A heart rate monitor is an electronic device that is worn on the body and provides real-time information about the state of your heart.
Some heart rate monitors are strapped around the chest and send information to a readout device, be that a smartphone, smartwatch or fitness tracker. Others are integrated directly into fitness trackers or smartwatches and worn at the wrist.
The best heart rate monitor watch or fitness tracker will provide accurate information without requiring the chest strap. For this and other reasons, they’re quickly becoming the predominant type of heart rate monitor. Below we’ve compiled our list of the best heart rate monitors for 2023.
1. Garmin HRM Run
The HRM Run is a true heart rate monitor that wraps around your chest and provides highly accurate readings that it sends to any late model Garmin fitness tracker. These kinds of chest straps are not typically a big hit with the ladies. But this one may win a few converts.
What we like: The real-time heart rate monitoring on the HRM-Run is among the best you’ll get. We like that you can set it to any one of a half dozen different types of stride. And that the strap is pretty comfortable around the chest. Even on hot days.
Flaws: You need to pair it with another device to view the data it collects. It would be nice if that readout device came as part of the package.
2. Wahoo Fitness Tickr Heart Rate Monitor
The Wahoo Fitness Tickr provides some of the most accurate heart rate readings you’ll get in this type of device. It then sends them to the smartwatch or smartphone of your choice. There the data can be put to use in any one of more than 50 health-related apps.
What we like: It does a good job capturing generally accurate heart rate information in a variety of conditions. We like that there are myriad ways to put that data to use in other related apps. And we appreciate the reasonable price point.
Flaws: The device has a tendency to slide down the arm. Also, it doesn’t store data itself. It’s just a transmitter.
3. Fitbit Charge 3 Fitness Activity Tracker
The Fitbit Charge 3 is a fitness tracker and something more. It’s also a highly competent heart rate monitor, and right up there with the best heart rate monitor watch you’ll find. It’s sleek and comfortable, durable and reliable, and it will keep an eye on your ticker whether you’re riding your exercise bike or taking a nap.
What we like: The Charge 3 charges fast and holds a charge for up to 8 hours when the heart rate monitor is engaged. We like the fact that it’s fully waterproof. So you can also monitor your heart rate in the pool. Also, it provides call and text notification and interacts with scores of other apps.
Flaws: The lack of a date on the clock face is kind of a head-scratcher. Also, don’t expect too much from the weight tracking function.
4. Polar FT1 Heart Rate Monitor
This is a true heart rate monitor that comes with its own readout device. The chest strap is comfortable and easy to adjust, the readout is large enough to be read without a magnifying glass, and the device is water-resistant. So you don’t have to worry about getting caught in the rain wearing it.
What we like: We like the easy-to-read display. Also, the fact that it’s highly water-resistant means you don’t have to worry about sweat or light rain. Lastly, the chest strap provides very accurate heart rate readings.
Flaws: The connection between the chest strap and wrist monitor is sometimes erratic when running hard.
5. MorePro Fitness Tracker Heart Rate Monitor
The MorePro Fitness Tracker Heart Rate Monitor has a lot of bells and whistles. But the most important of those are the generally dependable heart rate and blood pressure monitors. For a glorified fitness tracker, it’s pretty impressive. And for the price, even more so. The icing on the cake with this value winner is that it’s 100% waterproof.
What we like: For an inexpensive fitness tracker-like device, the MorePro Monitor does a good job. Besides one-touch heart rate data, it also tracks distance and calories burned and will let you know if you have a phone call.
Flaws: The design isn’t going to set the world on fire. And the band can get irritating once you start sweating.
6. Letsfit Tracker & Heart Rate Monitor
Letsfit is neither the biggest name nor the most expensive heart rate monitor on our list. But it may just be the best value. It possesses as accurate a heart rate monitor as you’re going to find in a fitness tracker. Plus, all the other advantages that this type of device brings to the table.
What we like: We appreciate the generally outstanding quality of this heart rate monitor. For a fitness tracker monitor, it’s quite accurate. We also really like the sleek, modern look of the device.
Flaws: The clasp has a fragile feel to it. We’d treat it with kid gloves just to be safe because it’s not replaceable.
7. Garmin Forerunner 235
The Garmin Forerunner 235 is a perfect example of the convergence taking place in the fitness tracker/heart rate monitor business. You could call this the Forerunner Heart Rate Monitor or the Forerunner Fitness Tracker, and either title would be correct. It’s also a good example of how fitness trackers have closed the gap between them and traditional heart rate monitors.
What we like: The heart rate readings are generally reliable. It syncs easily with any late-model smartphone. And if you’re not using the heart rate monitor, it will run continuously for nine days on a charge. We also like that the device doubles as a quite passable smartwatch.
Flaws: It’s a tad bulky. And the white background has to go.
8. Scosche Rhythm+ Heart Rate Monitor Armband
If you’re intent on making sure you have the most accurate heart rate data you can gather, you’ll want to consider the Scosche Rhythm+ Heart Rate Monitor Armband. This one wraps around your forearm and sends its precious data to any Bluetooth enabled smartwatch, smartphone, or fitness tracker.
What we like: We like the fact that you can sync it with virtually any late-model smartphone, smartwatch or fitness tracker. We appreciate the IP67 rating. Which means it’s ready for the pool. And we appreciate the accuracy of the heart rate readout.
Flaws: It seems they didn’t put the same amount of thought into the band that they put into the rest of the device. It’s a bit sponge-like and can get uncomfortable on hot days.
9. Polar OH1
We always appreciate it when a manufacturer provides multiple ways to benefit from a product. The Polar OH1 gives you two ways to capture your heart rate. Either through a forearm strap or a discrete, waterproof device that captures the heart rate at the temple.
What we like: You’ll get reliably accurate heart rate readings that you can sync with any Bluetooth or ANT+ device. We applaud the fact that they provide two ways to use the device. And it’s fully waterproof for swimmers.
Flaws: This is a small device, so the activation button is necessarily small too. Also, it doesn’t hold a charge all that long.
10. Scosche Rhythm24
Bringing up the rear of our list is the Scosche Rhythm24. This watch-like device features a genuine heart rate monitor that’s very accurate and reliable. There’s no arguing with the effectiveness, which is why it’s on our list.
What we like: A great alternative to the uncomfortable chest strap. It syncs quickly and effectively with most mobile devices and smartwatches and is compatible with almost all popular health and fitness apps.
Flaws: It’s app driven so you’ll need to have another device with you to see what’s going on.
Who Needs A Heart Rate Monitor?
Anyone who comes from a family with a history of heart disease should consider wearing a heart rate monitor. The same can be said for anyone who suffers from a cardiovascular problem, or who has had a heart attack in the past. Beyond that, you get into matters of personal, and perhaps even professional, preference.
By ‘professional’, we’re talking about pro athletes who need to obtain a competitive edge but need to do so responsibly. It’s reckless and potentially dangerous to just push oneself without getting useful feedback about how your body is handling the stress. Unfettered training can actually lead to a condition known as ‘Athlete’s Heart’ (1) where the heart becomes enlarged due to constant training.
While the condition itself is not thought to be dangerous, it is sometimes mistaken for more serious conditions. And that can lead to complications resulting from unnecessary treatments. So it’s in an athlete’s interest to keep an eye on what’s happening with their heart, which makes using a heart rate monitor a wise decision.
How We Ranked
For a device to make our list, it needed to be reasonably accurate. That is, within what is accepted as the upper end of accuracy for these devices today. Chest strap heart rate monitors routinely win the accuracy award. But in the past couple of years, the humble fitness tracker and the heart rate monitor watch have made impressive progress in regards to accuracy. The best of those made our list.
Battery life is another critical issue because you don’t want the heart rate monitor quitting on you in the middle of a bike ride, swim, or aerobics class. When it came to fitness trackers and smartwatches, we also wanted to see a rich feature set. After all, if they’re not going to provide the bells and whistles, then you might as well just get a simple chest strap. And of course, whether we’re talking about chest strap devices or wrist-based monitors that sync with your smartphone, ease of connectivity is another thing we took into consideration.
Lastly, we can’t ignore the importance of robust product support. These are, after all, complex high-tech devices. As such, should yours have a problem, you can’t open it up yourself, shake a couple of wires and get it going again. You need to have it looked at by highly trained professionals in possession of the latest diagnostic equipment and the expertise to interpret that diagnostic data. So, warranties were/are important to us when making our choices.
Q: Is there more than one kind of heart rate monitor?
A: Yes, there is more than one kind of heart rate monitor. Commercial chest strap monitors are scaled-down versions of devices doctors have used for decades. They send their data to a reader at your wrist or a smartphone app. The heart rate monitor watch both reads your heart rate at the wrist and displays the information on its face. Most every fitness tracker will also have a heart rate monitor component among its available features. Which type of monitor is best for you is something only you can decide. It can’t hurt to discuss the matter with your physician.
Q: Are chest straps more accurate than wrist straps?
A: Yes, chest strap monitors are generally considered to provide more accurate information than wrist-based monitors (2),(3). Chest straps also have a leg up on heart rate monitors embedded in fitness trackers (4). That said, the best heart rate monitor watch or fitness tracker should provide information that is accurate enough that you can use it to improve your physical performance and overall health. The wrist-based monitor is also far more convenient and typically far more comfortable. Especially for women.
Q: What’s the best way to determine my maximum heart rate?
A: There are a number of different ways to determine your maximum heart rate. Certainly, the best way is to pay a visit to your doctor and let him or her run a stress test. If, however, you’re more of a do-it-yourself type of person, you can try what is called the Fox method. This is a straightforward formula where you deduct your age from the number 220. So, if you are 52, your maximum heart rate according to the Fox method would be 220 – 52, or 168. Just bear in mind that research indicates such simplistic methods may not be terribly accurate (5).
Q: Can I just use a heart rate monitor watch?
A: The fact is many smartwatches and fitness trackers now incorporate heart rate monitors that are nearly as accurate as purpose-built chest straps. Some go so far as to offer an electrocardiogram feature. Some of these ECGs (6) are very sophisticated and have even gotten the seal of approval of the FDA. So, the answer to the question is yes, you can just use a heart rate monitor watch, smartwatch, or a fitness tracker with an integrated heart rate monitor if you choose. That’s why we included a mix on our list.
Q: How can I tell if I’m in my heart rate target zone?
A: Once you have established your maximum heart rate, it’s not difficult to establish a heart rate target zone. As we mentioned above, that zone is typically 50% to 85% of the maximum heart rate you’ve established. So, if your maximum heart rate is 168, then your target heart rate zone would be 84 – 143. If you are just starting to exercise after a long period of dormancy, then it’s advisable to stick to the lower end of that range. And your heart rate monitor can ensure you do. Over time as you become more accustomed to the physical exertion, you can gradually work your way up toward the higher end of the scale. Just don’t rush things.
Q: Are there any side effects to wearing a heart rate monitor?
A: About the most serious side effect most people experience from these devices is irritated skin. That’s particularly true for chest strap heart rate monitors, where irritation can be a particularly acute problem for women. While it’s not impossible for women to wear chest strap monitors (7) it’s likely to take some getting used to. Beyond that, the only potential side effect might be an allergic reaction to the strap material. Although that seems highly unlikely.
Q: Will heart rate monitors work with all kinds of exercise?
A: No, because many heart rate monitors are not waterproof. Therefore, if you take your non-waterproof chest strap or other monitor into the pool with you, you’re going to be shopping for a new one shortly after you dry off. So before you spend your hard-earned money on this type of device, ask yourself how you’re going to be using it. If you’re a swimmer, make absolutely sure any monitoring device is entirely waterproof. Not just water-resistant.
Q: Which is better ANT+ or Bluetooth?
A: ANT+ is a low power wireless technology that has been around since 2004 (8). It is widely used within the fitness industry for treadmills, stationary bikes, and the like. It’s roughly analogous to Bluetooth but has some technical differences that are too complex to get into here. Smartphones, wrist-borne heart rate monitors, and fitness trackers most often use Bluetooth. So if your heart rate monitor uses ANT+ and you want to sync it with your smartphone, you’ll probably need an adapter.
Q: Are heart rate monitors expensive?
A: Heart rate monitors are no different than any other type of product on the market. Some are downright cheap, while others can set you back quite a bit. The most expensive heart rate monitors tend to be those incorporated into things like smartwatches. Waterproof heart rate monitors are also more expensive to make and so are going to retail for more than other monitors. Of course, companies also trade off the strength of their brand name. So a monitor produced by a globally recognized brand is likely to cost more than one produced by someone you’ve never heard of even if there isn’t a big difference in quality.
Q: What’s the best way to clean a heart rate monitor?
A: It will depend on the type of device you have. If yours is a chest strap monitor, you’ll want to make sure you wipe down both the chest strap transmitter and the wrist receiver after every use to remove sweat and dirt. The straps can be cleaned by using warm water and some mild detergent, rinsing them thoroughly and letting them air dry (not in direct sunlight). If your heart rate monitor is incorporated into a smartwatch or fitness tracker, you’ll also want to wipe it down after every use. If that device is waterproof, then feel free to wash it with a clean cloth dipped in warm water.
Q: If the battery dies when I’m using it is all the data lost?
A: While we’ve heard tales of people losing their data because the battery died, this shouldn’t happen with any high-quality device. Engineers are pretty clever people and the ones who design heart rate monitors make sure that just before the device shuts down that it saves any unsaved data. But keep in mind that if your chest or forearm monitor is a transmitter only, then it is not designed to save data under any conditions. Only to send that data to another device for display and perhaps storage.
Q: Don’t all humans have the same ideal heart rate?
A: No, there is no single ideal heart rate for all human beings. According to the American Heart Association the average person’s ideal heart rate is typically between 50 to 85% of their maximum heart rate (9). With 50% representing the low end for moderate-intensity workouts and 85% the high end for high-intensity workouts. Keep in mind too that if you have a family history of heart disease (10) it is imperative you discuss the matter in full with your doctor and abide by their recommendations before exercising.
Q: Is a heart rate monitor a waste of time?
A: The fact that anyone can take their pulse at any time (11) makes some folks question the need for an elaborate high-tech heart rate monitor. But while just about anyone can obtain an accurate heart rate with little effort, there are still situations that call for something more. If you’re in the middle of a session on your exercise bike, for instance, you don’t want to have to stop just to get a heart rate. It’s much easier to just glance at your wrist. It’s the same with runners or folks out for a walk. If you have a history of heart problems you need to get exercise to keep your heart strong (12). But at the same time, you can’t push things too far. The heart rate monitor provides you with real-time data that enables you to shift gears quickly if you need to.
Today you have more ways to monitor heart health than ever before. That includes standard chest strap monitors, smartwatches, and fitness trackers that now offer integrated heart rate monitors as a standard feature.
Those with a history of heart problems should consider wearing one of these devices as a matter of course. For others, they’re more convenience than necessity. But a valuable convenience to be sure.
Whether you’re training for the Boston Marathon or just getting in some time on the exercise bike, knowing what your heart is up to can be useful information. At the very least, it can help you devise a more effective workout. And who knows, it may wind up saving your life.
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