Reviews

The Best Heart Rate Monitors

The Best Heart Rate Monitors

By Carlen Oliveira

January 22, 2021

Heart rate (HR) monitors are a great way to keep track of your exercise levels and monitor your target zones. By sensing your heart rate through the use of infrared sensors on your skin, and measuring the electrical activity of your heart (your pulse), an HR monitor can help you keep track of your day-to-day health. These machines can range from basic medical models to sport-specific, and some even come equipped other reading features to assist you with diet management and other health goals.

Common functions found on most monitors include: timed workouts and GPS trackers, which most smartwatch models carry; or. pre-programmed workouts (like endurance or aerobics). However, most heart rate monitors have evolved so much, they can serve as an SMS message, an iPod, a digital wallet system, a calorie counter and more.

Before purchasing a heart rate monitor, it's important to understand the different types of models available and what sort of functions they include to make sure you buy the right one. Although the more popularized version of heart rate monitors — Apple watches and FitBits, there are three types of HR monitors.

Chest monitors are the most accurate, but can be more uncomfortable to wear due to having to workout with a strap wrapped around your chest. Wrist monitors are less accurate but can be worn 24/7 (except when charging) to allow for more detailed and constant tracking. Pulse monitors are an additional option if you just want a quick and easy read, by placing your fingers on one to two small sensors.

Below, we outline a handful of different products ranging from AliveCor’s portable pulse monitor, to wristwatches with loads of bells and whistles.

1. Editor's Pick: AliveCor® KardiaMobile EKG Monitor

ProsCons
  • Portable
  • Quick results
  • Detects Atrial Fibrillation, Bradycardia, Tachycardia or Normal Heart Rhythm
  • Monthly fee
  • Access to user data required

Key Specs

Item Weight: 7.01 g
Item Dimensions: 16 x 9 x 3 cm
Operating Temperature: 23°F–122°F (-5°C–50°C)
Radio Frequency: 2.4GHz ANT Wireless

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This small FDA-approved machine is the perfect portable heart rate monitor. This easy-to-use machine requires no patches, wires or gels — just your fingers — and can take readings in 30 seconds or less. With smartphone and tablet compatibility, simply pull up AliveCor’s Kardia app, tap record EKG, and your phone will automatically record and store your results.

2. Best Chest Strap: Polar H10 Heart Rate Monitor

ProsCons
  • Waterproof
  • Smart Coaching feature
  • IOS and Android compatible
  • Limited band size
  • Short battery life

Key Specs

Item Weight: 59 g
Item Dimensions: 23 x 18 x 1.6 cm (XS-S: 20-26 in)
Operating Temperature: -10 °C to +50 °C
Material: Polyester

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The Polar H10 tops the list of best chest straps. Due to its ANT + and Bluetooth heart rate sensors, precision accuracy, and compatibility with numerous fitness apps like Nike and Strava, it's the ideal HR monitor for those intense workout sessions. The easy-to-use buckle and silicone dots, on a soft adjustable strap, give users a comfortable and interference-free workout. Suitable for rowing, cycling, running, or swimming, this waterproof strap can be the perfect workout buddy if you're looking for a chest-strap heart-rate monitor.

3. Best Runner-Up Chest Strap: Garmin HRM-Dual Heart Rate Monitor

ProsCons
  • Water resistant up to 1 ATM
  • Adjustable strap
  • Small screws make it difficult to replace battery

Key Specs

Item Weight: 54.4 g
Item Dimensions: 132.1 x 1 x 3.3 cm
Operating Temperature: 23°F–122°F (-5°C–50°C)
Material: 100% cotton jersey

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This versatile chest strap monitor is suitable for outdoor, indoor, and even online workouts. Its ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity allows users to receive accurate results on their Garmin device or training apps like Zwift. It's also compatible with workout equipment at the gym. Its soft strap is not only adjustable but it's also washable and its battery life can last up to 3.5 years.

4. Best Budget Pick: AK1980 Fitness Tracker

ProsCons
  • Waterproof
  • Three different clock face displays
  • IOS and Android compatible
  • Quick screen timeout
  • Step count can read inaccurately at times

Key Specs

Item Weight: 130 g
Item Dimensions: 6.35 x 5.84 x 1.78 cm

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If you want an affordable heart rate monitor that is equipped with extra functions, the AK1980 fitness tracker will help get you on track to leading a healthier, more active lifestyle. This lightweight fitness tracker includes a heart and sleep monitor, has built in activity modes like walking and swimming, and it even connects to your phone to alert you when you have incoming calls, texts and notifications.

5. Best Splurge: Fitbit Versa 2

ProsCons
  • Fitbit Pay
  • Compatible with Alexa, IOS and Android
  • Strap causes irritation with some skin
  • Need constant connection with phone

Key Specs

Item Weight: 40 g
Item Dimensions: 4.9 x 10.25 x 22.6 cm
Operating Temperature: -10° To 60° C
Screen Size: 1.34"

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Although technically considered a smartwatch, the Fitbit Versa 2 delivers fairly accurate readings for a heart rate monitor. Equipped with a 24/7 monitoring feature with more than 15 different workout settings, the Versa 2 also tracks your steps, active minutes and sleep stages. It also has six days of battery life so you'll likely only need to charge it once a week. If that isn’t enough reason to splurge on this fitness tracker, it’s also equipped: with built-in Alexa; with Spotify-and Deezer-compatible; and, with FitBit Pay — a digital wallet system that allows you to make purchases using the watch.

Types of Heart Rate Monitors

Chest Monitors: Chest monitors are the most accurate style of HR monitors on the market and are worn by strapping them snugly around your chest, just underneath the breast. They need to maintain contact with skin to get readings by detecting the electrical activity of the heart and transmits the information to either a wristwatch, or an app via Bluetooth.

Continuous HR Monitors: This style is constantly worn on the wrist and tracks your heart rate through sensors that give you a real-time reading of your pulse. While they aren't as accurate as chest monitors, they are still fairly reliable, especially if you're doing light activities.

Pulse Monitors: These monitors detect your pulse by placing one to two fingers on sensors. These are a great alternative if you don’t need constant readings or want to track your workouts. They are, however, slightly tricker to use as cold fingers can result in either no readings, or inaccurate readings.

Heart Rate Monitor FAQ

For athletes and couch potatoes alike, heart rate monitors have unique features that can benefit you. Whether you’re training for a triathlon in two months or you're trying to remember to walk periodically throughout the day, a heart rate monitor is a useful tool. No matter the need, you can check out some of the frequently asked questions about heart rate monitors below.

What is a Heart Rate Target Zone?

A HR target zone refers to a specific range that is targeted during a workout to reach your maximum heart rate. The recommended equation to figure your HR max is 208 - 0.7 x your age. So, for someone who’s 20 years old their average max HR is 200 beats/minute. NOTE: It’s recommended to get a stress test under a doctor's supervision for most accurate results.

Is It Worth Buying a HR Monitor?

Yes, absolutely. Heart rate monitors are useful for anyone who wants to keep track of their heart rate, how many calories they’ve burned or how far they’ve walked or ran. HR monitors are great for runners, bikers or swimmers, people in weight loss programs or people going through injury rehabilitation and can even track your sleep. It’s also a great way to remind your body to move and stay active especially in times like these when working from home gives you the perfect excuse to be a couch potato.

How Do I Choose a Heart Rate Monitor?

First, it’s important to decide on what style of monitor you want. Once you’ve decided on a style, figure out what tech features are important to you. There are countless brands that offer endless features, some of which can have specs that can be difficult to understand at times. Best practices include: What do you want to use the monitor for? Can you read all of the numbers? Does it have a backlight? How easy is it to use? Once you’ve figured out what features you need, the next step is finding the right product within your price range.

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