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Published Oct. 27, 2021

If you aren’t wearing a heart rate monitor, you aren’t getting the most from exercising. According to the Cleveland Clinic, heart rate is a primary indicator of how intensely you’re exerting yourself and what energy source you’re using. When you work out, you burn calories, but if your heart rate is too high, you’ll actually be burning more carbohydrates, since your body can’t burn fat fast enough to keep up. Therefore, knowing your heart rate lets you keep your workout in the fat-burning zone. (This is the underlying theory behind Orangetheory workouts, for example.) The best heart rate monitors give you reliable, real-time readings and can beam data to a synced device for further analysis so you can work out your best workout. 

And, sure, you could use your fingers to check your pulse, but how realistic—or reliable—is that when you’re on a bike or in the pool? Heart rate monitors offer ease of use and accuracy suited for high-intensity activity and environments. So if you’re trying to figure out a monitor for cycling, swimming, or running, whether an armband or a chest strap is better for you, read on. We’ve got our finger on the pulse of the best heart rate monitors. 

How we selected the best heart rate monitors

The core function of the best heart rate monitors is to provide an accurate, real-time look at your heart rate. So we only considered the ones made by top manufacturers whose sensor technology cannot be beat and whose products we’ve tested and trust. From there, we read what users and critics had to say about how they felt and functioned in the real world, and we considered critical features like Bluetooth and ANT+ connectivity and compatibility with popular fitness apps. That heartfelt work led us to a list we love. 

What to consider when shopping for the best heart rate monitor

From connectivity to comfort, here are some things to consider when shopping for tools to improve your workouts. 

Do you want a wrist band or a chest strap?

Monitors are typically worn one of three ways: either on your wrist, on your arm, or around your chest. Generally, the wrist and armbands are easier to use, while the chest straps boast better accuracy. But, actually, the technology has advanced so much in the past few years that each type of monitor can provide both benefits. Chest straps place electrodes against your skin to measure your heart’s electrical activity. Fitness trackers on the wrist and arm use optical sensors to measure the blood flow in your veins. Both types of sensors provide accurate readings, but that reading is compromised if the sensor is knocked out of position, so it’s important to find a heart rate monitor that provides a secure fit on your body. 

Is the heart rate monitor compatible?

Heart rate monitors connect to phones, smartwatches, and other devices to share data. While Bluetooth heart rate monitors can meet the needs of most people—pairing the monitor with a smartwatch, say—ANT+ allows you to connect the heart monitor to multiple devices at once. So if you’ve got Strava running on your phone and also want to map your run on your wrist, ANT+ can make it a go.

It’s also important to check that the heart rate monitor you purchase supports the operating system on the device you’re planning to pair it with. (Some heart monitors can’t yet communicate with the Apple 13 iPhone, for instance.) Pay attention to app compatibility, as well. Most of the best ones will work with common fitness apps, but it’s a good idea to make sure.

Will you wear it all day? 

The best monitors have batteries that can last for hours and even days. That means the limiting factor in how long you wear a monitor while working out—aside from your own energy level—is often how comfortable it feels on your body. The weight of the device matters some, but materials and fit tend to matter more. Silicone works for wrist bands, and it also adds grip to the softer chest straps. Ultimately, fit and comfort are something you have to decide for yourself.  

How low can it go?

Especially if you’re a swimmer, you need a watertight monitor. Devices with ATM 5 ratings and WR50 can withstand going 50 meters below the surface, while IP68-rated monitors can withstand at least a meter of water for half an hour. Any ratings lower than these can’t reliably go underwater.

What else does it track?

Some monitors track your heartbeat and not much else. Others can monitor your running stride, record steps, and count calories. In addition, some devices can monitor different data points depending on the type of exercise you’re doing—for instance they monitor rhythm and distance while you’re running and heart rate variability while you’re swimming—while other heart monitors track what zone of fat burning you’re in, meaning you don’t have to do any math.  

The best heart rate monitors Reviews & Recommendations

Best heart rate monitor for cycling: Polar H10 Heart Rate Monitor

Ready to Roll

This Polar heart rate monitor is compatible with multiple devices and fitness apps, including Peloton. Polar

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Why it made the cut: Polar’s ECG heart rate measurement provides pinpoint accuracy whether road biking or open-water swimming.

Specs:

  • Weight: Connector 21 g (0.74 oz), strap 39 g (1.38 oz)
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+
  • Battery life: Up to 400 hours
Pros:Cons:
  • Accurate
  • Replacement batteries may not last as long as the original
  • Connects to multiple devices at once
  • Waterproof up to 30 meters
  • Over-the-air software updates
  • Garmin, Apple, Strava, Nike—these are just some of the brands that this Polar monitor works with. It can support iOS mobile devices with iOS 13 or later; Android mobile devices with Bluetooth 4.0 capability and Android 7 or later; Huawei mobile devices with Huawei App Gallery and Huawei Mobile Services installed. That makes this chest strap one of the best heart rate monitors for cycling. But it excels as one of the best monitors for Peloton and cycling in general, as its accurate reader and comfortable fit don’t falter at high speeds thanks to silicone dots that help it stay firmly in place.

    Best heart rate monitor for running: Garmin HRM-Pro Premium Heart Rate Strap

    Takes It In Stride

    This Garmin heart rate monitor also captures running dynamics. Garmin

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    Why it made the cut: By tracking metrics such as vertical oscillation, ground contact time, stride length, and vertical ratio, this Garmin heart rate monitor can improve your running form.

    Specs:

    • Weight: 2.1 ounces
    • Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+
    • Battery life: 1 year (training once a day)
    Pros:Cons:
  • 5 ATM water resistance (can withstand depths of 50 meters)
  • Must connect via ANT+ for running dynamics
  • Lightweight
  • Optimized for other Garmin products
  • Seamless connectivity
  • This Garmin strap is the best heart rate monitor for running because it’ll monitor how effectively your feet are pounding the pavement in addition to how forcefully your heart is pounding in your chest. While it’s made to share data with Garmin watches and other devices, it can also connect to third-party apps, including Zwift. Plus, the chest monitor offers an unlimited number of connections via ANT+ (Bluetooth is limited to two), allowing you to share data between multiple devices. The strap is waterproof up to 50 meters and it’ll store heart rate data when your smartwatch, or another device, is out of range (which is 3 meters).

    Best heart rate monitor for swimming: Apple Watch Series 7

    Keep Watch of Your Stats

    Apple’s latest smartwatch carries over the Series 6’s detailed health monitoring features—even when 50 meters underwater. Apple

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    Why it made the cut: It’s Apple’s most durable, most advanced fitness tracker to date.

    Specs:

    • Weight: 32-51.5 grams, depending on model/case materials
    • Connectivity: Bluetooth
    • Battery life: 18 hours
    Pros:Cons:
  • ECG app
  • Expensive
  • 50 meters of water resistance
  • Requires iOS 15 or later
  • Detailed fitness tracking
  • If you want the best heart rate monitor for swimming that’ll also track your health in great detail, the recently announced Apple Watch Series 7 (which is replacing the Series 6) is the right fit. It carries over the electrical heart sensor and ECG app, which can create a detailed electrocardiogram that’s doctor-office-worthy. The SE and Series 3 (which will remain available) can monitor your heart rate, but they don’t have the ECG app—nor can they monitor your blood oxygen levels. Like the 6, the 7 is capable of withstanding 50 meters of water pressure, and it includes a fitness tracking app that’s tailored to swimming, recording laps and yards in addition to elapsed time and calories burned. The latest Apple Watch also charges 33-times faster than the Series 6, capable of going from 0 to 80 percent in 45 minutes, so it should have energy as you build yours up.

    Best heart rate monitor for rowing: Scosche Rhythm24 Heart Rate Monitor

    In the Zone

    Five monitoring modes help you maximize your workout gain. Scorsche

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    Why it made the cut: This armband lets you find your personal heart rate zone. It also has a battery life that can go the distance and a waterproofing rating that makes it ready to row.  

    Specs:

    • Connectivity: Bluetooth Low Energy / ANT+ Connection
    • Battery life: 24 hours
    • Sensor type: Green and Yellow Optical Sensors
    Pros:Cons:
  • 24 hours of battery life
  • Can be difficult to use
  • Personalized monitoring
  • Wide compatibility
  • IP68 Waterproofing (can survive submersion up to 10 feet)
  • If you spend the day on the water, you need a heart rate monitor that will, too. This Scosche monitor offers 24 hours of battery life, as well as up to 13 hours of onboard memory training time (ANT+ FIT file transfer). Plus, the IP68 means splashing won’t bother it and you can even keep it on when you swim laps. This is one of the best monitors for rowing, with LED lights displaying battery life and five heart rate zone indications that are designed to work with different sports. For instance, the running mode focuses on cadence plus distance, while the swimming mode tracks heart rate variability. It’s versatile in its compatibility, too, pairing with many devices, including iPhone models up to 12 and the Galaxy S10.

    Best heart rate monitor for exercises of all sorts: Myzone MZ-Switch

    The Triple Threat

    This is a heart rate monitor you can wear three ways: on your wrist, arm, or chest. Myzone

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    Why it made the cut: Versatility, durability, reliability. Three is a magic number.

    Specs:

    • Weight: Roughly 5.5 grams (sensor)
    • Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+
    • Battery life: Up to 6 months
    • Sensor type: ECG and PPG
    Pros:Cons:
  • Two kinds of sensors
  • Somewhat pricey
  • Three ways to wear
  • Only tracks heart rate
  • Wide compatibility
  • Whether you’re a triathlete or just into multiple sports, this versatile device is the perfect training companion. The best heart rate monitor for exercises of all sorts, the MZ-Switch can be worn three ways, meaning it’s “customized” for whatever your pursuits: swimming laps in the pool, skinning up a steep slope, ultramarathoning through grueling terrain, hang-gliding from a plateau, etc. I wore it as a chest strap on bike rides and as a wrist strap on runs, easily switching out the sensor (roughly the size and weight of a quarter) and optimally situating it by using the plastic clip (wrist and arm bands) and metal snaps (chest monitor). 

    Using Bluetooth or ANT+, this Myzone heart rate monitor can also sync with an array of devices and programs, from Peloton bikes to the Strava app to Apple watches to MyFitness Pal. I used the Myzone app to log workouts and track stats like calories burned and to easily see what fat burning zone I’d entered based on the color-coded charts—the gray-to-blue-to-green-to-yellow-to-red-system matches the LED flashes of the heart rate monitor’s face. Two sensors, ECG and PPG, help ensure accurate, real-time heart rate readings, no matter where you’re wearing the MZ-Switch. Without comparison to a doctor’s reading, it’s hard to say just how accurate this Myzone monitor was, but I found it consistently delivered a higher heart rate than my Amazfit GTR3 when I was really churning my legs, making it feel more aligned with how I felt my system was pumping.   

    Best heart rate monitor chest strap on a budget: Wahoo Tickr Heart Rate Monitor

    A WooHA Worthy Price

    The combination of function and affordability will have you shouting for joy, if you’re not too busy conserving your energy for a run. Wahoo

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    Why it made the cut: This Wahoo heart rate monitor is relatively versatile but most of all inexpensive.

    Specs:

    • Weight: 1.07 ounces
    • Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+
    • Battery life: Coin cell that lasts for 500 hours of workouts
    Pros:Cons:
  • Affordable
  • Users have reported inaccurate readings
  • Lightweight
  • Only waterproof up to 5-feet deep
  • Compatible with many devices
  • This chest strap has top-mounted LED lights, letting you easily check your heart rate level and connectivity, plus a front clip lets you put it on quickly. The Wahoo monitor works with more than 50 fitness apps such as Zwift, Peloton, and MapMyRun. But if you’re looking to track underwater, you’ll need a deeper dive—this monitor only offers IPX7 protection. And, be warned, some users say this model is “hit and miss,” so this very well could be an example of “you get what you pay for.” At the same time, reviewers also said it “worked fine” and was “easy to use.” Making this our choice for the best heart rate monitor chest strap on a budget.

    FAQs

    Q: Is it safe to wear a heart rate monitor all day?

    It is safe to wear a heart rate monitor all day, but the strap may cause skin irritation.

    Q: Are heart monitors with chest straps more accurate?

    Heart rate monitors with chest straps are slightly more accurate than wrist monitors and armbands that use optical sensors, only because the optical sensors are more likely to get knocked out of position. Otherwise, the optical sensors can provide as accurate a reading as the electrodes in the best heart rate monitor chest straps.

    Q: Is it worth getting a heart rate monitor?

    It is worth getting a heart rate monitor if you care about maximizing the benefits of your exercise. Heart rate monitors read your heart rate, letting you know whether you’re burning fat instead of carbohydrates. They can also motivate you to push the pace just a step quicker to rev up your calorie burn.

    The final word on finding the best heart rate monitors

    The best heart rate monitors instantly tell you how fast your heart is beating, helping you exercise at the right intensity. So whether you’re a novice runner, a beginning bicyclist, or a seasoned swimmer—or one of those superhumans who does all three in a day—the right monitor will help you exercise as efficiently as possible.

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