Everyone knows exercise is good for you. Scientists and fitness experts have been hammering home that point for years. What you may not know is that repetitive cardiac loading can actually reshape your heart and change the way it works. According to a study conducted by scientists at Melbourne, the size of some athletes’ hearts are roughly equivalent to four Coke cans. This type of non-pathological heart growth is commonly referred to as Athlete’s Heart. Another interesting fact: once sufficiently enlarged, the heart begins to produce a third heart sound.
Professional athletes derive many benefits from their oversized hearts. They can pump more blood into their muscles, which helps them exercise for longer periods of time. Other benefits of regular exercise include increased longevity, improved blood pressure control, enhanced cognitive function and more. Everyone wants these kinds of benefits, but it can be difficult to know where to begin and how hard one should train. Without the proper equipment, it’s difficult to know where you stand when it comes to heart health.
There are a wide array of health devices that offer highly accurate heart rate analysis– and some are far less expensive than you may imagine. Many of the best heart rate monitors are simple, inexpensive one-function devices, while others can run all kinds of different health apps and widgets.
Here are the best heart rate monitors you can buy:
- The Polar H10 comes equipped with an expanded feature set that shows that its makers are in touch with the latest sports technology friends.
- If you’re looking for a deal, it doesn’t get much better than the Garmin HRM-Dual. It’s comfortable, precise and very reasonably priced.
- The Fitbit Charge 2 delivers useful, round-the-clock health insights wherever you are, whether you’re exercising at the gym, sleeping in your bed or going about your routine daily activities.
- Since it looks for all intents and purposes like an ordinary watch, the Polar Ignite won’t draw undue attention when you track your heart rate at the office– and the built-in GPS unit saves you from having to take multiple devices with you when you go out for a jog.
- Scosche Rhythm+ is an armband heart rate monitor that’s just as accurate as the kind you wear around your chest, only it’s more comfortable and convenient.
The most full-featured heart rate monitor
When it comes to features, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better heart rate monitor than the Polar H10. You can use it to add heart rate data directly to GoPro videos. This unique feature could come in handy if you ever want to relive your athletic adventures– or simply show off your accomplishments to friends and family.
- Works with GoPro cameras. You can add your heart rate information as an overlay when you make GoPro recordings.
- Send data to multiple devices at the same time. This is one of the only heart rate monitors that can send data to two different Bluetooth devices simultaneously.
- Reliable and accurate. The addition of a third sensor and non-slip silicone tabs enhances its accuracy compared to previous heart rate monitors from Polar.
- Supports a wide range of sports equipment. You can send your heart rate data to stair steppers, treadmills and may other ANT+ / Bluetooth compatible devices.
- Works without a smartphone. You can store up to 65 hours of heart rate data to the H10’s built-in storage system.
- You can wear it while swimming. It’s waterproof and the sensors are designed to work well in water.
- You have to wear it on your chest. The fact that you have to wrap this heart rate monitor around your chest for it to work might be an issue for some.
- You need another device to check if it’s working properly. Since there is no indicator light or display, you need a smartphone or some other similar device to make sure that it’s recording your heart rate.
In a nutshell
The Polar H10’s main strength lies in its features. It works with GoPro, plus it’s one of the only heart rate trackers that can interact with to two different Bluetooth devices at once. The fact that it works well in water is another strong plus.
The best value heart rate monitor for the money
The Garmin HRM-Dual is affordable as it is comfortable. Nearly everyone who uses it has good things to say about its soft, flexible chest strap. The fact that the CR2032 clock battery that it runs on will last for about 3 years is another significant benefit.
- Precise heart rate tracking. The HRM-Dual is just as accurate as competing devices that cost twice as much or more.
- Soft, comfortable strap. This is one of the most comfortable chest-style heart rate monitors you’ll find.
- Connects to ANT+ athletic devices. In addition to Bluetooth, the HRM-Dual supports the ANT+ communication standard.
- You don’t have to keep it charged. The CR2032 clock battery is replaceable and lasts a long time.
- Works with just about any health app. You can use this device with Apple Health, Runtastic Pro, UnderArmour Record, Wahoo RunFit and many other health apps.
- Can send data to two devices at once. The HRM-Dual can’t support more than one Bluetooth device, but it can send data to one Bluetooth device and one ANT+ device.
- Built to last. A single battery lasts about 3.5 years, and you can replace the strap if it breaks or wears out.
- Bare bones feature set. You can’t use this device for swimming, and there’s no gyroscope feature or built-in data storage system.
- You need another Garmin device to save data to Garmin Connect. You can only send heart rate data to Garmin Connect if you own a Garmin smartwatch or some other type of fitness wearable from Garmin.
In a nutshell
If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on a heart rate monitor, the Garmin HRM-Dual is a logical choice. The fact that you can’t use its companion app if you don’t have another Garmin device feels like a sneaky upsell, though.
The best fitness wearable for heart rate monitoring
Fitbit Charge 2
Fitness wearables like the Fitbit Charge 2 are much more affordable compared smartwatches and offer more features compared to single-feature heart rate monitors. The Charge 2 does a great job of tracking heart rate data, plus it has all kinds of useful health widgets that add additional functionality. The fact that it is energy efficient enough to track your heart rate for five days straight on a single charge is another strong benefit.
- Constant heart rate tracking. A feature called PurePulse combines heart rate and activity data to measure calorie burn and assess your overall health.
- Built-in stress reduction feature. If your heart rate increases due to stress, you can use the built-in guided breathing exercises to calm down.
- Easy to use. The simple, easy-to-use interface is responsive and organized in a logical way.
- Screen is readable in any type of lighting. The backlight helps you read the display in the dark, and the high contrast, anti-glare display works well in the daytime.
- Compatible with many Fitbit wristbands. Fitbit has a vast collection of wristbands, many of which are compatible with the Charge 2.
- Sleep tracking. You can use the Charge 2 at night to assess the quality of sleep that you’re getting.
- Not ideal for distance tracking. Instead of relying on GPS, the Charge 2 uses a stride counter to track how far you’ve gone during an exercise session.
- It’s not waterproof. The fact that there is no swimming feature is a small disappointment.
In a nutshell
The Fitbit Charge 2 has limited exercise features. It isn’t great at distance tracking, and you can’t wear it while you swim. On the other hand, it’s perfect for monitoring heart rate changes. The guided breathing exercises can assist people that suffer from stress-related heart rate spikes.
The best smartwatch for heart rate monitoring
Some smartwatch makers try to cram as many features as they possibly can into a single device, and as a result heart rate monitoring takes a backseat to flashier features like voice recognition and music storage. The makers of the Polar Ignite went in the opposite direction and made heart rate tracking a top priority.
- Accurate heart rate tracking. The heart rate sensor resists sweat and does an above-average job of tracking heart rate changes compared to other smartwatches.
- Delivers suggestions for exercise duration and intensity. Ignite’s intelligent software uses heart rate data to offer workout suggestions.
- Built-in GPS unit. You won’t need to bring your smartphone with you when you go out for a jog.
- Intuitive information presentation. The home screen does an excellent job of categorizing and displaying your daily activities.
- Good battery performance for a smartwatch. A single charge lasts up to four days.
- Looks like a standard watch. The Ignite’s stainless steel bezel makes it resemble an ordinary analog watch.
- Waterproof. It can withstand up to 30 meters of water immersion.
- Sleep tracking. You can find out how much actual rest you’re getting when you lie down at night.
- Expensive. The Polar Ignite’s smartwatch features come at a price.
- The display is hard to read outside. Glare can get in the way of reading the screen at times.
In a nutshell
The Polar Ignite is the best smartwatch to get if heart rate tracking is your priority. It uses heart rate data to generate recommendations that suggest how hard you should train during any given workout session. The built-in GPS unit adds additional convenience.
The best armband-style heart rate monitor
Scosche’s Rhythm+ is the best armband-style heart rate monitor you can buy. It offers not only not only excellent accuracy, but also improved comfort compared heart rate monitors that are designed to be worn over the chest. Its reasonable price tag and built-in cadence sensor help lift it above the competition. On the other hand, it’s not waterproof enough to be used in a pool.
- More comfortable than chest-style heart rate monitors. It’s easy to put on and feels less noticeable when you work out.
- Cadence sensor. Cadence analysis helps you build endurance and fine-tune your workout so that you can overcome plateaus and continue to improve over time.
- Reasonable price tag. The Rhythm+ has dropped in price significantly since its 2016 debut.
- Excellent accuracy. It can go toe-to-toe with any chest-style heart rate device in terms of accuracy.
- Choose from several different colors. Available colors include black, gray, blue, green, pink and red.
- Works with a wide variety of sports devices. This heart rate monitor supports both ANT+ and Bluetooth sports devices.
- No visual feedback. There’s no way to tell if the Rhythm+ is working or not unless you interact with its companion app.
- Not meant to be used in water. The sensors are waterproof enough to resist sweat, but won’t survive more than one meter of water submersion.
In a nutshell
If you don’t like the thought of wearing a strap around your chest but you still want above-average accuracy when you track your heart rate during an exercise session, the Scosche Rhythm+ could be your best bet. The cadence tracking feature adds additional value.
Buying guide for heart rate monitors
Heart rate sensor type
Most heart rate monitors contain optical sensors. These are ideal for exercise devices because they provide good precision even when they’re exposed to sweat. Waterproof optical heart rate sensors can function efficiently when submerged in water. The other type of heart rate sensor you’ll find uses electricity to provide more detailed heart information. Electrical heart rate sensors provide data for EKG graphs and can even detect heartbeat irregularities.
Simple single-function heart rate sensors sometimes don’t have any type of built-in interface at all. The absence of interface features (buttons, indicator lights, displays, etc.) can be a disadvantage, since it means that you have to use another device to make sure that your heart rate monitor is working.
Typically, heart rate monitors come with some type of companion app, which you can use to view your health data on your smartphone. In addition, many heart rate monitors can send data to third party health apps. If you’re already using some type of popular health app– like Apple Health, for example– you should check to make sure that your heart rate monitor is compatible with it before you make your purchase.
Athletic device compatibility
Bluetooth is the most popular standard among stair steppers, treadmills and other types of athletic equipment. The second most important fitness device communication protocol is ANT+. The main advantage that ANT+ has over Bluetooth is that it lets you broadcast information– like heart rate data, for example– to multiple devices at the same time.
If swimming is a part of your exercise routine, you’ll definitely want to get a waterproof heart rate monitor. Almost all heart rate monitors are sweat resistant and splash proof, but not all of them are meant to be used in a pool.
Most smartwatches and some fitness wearables come with a built-in GPS unit. The main advantage of built-in GPS is that it gives you the ability to track the distance you cover when you exercise without the aid of a smartphone. The downside is that GPS is a power-hungry feature. That’s why smartphones and fitness wearables have much shorter battery life compared to single-feature heart rate monitors.
Heart rate monitors that are worn around the chest are generally not as comfortable as smartwatches, fitness wearables and armband-style heart rate monitors. However, they do tend to be a bit more accurate. If you do decide to get a chest-style heart rate monitor, choose one that has a comfortable strap.
The more a heart rate tracker can do, the shorter its battery life will be. Simple heart rate trackers draw energy from clock batteries can last as long as three years. Fitness wearables are usually equipped with rechargeable batteries that can run for about a week or so on a single charge. Some smartwatches can barely get through a single day, but others can last for four or five days before they run out of energy.
Some basic heart rate monitors can also measure cadence, which is useful for fine-tuning your workout. Fitness wearables come with many additional sensors. Their apps and widgets use data gathered from heart rate tracking, activity tracking, sleep tracking, body temperature monitoring and other types of analysis to produce a variety of different health metrics.
You can get a high quality single-function heart rate monitor for around $60. Budget heart rate monitors don’t have many features, but some can run for as long as three years on a single battery.
If you’re willing to spend about $120, you’ll be able to afford a fitness wearable. Fitness wearables can do much more than just monitor your heart rate. They can monitor the number of steps you’ve taken during the day, help you relax with breathing exercises and more.
Many smartwatches are equipped with a heart rate monitoring feature. You can get a good smartwatch for around $250, but some luxury smartwatches cost thousands of dollars.
Frequently asked questions
Q: What’s the point of using a heart rate monitor?
A: A heart rate monitor gives you an idea of how much endurance you have. A strong heart pumps blood more efficiently than an out-of-shape heart. That’s why people who are in shape have lower resting heart rates compared to people that don’t get enough exercise. When exercising, you can check your heart rate periodically to see if you should push yourself harder or reduce your workout intensity.
Q: How should I evaluate my heart rate data?
A: If you have a resting heart rate that’s in the low 60s, that’s a good sign that you’re in shape. If your resting heart rate exceeds 100, that might be an indicator that you need to exercise more. If you subtract your age from 220, you’ll arrive at your maximum heart rate. If your see your heart rate approaching this number when you exercise, slow down.
Q: What are some of the symptoms of overtraining?
A: Pushing yourself during a workout is generally a good thing, but overexerting your heart is not a good idea– especially if you’re not in shape. If you experience dizziness, lightheadedness, chest pain or unusual shortness of breath, stop working out and consult a trained medical professional.
- To improve the accuracy of your heart rate monitor, apply moisture to its sensors before you put it on. Saliva will work if you don’t have access to water.
- Heart rate gel provides a saliva-free way to improve your heart rate monitor’s accuracy. Since gel doesn’t dry as quickly as water or saliva, it’s the best way to improve your heart rate monitor’s accuracy when exercising in windy environments.
- Synthetic fabric can sometimes interfere with your heart rate monitor. The reason for this is that synthetic fabric easily accumulates static electricity. If you think static electricity may be interfering with your heart rate monitor, you can use a dryer sheet to cancel out the static electricity before you work out.