Keeping track of your pulse is a great idea if you want to know how hard you are working out. There are many reasons to keep an eye on your heart rate, and the benefits to your workout are enormous. If you want to dial in your cardio and get the most from your activity, read these heart rate monitor reviews.
Why You Should Consider a Monitor
There is no substitute for knowing exactly how fast your heart is beating. Professional athletes use their heart rate to train for specific goals. By knowing how fast your heart is beating you are able to set targets for your cardio program, and make your fitness goals a reality.
Heart rate monitors are a great way to actively watch your heart rate, and are much better then the stopwatch and 2 fingers that we used before this technology was available. Today a good heart rate monitor can be had for a little as $30. The quality that you get is proportionate to the price to some degree, but the features make a big difference too.
There are also two distinct ways of mounting a heart rate monitor, and everyone has a favorite between the two. The most convenient type is mounted on the wrist, like a watch. The second is a chest-strap, which holds a sensor right next to your skin. Both have their ups and downs, but one of the two will be perfect for anyone’s needs.
Let’s take a look at all of these features in greater depth, so you can make an informed decision before you go shopping.
How Does It Measure My Heart Rate?
For a long time there was only one way heart rate monitors were able to operate, and that is by using electrical impulses to measure your pulse. A small amount of electricity is used to measure your heart rate, and then that data is displayed on a electronic read out. In recent years, a new kind of measuring system has been invented.
Instead of using electricity to measure your heart rate, it uses light from an LED. This system is still in its infancy, though it shows a lot of promise. While not as accurate as some electrical heart monitoring system, it is easier to use. Wrist-mounted applications are just as accurate as an LED heart rate monitor, and will provide real-time information.
If you are on the fence about which system is right for you, have a look at the pluses and minuses of each one. This will help you to get the right monitor for your needs and give you the most from your workout.
Within electric heart rate monitors, there are two types. One of which will read your heart rate continuously, and another which will read your heart rate on demand.
Chest Strap Electrical Heart Rate Monitor
The most accurate way to read your heart rate is a cheat strap electrical monitor. Because this system uses active electrical monitoring and a liquid connection to your body, it can’t be beat. This system will give you unparalleled accuracy, and it keeps your wrists light.
Many people like that there is no bulky monitor on their arm, and after a few minutes you may forget you are wearing it at all. The downside to a chest strap monitoring system is that you have to put it on your chest to use it. Many people find this to be awkward, or just plain difficult.
They generally use a single strap, so getting a snug fit is a must. Because this type of heart monitor uses an active current, you have to apply a gel or lotion to make sure that it can make an electrical connection with your body. Some people find this to be inconvenient.
The strap contains the measuring device, but to read the output you have to wear a lightweight receiver on your wrist. There are no known problems with the connection as such, however many of these monitors use the same frequency to communicate.
In areas where many people may be using a chest strap heart rate monitor, like a gym, you may have interference problems. Some of the better monitors have software that can help to eliminate this drawback, so be aware that it can be an issue.
Wrist Mounted Electrical Heart Rate Monitor
Another option is a wrist mounted heart rate monitor. This uses a different kind of measuring system to take your heart rate. Generally this kind of monitor will be accurate, though not as accurate as a chest mounted heart rate monitor. It looks a lot like a wristwatch, and some even tell the time.
When you want to take a reading, you will have to touch the front of the watch to make an electrical connection. This completes a circuit, and lets the monitor take your heart rate. While this type of heart rate monitor is accurate, it is also not a real time monitoring system.
When you aren’t torching the watch with your finger, it won’t give you any sort of readout. Under most circumstances it gives you a heart rate fairly quickly, but when you begin to sweat it can take as much as 30 seconds. For many sports it isn’t easy to stop and touch your monitor for almost half a minute, and many consider this a drawback.
Optical Heart Rate Monitors
A relatively new invention, optical heart rate monitors are making a big impression on the sporting community. Instead of using electricity, this technology uses a special LED that penetrates the skin, and can tell how fast your blood is moving by how much light is reflected, sort of like radar.
The technical term for this is pulse oximetry, and this means that it is really measuring the oxygen in your blood. When blood is rich in oxygen, it looks different from de-oxygenated blood. An infra-red LED can detect oxygenated blood very easily. When your heart beats, the oxygenated blood in your artery spikes, and it is easy for the device to measure.
This method of measurement is accurate, however it is not as precise as a chest strap monitor. Optical heart rate monitors are a great new technology, but like any new innovation they have their limitations. They tend to be on the expensive side and may lack advanced features that you might find on a much cheaper electric monitor.
Some optical monitors lack a calorie counter or pedometer, and many cheaper electric monitors have these features. Because they rely on transmitting and receiving light, sweat will affect their performance as well.
Keeping the proper wrist position is key with optical heart monitors, as they rely on being able to “see” your blood flow. None of these are fatal flaws, but if you are on a budget, you may want to look at an electrical monitor while this technology matures a little bit.
Heart Racing Yet?
Now that you know a little bit more about how these gizmos work, let’s have a look at some options for your next heart rate monitor. You should think about what you are going to be doing with your monitor, and buy accordingly. While some of these heart rate monitors are water-resistant, many are not designed for swimming.
Immersion into water and rapid movement in water are very different motions. If you plan to swim with your heart rate monitor, make sure that the heart rate monitor you’re interested in is designed to handle it.
Scosche Rhythm Heart Rate Monitor Armband
Price: $74.95 – $82.49
Features: Measure heart rate, calories, distance traveled and pace. Lightweight, works with major fitness apps. Water resistant up to 1 meter. 8 hour battery life, rechargeable.
The Scosche Rhythm Heart Rate Monitor Armband is a nice optical heart rate monitor for people who want a very light weight, low-profile device. The catch to this model is that is only works via Bluetooth, and has no built-in screen. The upside to this is the size and weight, because this is basically just a sensor with a transmitter, it is small and light. The downside is that you have to have a smartphone with you to use it.
It offers you no on-board memory, so to take advantage of its features you will need to have a Bluetooth enabled device with you at all times. This heart rate monitor will make sure you can measure your pulse, distance traveled and will also measure the amount of calories you have burned. It will also interface with just about any fitness app, as long as you can connect with it.
The downside to this device is that it doesn’t work on its own. If you want a heart rate monitor that you can just look down at and read, this isn’t for you. But if you have been used to using a smartphone to record your workout data, this is a perfect choice, and the optical sensor gets great reviews. A good choice for people who want to want Bluetooth connectivity, and don’t need a direct readout.
Polar Ft1 Heart Rate Monitor
Type: Electric chest strap
Price: $34.95 – $39.99
Features: Real-time heart rate display, ;arge LED readout on wrist. Latest workout summary, manual heart rate target zone with alarm. One touch start button, coded to help avoid signal interference. Wrist watch function/day/date.
The Polar Ft1 Heart Rate Monitor gives you a lot of functionality for a very reasonable price. The package comes complete with a chest strap with monitor, and wrist display that also functions as a time keeping watch, complete with day and numeric date display.
The batteries that power both the chest transmitter and receiver are watch batteries, so after a few years you will need to have them replaced. An alarm is built into this model that will help you to maintain your target heart rate, and the watch functions with an easy-to-use single button.
All you have to do is press it and it will give you a readout. Many workout machines will read the signal from this transmitter, so check with your gym to see if it is compatible. It also has a coded transmitter so that you won’t have to worry too much about getting interference from other monitors in the room.
This heart rate monitor offers you a lot of value for not much money, and will give you a great way to read your heart rate in real time. This system will store the data from one workout, so you can review your performance after you cool down. The heart rate alarm function is very useful, and Polar has a great reputation for making quality products.
Polar A360 Fitness Tracker
Type: Optical / Hybrid
Price: $149.95 – $209.99
Features: Touchscreen fitness tracker with optical sensor. Acts as receiver for Polar chest strap monitor (not included). Full features fitness computer. Tracks: steps, distance, calories burned and sleep quality. Full color touchscreen interface. USB chargeable.
When you want to have all the convenience of a optical heart rate monitor, but want the option to use a chest strap monitor for its accuracy, the Polar A360 Fitness Tracker is a great fit. This wrist top fitness computer will help you to achieve your exercise goals and give lots of relevant information.
It can tell you how far you have gone, the calories burned and even keep track of your sleep cycles. The interface is easy to use, works via a full color touch screen. If you want to buy a polar chest strap heart monitor for more accuracy, this fitness tracker will act as a receiver. It will also help you organize all the data you collect, and make sure you are on target.
It is not a cheap option, so for budget minded fitness enthusiasts this may not be for you. While it is USB rechargeable, all of the functions will eat up a lot of that charge. It may not be the right option for you if you need a unit that can operate for a few days without access to electricity.
Towabo Fitness Tracker Wristband
Price: $33.95 – $38.99
Features: Heart rate display, pedometer, time display. Internet connectivity via smartphone. Touchscreen display with message alerts.
Included in this little gadget is a very capable optical heart rate monitor. In addition to that, it will work as a wristwatch and also as a pedometer. The Towabo Fitness Tracker will link up with most Android and Apple smartphones, and give you message alerts. There is an alarm included, as well as other things like a calorie counter and step counter.
The downside to this device is the optical measuring system it employs. It uses a single LED, which isn’t ideal for athletic use. If you want a watch that can give you a heart beat reading while you are on the subway to work, this should be fine. But if you are looking for a heart rate monitor that will be good for serious athletic training, this isn’t the one for you.
Sweat will affect the way it functions, and the band isn’t made for hard use. Overall, given its features this little gadget is great. The touchscreen display gets good reviews, and with all of the capabilities inside it will come in handy for navigating. Think of it as a smartwatch that includes a heart rate monitor, not a dedicated exercise tool.
Polar H7 Bluetooth Fitness Tracker
Type: Electric chest strap
Price: $39.95 – $67.99
Features: Bluetooth electric chest strap monitor. Waterproof, will connect via Apple and Android smartphones. Calorie counter technology.
If you bought a good gym membership, a heart rate monitor like the Polar H7 Bluetooth Fitness Tracker is probably required to get the most out of your investment. Many of the better cardio machines offer Bluetooth connection, and this is exactly the kind of monitor that can connect you. This is just a sensor unit, and will require a connection to something to read the signal.
If you aren’t holding onto a new gym membership, then you will need to have a smartphone, or some other kind of Bluetooth enabled receiver. This monitor has a step counter, but past that it relies on an external program and hardware to make it useful.
Polar is a great manufacturer, and there are many ways you could use this monitor to help you keep track of your heart rate while you work out. It does offer active reading, and is the most accurate type of monitor that is available. Even when you start sweating, this type of monitor will maintain it’s measuring ability to within a 1bpm or so.
Fitbit Charge 2 Fitness Wristband
Price: $144.95 – $151.45
Features: PurePulse continuous automatic heart monitor, Smartwatch with GPS connectivity. Records daily body metrics and offers guided breathing program.
The Fitbit Charge 2 Fitness Wristband is a smartwatch that has twin optical heart rate monitors and more. This wrist top computer will measure your daily movements, and give you extensive information on your vital stats if you want. It offers you the ability to connect with your smartphone for GPS information, and will allow you to use the data it creates with fitness apps.
You will find all of the features of a smartwatch as well, with time, messages and alerts given on its face. This watch can be used with different color watch bands, and even offers a Milanese shark mesh bracelet. The two optical sensors will give you good heart monitoring, but like all optical sensors, if you are moving around a lot, they may not be able to do their job.
This is a nice option if you want a heart rate monitor that can be used all the time as a watch. It gets great reviews, and gives you a range of functions that can simplify your life. One of the biggest reasons to use a smartwatch is the data that is can show you, without having to look at your smartphone constantly.
Polar FT4 Heart Rate Monitor
Type: Electric Chest Strap
Price: $69.95 – $74.95
Features: Continuous readings via chest strap. Water resistant to 30 m, target heart rate zone and calorie counter.
If you want a no-frills heart rate monitor that is made to last, the Polar FT4 Heart Rate Monitor is a option to consider. While it is limited in its functionality when compared to some of the smartwatch heart rate monitors, this will be as accurate as it gets. The electric chest strap will give a real time readout to the easy-to-read wrist strap.
It does include a calorie counter, and programmable target heart rate zones. One of the really useful features of this model is its water resistance. If you are a swimmer that wants to target a specific fitness level, this heart rate monitor is a good choice.
You are also getting a very accurate piece of equipment for less than 100 dollars, and that is a lot of value for the money. For someone who wants an accurate, durable heart rate monitor that isn’t pack with bells and whistles, this one is perfect for you.
Garmin Heart Rate Monitor
Type: Electric chest strap
Price: $21.99 – $24.95
Features: Heart rate chest strap monitor, will transmit to some Garmin products.
The Garmin Heart Rate Monitor is a monitor you will need for your Garmin exercise smartwatch. It is inexpensive, and will give you an active readout of your heart rate. While it is water resistant to 10 meters, it will not transmit while submerged. This is a well made heart rate monitor, and will work flawlessly with the Garmin Edge 305Hr, the Edgecad and the Forerunner 50.
It is made from a flexible plastic, and features a user replaceable battery. The strap is made from a durable elastic material, and attaches to your chest with a small plastic clip that is easy to fasten. It is only available in the color black, and is made for use exclusively with Garmin products. Once it has been synchronized with your Garmin product, it will be recognized by the receiver every time. It is made to prevent interference from other monitors and gets great reviews.
Don’t Race Out The Door Yet
Once you have an idea of what you are looking for when it comes to a heart rate monitor, have a look around and see if there are any similar products. These days you may find that there is another product similar to the one you are interested, and it may offer a better value. There are new products being released all the time, so keep your eyes peeled.
We hope you have found this information useful and would love it if you would share your experiences in the comments below. Heart rate monitor reviews can really help others make good decisions about what to buy, and give us all a feel for what works. Thanks so much in advance, and have a great workout!