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Best heart rate monitor for Zwift

Best Heart Rate Monitor for Zwift
(Image credit: Wahoo)

Riding on Zwift without a heart rate monitor, like riding outside without one, is a missed opportunity. Strictly speaking, Zwift does not require a heart rate monitor. In some instances, racing on Zwift does but that's only important if you care to be included in the official results.

Modern cycling training has put an emphasis on using power as a metric. Long before power meters were common though, heart rate training was the gold standard. Even in the world of training by power, heart rate has remained an important metric. Riding on Zwift is no different.

Power is a snapshot of the rider's output on the bike. Heart rate is a measure of the fitness of your body. Power is instant and objective. It doesn't take into account your body, it only measures how much work you are doing. Alternatively, heart rate will change depending on the state of your body at the time of your ride. It will change depending on how fatigued you are or if you are getting sick. It's important to track heart rate even if you train using power.

As with anything used for riding, there are different considerations when riding indoors with Zwift vs outdoors. A single heart rate monitor can work for either need but you might consider different needs when making the choice.

HRM for Zwift: Wahoo

(Image credit: Wahoo)

Wahoo TickrX

The TickrX supports lots of simultaneous connections and includes a bonus cadence sensor if you need it

Connectivity: Bluetooth and ANT+ | Battery type: Coin cell

Works as a cadence sensor 
As many as three Bluetooth connections plus ANT+ 
Strap requires frequent adjustment 

If you only connect to Zwift all you need is a single Bluetooth connection and almost anything on the market will fill the need. If however, you want to ride in a different indoor cycling app that requires more Bluetooth connections you might want to look at what Wahoo Fitness range offers. The Wahoo TickrX can handle up to three separate Bluetooth connections plus ANT+. You might need that many connections right away but Wahoo provides enough to make sure you don't feel limited in the future. 

HRM for Zwift: Garmin

(Image credit: Garmin)

Garmin HRM-Dual

A simple heart rate monitor with enough battery life to make sure it’s never an issue

Connectivity: Bluetooth and ANT+ | Battery type: Coin cell

Ultra-long battery life
Strap design requires less adjustment
Optional accessories for smaller, or larger, straps  
Getting the strap on can be a challenge  

If you must have the simplest solution, without any extra features, it might as well be the best. Garmin has the HRM-Pro with features for running and swimming but if you want to keep things as simple as possible the HRM-Dual is the choice for you.

Garmin invented the ANT wireless protocol but many of its products support Bluetooth connections as well. The HRM-Dual supports up to two Bluetooth connections plus ANT+. More impressive though is a 3.5 year quoted battery life.

Garmin straps are a little trickier to fasten than some of the competition. The connection slides into a loop on the side of your body. The advantage is that the material used has less stretch and won't require frequent adjustments. Garmin also offers a smaller strap and an extension to help their products fit everyone.

HRM for Zwift: Polar

(Image credit: Polar)

Polar H10

Features for running, and swimming, make for a well rounded heart rate monitor with a focus on accuracy

Connectivity: Bluetooth and ANT+ | Battery type: Coin cell

Accuracy 
Suitable for swimming 
Colour options are available   
Relatively short battery life  

In a crowded field with products that can be hard to differentiate, Polar has chosen to focus on accuracy. The Polar H10 claims best-in-class accuracy with less than 4 per cent error when compared to an ECG device.

When you push your body to the limit the mind becomes an important part of the equation. If you think you might find yourself wasting energy dwelling on the accuracy of your heart rate reading, choose Polar.

HRM for Zwift: Mio

(Image credit: Mio)

Mio mioPod

Haptic feedback makes it easy to stick to whatever heart rate zone you are targeting

Connectivity: Bluetooth, NFC, ANT+ | Battery type: Rechargeable

Haptic heart rate zone notification 
Suitable for swimming 
Training insights via app 
Records running cadence
NFC capable  
Relatively short battery life 
Only 1 Bluetooth connection at a time  

The Mio mioPod works on its own with Zwift but the included app adds value. Use the app to set training zones and the band will give haptic feedback while riding. Even though heart rate is easy to see on Zwift, having haptic feedback is a great way to make sure you stick to the training zones you are targeting. The app also gives training and recovery insight.

Bluetooth and ANT+ connections can work at the same time but only one Bluetooth connection is possible. Up to 30 hours of workout memory helps maximize the limited connections by syncing later. NFC connection also makes the mioPod a good option if you regularly run in a gym.

HRM for Zwift: Polar

(Image credit: Polar)

Polar OH1

The same focus on accuracy as other Polar HR products but this time on your arm or the strap of your swim goggles

Connectivity: Bluetooth and ANT+ | Battery type: Rechargeable

Included clip for swim goggles 
Training insights via app 
Short battery life 
Only 1 Bluetooth connection at a time  

If you only want to purchase one heart rate strap and use it for multiple sports it's worth considering the relative strengths. The Polar OH1 continues to focus on accuracy, like the H10 but includes a clip for swim goggles. If swimming is an important sport for you then the comfort of clipping the OH1 to your goggles might be a deciding factor.

Like the mioPod, and the H10, the OH1 can record an activity without another device then upload it later. This is even more important given that the OH1 can only connect one device at a time. Use the Polar Beat app to analyse the data later and help shape your training.

HRM for Zwift; Scosche

(Image credit: Scosche )

Scosche rhythm24

The features aren’t completely unique but they’ve been mixed together just a little bit differently and might be perfect for you

Connectivity: Bluetooth and ANT+ | Battery type: Rechargeable

Cycling cadence 
Multisport features 
Coloured straps
Short battery life 
Only 1 Bluetooth connection at a time  

The Scosche rhythm24 offers a blend of features that combines offerings from other manufacturers. Similar to the mioPod there are features to help you stay in your desired heart rate zone. You'll also find a rechargeable battery like the other arm bands and there are multisport features. Finally like the Wahoo TickrX the Scosche rhythm24 will act as a cycling cadence sensor.

With so many similarities in the market slight variations matter. The Scosche rhythm24 is a mix of features put together just a bit differently than everyone else. If you are looking for an arm band instead of a chest strap, need multisport capabilities, and want cadence then this might be the right mix for you.

HRM for Zwift: Garmin

(Image credit: Garmin)

Garmin Forerunner 945

A smartwatch that can broadcast it’s heart rate signal means one less thing to think about when jumping on Zwift

Connectivity: Bluetooth and ANT+ | Battery type: Rechargeable

Complete tracking and metrics for life
Multisport features
Notifications while riding   
Overkill if you only need heart rate   

Once you start using Garmin to track everything in your life you might decide you'd rather not miss out on tracking during a ride. Spend some time in the Garmin connect app and you can see training advice, sleep tracking data, and lots of data related to how tired your body is. A lot of that data comes from near constant heart rate tracking so it makes sense that you don't want to miss out on recording while riding in Zwift.

If a smartwatch seems like the right solution for your life then the Forerunner 945 could mean buying less stuff. The Garmin Forerunner 945 can broadcast its heart rate sensor reading via Bluetooth and ANT+ saving the need for a separate heart rate strap.

  ECG vs Optical Heart Rate Sensors

Chest strap heart rate sensors are ECG sensors. In a hospital setting an ECG sensor might have as many as 12 points of contact but the basic system is the same. Nerves operate like electrical cables and carry electrical impulses around your body. The impulses that occur as your heart beats get picked up by the electronics on the strap.

Heart rate sensors that work on your arm, or wrist, operate in a different way. A light, or series of lights, shines through the skin and illuminates the capillaries below. As the blood within the capillaries changes the amount of light that returns to the sensor changes. High volume reduces returning light and low volume increases it.

You might have heard that optical heart rate sensors are not as accurate. That is because physiology and movement play a big role in the accuracy of optical sensors. The physiology of a person's capillaries doesn't always lend itself to easy measurement. Also, even if your physiology isn't an issue as your body moves those capillaries may shift in ways that cause the same problems.

Modern technology is working to overcome the drawbacks of optical sensors. More powerful lights and better processing of the data means that today's optical sensors are often as good as ECG straps. Cycling also tends to be one of the easier sports for optical sensors to deal with and indoor cycling is even easier. If optical sensors work for your body it's possible you won't see much difference between the different forms of heart rate monitoring.

How many wireless connections do you really need?

Deciding how many wireless connections, and what kind, you need can be overwhelming. ANT+ tends to be a more stable connection but not every device supports it. Beyond that, running Zwift with a heart rate sensor is very straightforward but what if you want to try and do more?

Once you start using Zwift the in-game rewards can make time spent in other apps feel like a loss. Often there is a desire to ride in a primary app but rack up miles in Zwift in the background. You might also find yourself wanting to record a Zwift ride on a cycling computer or one of the best smartwatches for cycling to take advantage of the tracking and advice. Start adding in extra variables and the type of connections possible become important.

ANT+ supports many connections at once but only one app running on your computer can make use of the ANT+ dongle. That means both Zwift and TrainerRoad can’t both access the same ANT+ dongle. Your ANT+ sensor could connect to both a computer and a head unit but not to two computer programs on the same computer with only one ANT+ dongle. Meanwhile, Bluetooth means only one connection per available slot. If your sensor only supports one slot then a connection to Zwift will be the only connection possible.

In most cases, it's going to be prudent to choose a heart rate monitor with as many available connections as possible. You might not use more than a single connection right away but having the flexibility can save you from future limitations.