Heart rate monitors are that rare type of fitness gadgets which are bought for actual use and not for being trendy or convenient. Thousands of athletes purchase them because these gadgets truly make workouts more effective for the runners, cyclists, weightlifters and swimmers.
We have mentioned heart rate monitors as a separate function of GPS watches or fitness trackers in our previous reviews. Today, we finally decided to publish something specifically devoted to heart rate monitors. After reading this piece you’ll learn:
- How heart rate monitors aid both amateur and experienced athletes;
- What kinds and types of heart rate monitors there are on the modern market;
- What models are most accurate at measuring the heart rate;
- Whether the heart rate monitors have any supplementary options and how much they cost.
In addition, we’ll show you the most and the least expensive heart rate monitors, most popular models, and specialized heart rate monitors for cyclists and adventurers. We hope our review will make your heart beat faster!
Why Do Athletes Need Heart Rate Monitors?
Personally, I believe that heart rate monitors are even more useful than motion trackers or muscle mass analyzers. Heart rate monitors neither motivate nor encourage (that’s what a regular Joe needs), but instead it teaches users to evenly distribute the load during workouts. Many articles on the Internet are devoted to the effect of heart rate (HR) on quality of the workout. We’ll try to explain this effect in a couple of lines. When doing sports, we don’t entirely feel everything our heart feels at that moment. Is your heart exhausted after an hour’s jog or is everything alright and you can torture yourself a bit longer? Is it time to move on from warm-up to a hardcore workout, or is it still too early? When trying to answer these questions, people often have to only rely on their feelings - which regularly fail them. As a result, heart problems appear and the workouts are too short or too long. What does the heart rate monitor change?
- A heart rate monitor shows the maximum heart rate that should not be exceeded. You have to finish the workout or at least decrease the training load to a reasonable level the moment your heart rate surges. That’s when the device will signal you. This is very cool, since the myth of “training till you drop” has long been busted. This works inversely as well - as the device will also let you know if you’re not training hard enough.
- Heart rate monitors determine your warm-up time. Everyone knows that you can’t start a hard workout without warming up first. But when should the warm-up be over? And how do you prepare to a fitness session properly? The device will monitor the process of warming up and will signal you when it’s time to move on.
- Heart rate monitors help people with heart problems take up sports. Sadly, many heart patients believe that they can’t do any sports. This is a mistake: Exercise therapy and easy fitness haven’t done any harm yet. The only catch is that it’s better for them not to exceed the moderate load of trainings. Heart rate monitors will become the best weapon for these patients against delusions.
Gadgets with a built-in heart rate monitor calculate burnt calories more accurately and devise an individual training scheme – these are essential functions!
Types of Heart Rate Monitors, Their Prices and Design
Manufacturers have thought of many ways of measuring the pulse and have thus designed various heart rate monitors. Let’s go over the main types of modern heart rate monitors.
First, let’s pick a most likable device for you. In the 21st century, heart rate monitors have two ways of measuring your heart rate - by an optical technology or with the help of bioimpedance analysis. The former method artificially rays the human skin near the capillaries, whereas the optical sensor determines the speed and the characteristics of light reflection. Blood circulation directly influences the signal that the sensor gets.
Bioimpedance is more complicated. A special device transmits electric signals to human body, which reveal such things as the level of perspiration, muscle mass composition, and the actual heart rate.
Which sensor is more accurate is a difficult question, and we will talk about it later. For now, we’ll tell you about where and how heart rate monitors are worn.
How to Wear a Heart Rate Monitor
A heart rate monitor band is most fashionable and trendy nowadays. It seems logical to measure the pulse near the vein, and we’ve been taught by numerous fitness trackers that a band is very convenient. A chest strap heart rate monitor is its main rival. It’s the runners who usually go for the latter: The straps are said to be tighter and to measure heart rate more precisely. Those who strive for the comfort, though, complain of poor usability of such straps and claim that they rub and slide off when you’re sweating… and overall, few have a possibility of wearing such a thing underneath the shirt. All in all, this is a rather a professional device than a mass-adopted one.
Once some extravagant heart rate monitors worn on a finger (heart rate monitor rings) or the earlobe. They had been launched before bioimpedance sensors were introduced, when the manufacturers aimed to make optical heart rate monitor more accurate. The capillaries in the earlobe and in the index finger are located as close to the skin as possible, which is convenient for detecting the heart rate – that is why such gadgets measure the heart rate more precisely.
Moreover, HR monitors are found in the gym equipment (usually they are bioimpedance sensors on the handles), smart scales and cycle computers.
How Do Heart Rate Monitors Measure the Heart Rate?
There is one more substantial quality which distinguishes modern heart rate monitors – the period of monitoring and data collection. The most ancient HRMs can only detect your HR only when you press them against your skin. Most of the modern monitors keep continuous track of your heart rate but only output such statistics as “the lowest, the highest and average heart rate for a period of time.” Some of the more advanced models can give a full report with infographics covering the whole period of monitoring.
How Much Does a Heart Rate Monitor Cost?
Here, everything depends on how much money you are ready to spend on this gadget and how serious you are about sports.
- The most cut-rate models can be bought for a price in the range of $7 to $20.
- Heart rate monitors of better quality cost from $30 to $100.
- Professional cycling or jogging devices on average cost from $200 to $500 – these are obviously some serious devices which aren’t really necessary for an amateur athlete.
Which Heart Rate Monitors Are the Most Precise Ones?
From the scientific point of view (we’re talking physics and medicine here) optical chest strap heart rate monitors are perfectly precise, as they are located closer to the heart and the body contact is tighter. HRMs located on the earlobe or fingers come second.
Classic heart rate monitor bands with bioimpedance and optical technology follow up in terms of precision.
Many precision tests and comparisons are available online. It’s not that simple in real life, though, and if you study the experts’ and customers’ feedback, you’ll be able to find some real dirt on any kind of heart rate monitors.
Bioimpedance heart rate monitors, for instance, shouldn’t be used by people with heart disease or by pregnant women. In general, the more complicated the device is, the more complicated it is to use.
Chest strap heart rate monitors have a serious disadvantage for hairy men. Hairs may seriously affect the quality of the sensor, even if you shave your chest. They don’t work well when you’re sweating, either. The runners’ back and chest sweat more intensely than their wrists or earlobes - which causes poor contact - and the monitor can even slide off. A chest strap heart rate monitor with bioimpedance should have a good electric contact with your body. If your skin is too dry, or if you’re not sweaty, the data collected may be incorrect.
It turns out that when looking for a perfect heart-rate monitor, you should pay more attention to the quality of a certain model rather than of a particular type. Let’s make sure you understand this better.
How to Choose a Heart Rate Monitor: GPS and Tracking HRMs
Which features should an HRM have, other than a reliable and precise sensor? A good battery maybe? Or some advanced software? Or maybe we’re talking about some additional perks?
Most heart rate monitors’ batteries have a long life. If the GPS sensor is off, the HRM works pretty much as a wrist watch.
Let’s start with the software. A perfect HRM should:
- Track your workouts. A registry of your workouts saved on your PC or smart phone will help you track your progress. The more detailed your diary is, the better.
- Count the laps, track the average/the highest/the lowest heart rate per lap. This is crucial for runners, swimmers and cyclists.
- Memorize the training sessions. Quite soon, you’ll learn which heart rate is best for burning the calories, growing muscles or ending the workout. Ideally, the gadget should store this data in the memory (3-5 sessions) and tip the user when necessary.
- Warn the owner of danger (when the heart rate is too high), ineffective training (when the heart rate is too low), or when a new session begins.
- Be easily connected to your PC, smart phone or a fitness app. Make sure the protocol ANT+ is available - as it is more effective than ANT and enables easy sync of your device with other fitness gadgets.
Athletes often use heart rate monitors without any additional options. Nowadays a regular customer is always looking for some perks, though - and a modern heart rate monitor has a number of additional features which are designed to improve the effectiveness of your workouts. Here they are:
- Step counter and accelerometer with the help of which you’ll be able to calculate the burnt calories and keep a personal record of activity for monitoring your progress (or degradation).
- GPS sensor which is a must-have for jogging and cycling fans. It monitors your speed of movement, treadmill incline and aids navigation.
- Bioimpedance possibility – these slight electric shocks allow to determine the approximate ration of muscle to fat in your body and to monitor the dynamics of this ration. This is quite useful for those who are running in order to lose weight.
Essential reading: Best weight-loss gadgets review
The idea of using all of these functions in one device is very attractive, that is why there are plenty of hybrids rather than pure heart rate monitors available on the market. Both types made it to our list of the most popular, cheap, expensive and specialized heart rate monitors.
Most Popular Gadgets with the Built-In HRM
Fitbit Charge HR and Polar FT4 Heart Rate Monitor are the most popular gadgets with the HRM on Amazon.com. The first device is a hybrid of a smart watch and a fitness tracker. The Polar model is a pure heart rate monitor, though. Let’s take a closer look at them now.
Fitbit Charge HR Wireless Activity Wristband
This is a fitness band with the built-in heart rate monitor which is compatible with all the existing mobile operating systems, can count steps and burnt calories, monitor sleep phases, and even monitor altitude. Charge HR also signals when you have a new text message, incoming call or an email. But how well does this device’s heart rate monitor work?
The monitor itself works with the Fitbit’s own technology, PurePulse. It can distinguish three periods of a training session. The results are viewed as infographics on the smart phone and are linked with the burnt calories and physical activity statistics. Here’s what the users have to say about its performance:
“This gadget lets you assess your heart rate during the day which the help of the “Idle rest pulse” parameter. I could see that regular sports (jogging in particular) decrease the idle rest pulse which means that the heart muscle becomes stronger. Then, your training can be adjusted so that you train in accordance with the session. The data output at the end of each workout are very detailed as they include the changes in pulse, the training session HR and burnt calories per second.” We strongly recommend you read over 6.200 customers’ reviews on Amazon.com.
Charge cannot be called 100% precise as there are certain deviations when the gadget is overloaded. The customers claim that these deviations are not critical and are only of 3, 5 or 7 hits, however. That’s why the price of ~$149.95 is justified.
Further reading: Fitbit fitness trackers comparison
Polar FT4 Heart Rate Monitor
This is a real, specialized heart rate monitor. It’s three times cheaper - its price starts at $54.99. Polar measures your heart rate 24/7 and analyzes the approximate number of burnt calories. However, it doesn’t have a step counter nor altitude sensor, and it doesn’t notify you of incoming calls. Polar FT4 is only compatible with the chest strap monitor. Theoretically this is supposed to contribute to higher precision of the data collected. The customer rating of 4.5 stars out of 5 supports this claim the best. According to the customers, the gadget is great at monitoring the heart rate and burnt calories.
Eric J reviews the device: “The watch is incredibly simple to use. When you first open the window and use the installation wizard, you state your weight, sex… and then everything’s ready for the workout! This watch can automatically detect your comfort zones and all of the functions are turned on with a couple of hits. I have a heart disease and so it’s crucial for me not to overload my heart. So whenever my heart rate gets too risky, the device beeps and I reduce the load. This is a perfect purchase for me!”
The negative reviews are devoted to the impossibility of connecting to a smart phone (and therefore you have to view all the data on a tiny screen), frequent replacement of the battery (once every 6 months) and very loud warning signals.
A real benefit of this gadget is that it is compatible with the GymLink equipment. The Polar FT4 is waterproof enough to take a swim in the swimming pool or in a river (which is not too deep – although if pulse monitoring is not your first priority, we recommend you to use fitness trackers for swimming, which we have already reviewed). The model is really popular with the female users - as it comes in lime, pink, silver and black colors.
Overall, this is a versatile choice for beginner athletes from ~$54.99.
Comparing the Cheapest and Most Expensive Heart Rate Monitors
Does the price influence the quality of an HRM? Let’s compare one of the cheapest heart rate monitors to one of the most expensive ones. We’ll start with the cut-rate model.
HDE Fitness Sport Pulse Watch
It costs as much as a meal in some fast food restaurant… Are you interested yet?
It is no secret that HDE Sport Pulse Watch is made in China. Well, how would one make it a secret? It can do some things though – count the runner’s or cyclist’s laps, for example, show the time and even monitor the burnt calories. Here it is, a simple watch with HRM made in China.
HDE users are exuberant about their purchase in the comments section: “It really works. I bought it just for fun, and I didn’t believe that a gadget for $7 would work… But it turned out to be alright. I used to compare its results with the statistics output by some medical equipment, and they were pretty much the same every time!” – posts Rick.
Others cool them down. Adim, for example, assures that “the watch looks good and works well. Heart rate monitor is useless though. I measured the HR 10 times in a row when sitting and had 10 different results ranging from 45 to 87 beats per minute. This device works like a Russian roulette.”
It is indeed a roulette. But not play it for only $8.75? It’s not as difficult as deciding whether to buy the following device…
Polar V800 GPS Sports Watch with Activity Tracker & Heart Rate Monitor
This is the most expensive heart rate monitor by Polar, which is positioned as a “multi-sports device.” Ideally, the V800 should make any athlete ecstatic: A football player or a diver, a fitness freak or a weight lifter, a runner or a jumper. The manufacturers have stuffed this product with lots of options. According to Polar, this model has been tested by professional triathlon sportsmen. There’s also an extended GPS model for fans of running on rough terrain and extreme tourism.
This gadget can monitor your heart rate and the distance you’ve run, as well as the speed, pace, determines the level of altitude and physical load - all online! With its help you, can really test your body and check whether you and your heart are ready for a serious workout. You’ll get your result within a few seconds.
The Polar V800’s battery works for 14 hours on maximum load and 50 hours in GPS mode of lower power – which is unbelievable for GPS devices! The screen of the Polar V800 GPS is covered with Gorilla Glass and you can dive as deep as 100 meters with it!
The device is able to be synced with anything - and you can connect it to the cycling sensors, such as the speed of pedal rotation analyzer. This model has a smart coach, a function which can be found in fitness trackers and which analyzes your previous results and gives recommendations on future workouts.
Naturally, the owners of Polar V800 are amazed by this product. Although, they pick on the little things more intensely: “Somehow the device is not compatible with the mountain bike and mountain rides. It still doesn’t connect to Android devices, and, guys, the cycling sensors are really so-so.” – complains Monteiro. We recommend that you read all of the feedback on Amazon.com, to understand whether you need this HRM at all.
Few negative comments are overridden by obvious care of the manufacturers about the convenience and comfort of their clients. The backlighting is nice, there’s also vibration for notifications, the screen is large and of high contrast. The optical sensors are located smartly and Bluetooth works perfectly. The device can also track your pulse underwater… Long story short, this is a high-quality gadget which costs ~$388 Check the current price
Best Heart Rate Monitor for Cyclists
Our review wouldn’t have been complete without some coverage of cycling heart rate monitors. As a rule, their price is premium in comparison with jogging or fitness devices. If you want to purchase this gadget, be prepared to invest $100-$400 in it.
In return, you’ll get a mini PC as a cycling HRM. It is compatible with an exercise bike, a city bike or with a cool mountain bike. The leading manufacturers are the same companies: Garmin, Polar, Suunto. The following device will aid is in describing all of the advantages and features of modern cycling heart rate monitors.
Polar CS500+Cad Heart Rate Monitor
Originally, this model was positioned as heart rate monitor for ambitious cyclists which would like to improve.
The Polar CS-500’s main perk is that it can be placed on the handlebar or taken to the gym when doing some exercises. Its heart rate data are output as an extended ECG and it measures your bike’s speed quite precisely. All of the workout stages - warm-up, some activity, doing some pull-ups, jogging, and cycling - will be tracked and carefully analyzed.
The device can simultaneously memorize the configuration and characteristics of three bikes. Before working out you only should pick the bike with the right settings! There’s also a very cool battery, built-in training reminders and so on and so forth. The users also remark a cool large screen and a useful cadence feature, which helps the athletes to pedal more efficiently. No wonder the cyclists name this ~$208 device one of the best cycling heart rate monitors.
Once I thought that the trend of combining various functions in a single fitness tracker will put an end to quality heart rate monitors. But the manufacturers of the latter responded to competition accordingly. They now tune their gadgets with additional functions - such as step counter, text message and call notifications. The precision and reliability of HRMs are still great.
That’s why athletes have something to count on. All of the models listed in this review are worth buying and they will offset the expenses, even a very cheap Chinese product for $7 or a madly expensive Polar device. We still advise you to buy such devices as Polar FT4 Heart Rate Monitor which is a good heart rate monitor for an average price (~$54.99). We give approximate prices (~), because Amazon.com sales and discounts are common, or else the situation may occur when different sellers sell one and the same product. So, please, check the current price.