The best heart rate monitors for runners, cyclists and swimmers
The best heart rate monitors will help you learn more about your fitness, train more effectively, and track your progress better than even a smartwatch can. If you’re aiming to break your personal records this year, you’ll need one, especially if you’re planning to track heart rate underwater, prefer workouts that require your wrist to move around, or even exercise disciplines like boxing which comes with equipment that wraps around your wrist, preventing you from using your watch.
All the best fitness trackers and best running watches can record heart rates, but not all are as accurate as heart rate monitors. Results between wearables can vary greatly, and poor-quality devices can report sudden peaks and troughs when none were expected. False data can compromise your training, so adding a heart rate monitor to your training setup is essential for really accurate results. Some watches require a heart rate monitor to triangulate your data to unlock certain features, such as “running power” on the best Garmin watches.
There are two main types of heart rate monitors to consider. Chest strap monitors measure tiny electrical impulses generated by your heartbeats. They are more accurate than wrist-worn devices as the signal isn’t affected by the movement of your arms. They also respond to changes in heart rate much more quickly, which is extremely useful for interval training. However, not everyone finds them comfortable – wearing a chest strap all day is less pleasant than wearing a watch.
The other way of measuring heart rate uses an optical sensor, which shines a light onto your skin and measures changes to the light reflected from your skin. This method is less accurate but more convenient. It’s up to you to decide which you prefer, and we’ve picked out the very best of both for you here.
These are the top heart rate monitors around, and the ones we’d recommend keeping an eye on during the Black Friday deals period. There’s always great discounts on fitness kit, and you might seem some excellent HRM discounts from retailers such as Wiggle, Amazon and more.
The best heart rate monitors
1. Garmin HRM-Pro
The gold standard for heart rate monitorin
Chest straps are the gold standard, and the Garmin HRM-Pro is our number one choice for the best heart rate monitor. Its reports are accurate and responsive, and in our tests, we particularly appreciated its compatibility with a huge range of devices and apps.
This is a true multi-sport device that’s suitable for land and water. While many modern sports watches can record heart rate while swimming, their accuracy varies greatly, and a chest strap is easily the more reliable option. Wireless signals transmit poorly in water, but the HRM-Pro can store up to 18 hours of data before syncing.
The HRM-Pro also offers running dynamics info, including details of vertical oscillation, stride length and contact time, which are challenging or impossible to measure with a device on your wrist.
It’s one of the most expensive monitors in this roundup, but not by much, and is a worthwhile investment if you’re serious about intensity training.
Read our full Garmin HRM-Pro review
2. Polar H9
The best budget chest strap monitor
Many of the best heart rate monitors have one major drawback: price. That’s where the Polar H9 comes in. This is a chest strap heart rate monitor from the biometrics experts at Polar that’s surprisingly affordable, putting it within the reach of runners and cyclists who are keen to get more serious about their training but can’t justify the price of a top-end monitor.
Polar launched the H9 in 2020 as a low-cost alternative to its top-end H10. As a chest-strap monitor from a brand that specializes in biometrics, you
can be confident in the accuracy and immediacy of its readings, and it’s compatible with a wide array of third-party apps and devices.
What you don’t get is the ability to connect to multiple Bluetooth devices simultaneously or the ability to store data from workouts for syncing later (both of which are offered by the more expensive H10). It ultimately comes down to priorities, but if cash is limited, then the Polar H9 is one of the best heart rate monitors you can buy.
3. Polar Verity Sense
The best option for those who don’t like chest straps
In the same way that Garmin made its name in GPS technology, Polar has a long heritage in biometrics, and that really shines through in the accuracy of data from the Polar Verity Sense.
It can be worn on your arm or attached to your swimming goggles, making it a good choice for anyone who doesn’t get on with a chest strap. It uses an optical sensor like those on a sports watch, but the positioning means there are fewer artefacts from movements like gripping.
The Polar Verity Sense can be a little awkward to wear with long sleeves, but in our tests, we were impressed by its ability to transfer data to multiple devices, 20-hour battery life
Read our full Polar Verity Sense review
4. MyZone MZ-Switch
A heart rate monitor that delivers the best of both worlds
The MyZone MZ-Switch gives you the best of both worlds: an ECG sensor so it can be worn on your chest and an optical sensor so it can sit on your wrist, arm, or a pair of swimming goggles. It automatically detects where you’re wearing it, so there’s no need to worry about switching modes, and although it would be nice to have a choice of different armband sizes, it’s comfortable to wear for any type of workout.
That includes swimming; the MZ-Switch is water resistant to 10 meters and stores up to 36 hours of data, so as with the Garmin HRM-Pro, there’s no need to worry about syncing when you’re in the pool.
When used in chest strap mode, its results compared well with those from the HRM-Pro, though the limitations of technology mean results from the optical sensor have a wider margin of error. Our main criticism is that the MyZone companion app is too busy and cumbersome for our liking, but the device also pairs with compatible third-party apps, so this shouldn’t deter you.
Read our full MyZone MZ-Switch review
5. Wahoo Tickr
The best cheap heart rate monitor for cyclists
Wahoo is one of the biggest names in cycling tech (particularly for its Kickr line of turbo trainers), so its chest strap heart rate monitor will be a natural top choice if your preferred workout involves two wheels.
The Wahoo Tickr is compatible with all the most popular fitness apps, including Zwift, Peloton, Runkeeper and MapMyRun, plus Apple Watch and Apple TV, making it a good choice both on and off the bike. It can also generate workout files that sync with Strava, unlike most heart rate monitors.
If you have a little extra cash, the Wahoo Tickr-X adds running dynamics analysis, including cadence, vertical oscillation, and ground contact time (much like the Garmin HRM-Pro). Most of these are metrics that you’d usually need a separate foot pod to measure, so they’re a welcome addition to minimize the number of running gadgets you’re carrying.
How we test the best heart rate monitors
Most heart rate monitors on this list are tested by expert reviewers who take these wearables running, cycling and swimming to test all the features they have to offer. Heart rate tracking accuracy is checked against the models predecessors but also other brands to determine which is more accurate.
Heart rate monitors generally have fewer features on-board than smartwatches (i.e. there is no display or smart features), so testers focus on the data captured, as presented in the heart rate monitors’ companion apps. Another important aspect is connectivity, and how quickly the heart rate monitor picks up connection with other wearables/fitness machines; this is also thoroughly tested.
How to choose the best heart rate monitor for you
When buying a heart rate monitor, there are a few things to consider, the most important being whether you need a chest strap or an armband. The former group is better for accuracy, while the latter is considered more convenient to wear. Battery life is also crucial; the replaceable battery in chest straps usually lasts for a year, while armbands – that often have optical heart rate sensors – have a much shorter battery life (under 24 hours).
You should also consider the brand of the heart rate monitor, especially if you have a smartwatch already. Garmin chest straps pair well with Garmin watches, and the same goes for Polar/Wahoo wearables, so if you’re after excellent connectivity, make sure both wearables are from the same brand.
Pro tip: if you want to use a heart rate monitor with an exercise bike/treadmill/turbo trainer, check the manufacturer’s website to see which brand and model they recommend.
Source: Cat Ellis