Are you a triathlete or do you incorporate running or swimming into your training? Some heart-rate sensors offer running metrics such as vertical oscillation and cadence, while others are waterproof and can be worn in the pool and only record some data.
If you're looking for a strap, it may also require a tiny bit of maintenance. Usually, the sensor clips onto the strap with a pair of metal straps which will be exposed to quite a lot of sweat over their lifecycle and, these do occasionally succumb to corrosion. You can prolong the life of your HR strap with regular washing (some are machine washable while others aren't, refer to the tag for instructions) and a small dab of dielectric grease can help if you're an extremely salty person.
500 hours of use on a single charge
Wahoo's Ticker is a basic dual-band Bluetooth and ANT+ heart rate chest strap that gives 500 hours of use on a single charge.The Tickr range can remember three devices, which is handy if you have multiple hobbies or recording methods.
Powered by a standard CR2032 battery that should last about a year, the sensor has a IPX7 water- and dust-resistance rating, and Wahoo says it will survive at a depth of 5ft.
The most accurate HR strap you can buy
Polar invented the wireless heart-rate monitor and, when it launched the H10 strap a few years ago, it claimed it to be the most accurate on the market. By using a third electrode on the strap, silicone grippers to prevent it from sliding around and a new algorithm, the brand says the new strap is accurate to +/- 1-millisecond.
The H10 is entirely waterproof, can be worn while swimming and also record your heart-rate variability — though you'll need to use it in combination with one of Polar’s smartwatches to take advantage. It broadcasts in both ANT+ and Bluetooth, and, unlike the Garmin and Wahoo straps, can connect to two concurrent devices with Bluetooth.
Basic dual-band heart rate strap with a big battery life
The Garmin HRM Dual is compatible with both ANT+ and Bluetooth. It is a stripped-down heart-rate monitor, which measures your heart rate, and that's it, no device memory, and no run or swim dynamics.
However, without all of these extra sensors and things to keep track of, the CR2032 battery should last about three years.
Status light helps you get the most out of it
The Tickr Fit is an optical heart rate sensor designed to be worn on your arm using green LEDs to read the blood flow beneath your skin. It's designed to be worn on the forearm and comes with two straps to fit all arm types.
The reason we like the Tickr Fit is the status light on the backside; flashing blue when all is well, or red when something isn't — like the sensor not being fit properly. Like the Tickr chest strap, it's dual-band and pairs seamlessly to a range of devices and has a built-in USB rechargeable battery. The downside comes when you add sleeves, as it's not slim enough to comfortably fit underneath arm warmers and the like.
Long lasting optical HR band
The Scosche Rhythm is an ANT+ and Bluetooth enabled optical heart-rate monitor that is almost universally compatible with apps and devices. The sensor has built-in memory and can record up to 16 hours of data and the battery will last 33 hours before it needs a top-up.
Scosche also offers a heap of different band options so the sensor can be customised to match your kit.
All the best parts of Fitbit in one band
If you’re looking for an all-action fitness tracker, the Fitbit Charge 4 is a great option. It comes with GPS tracking as well as a focus on heart rate monitoring, plus you can use it to control your music and switch between various sports tracking modes. It’s easily the brand’s most advanced fitness tracking band.
The heart rate accuracy on the Fitbit Charge 4 is known to be solid, and outperforms many chest straps. What’s more you’ll get Fitbit’s SpO2 sensor which tracks the amount of oxygen in your blood, plus a full breakdown of your active zone minutes. This helps you meet the World Health Organization and American Heart Association’s recommendation of 150 minutes of exercise per week.
Supremely comfortable to wear while active
Amongst the Samsung smartwatch family it’s the cheapest, but it’s also one of the best. It feels compact and lightweight, making it supremely comfortable to cycle, run, swim and use for HIIT sessions.
Along with the heart rate monitor, you get built-in GPS and an accelerometer for tracking indoor cycling, plus 24/7 fitness tracking, guided breathing, stress monitoring and other useful and motivational features that will keep you moving.
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