Modern heart rate monitors (HRM’s) offer benefits to your workouts and overall health, beyond simply telling you what your pulse is.
Read on to learn more about the benefits and features you should look for, and also the most affordable and best quality brands to watch out for when you decide to go shopping for your new HRM.
Top 10 Heart Rate Monitor Watches
|Polar FT4 Heart Rate Monitor Watch
|Polar FT7 Heart Rate Monitor Watch
|Garmin Forerunner 110 GPS-Enabled Sport Watch
|Garmin FR70 Fitness Watch with Heart-Rate Monitor
|Mio Alpha Heart Rate Monitor Sports Watch
|Garmin Forerunner 15 Heart Rate Monitor Watch
|Timex Men’s Zone Trainer Digital HRM
|Timex Personal Trainer Heart Rate Monitor
|Basis Peak Ultimate Fitness and Sleep Tracker
|Suunto Quest Heart Rate Monitor Watch
Benefits of Using an HRM
They give you the ability to progress in your fitness or weight loss training, without pushing your heart beyond its healthy limits. Pushing to hard is detrimental to making fast improvements and even dangerous if you have a preexisting health condition. Using an HRM is particularly important if you’re exercising after recovering from a heart attack, surgery, a stroke, or if taking medications for either.
2.Maximum Fitness Results
Great for interval training; most HRM’s will give you warning beeps telling you when to turn down the intensity if you’re going too hard, or when to get your butt in gear if you’re slacking!
Fat-burning is best achieved when the heart is working at 60 – 80% of your maximum heart rate. Dip a little below your unique number and you won’t get the results you want. Push your heart too hard and the body goes into survival mode and begins preserving fat in favor of burning vital muscle tissue! A good HRM will help you workout in the right zone at all times.(see more)
4.Sleep Quality Improvements
They can improve sleep quality, telling you if your heart rate is too high during sleep, so you can make changes, up to and including seeing a sleep specialist.
Higher quality HRM’s are great for tracking your goals with a personal trainer or doctor, as most high quality brands allow for uploading exercise data to a smartphone, PC, or the cloud.
6.No More Excuses!
Heart rate monitors don’t let you fool yourself or others by saying you worked out hard when in fact you were holding something back!
Features to Look for When Buying
1.Heart Rate Warning Features
At their most basic, an HRM should tell you your current heart rate. Spend just a little extra and you should be getting options like preprogrammed max heart rate warnings, and a timer that tells you how fast your heart rate comes down (ie., recovery mode) after your workout, or during set intervals during your workout.
Slightly better watches will have some variation of a heart rate zone alarm that beeps a warning when you slip out of your ideal zone. Zone alarms are important for people looking to stay in the fat-burning zone for weight loss, people on certain medications that affect the heart, and those who’re recovering from various surgeries.
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2.Heart Rate Sensor Type (Wrist vs Chest Strap)
Some HRM’s work by reading your pulse at the wrist, others will include a separate chest strap. Some manufacturers will dupe you into buying their wristband watch, only to discover later that a separate chest strap is required to actually use it (read the “What’s Included in the Package” text in the product description before you buy.) Most cheap watches that read via your wrist won’t be accurate: if you’re going with this particular type of watch, prepare to spend more money and go with a reputable brand. Don’t waste your money on any HRM otherwise, if accuracy is essential (ie., you have health issues, need to lose weight, etc.)
Timers can help you get the most out of each workout and help you progress at a safe level. Going too fast or too intense has been shown to be counter-intuitive to progress; the body needs time to avoid injury and progress-stalling inflammation. Look for a watch that includes features like a basic stopwatch, interval timers, and time in target zone – with a buzzer and flashing display (optional, not essential).
The truest test of a person’s level of cardiovascular fitness is in how fast their heart rate returns to their normal at-rest rate. When doing interval training, the key to getting a great workout is to get your heart rate in the max zone, then take a short rest and get your pulse back down under 100 bpm. Having a recovery mode feature isn’t essential for all, but very handy to have. A buzzer will sound when you’re not allowing yourself to recover between sets when hitting the weights, doing sprints, Crossfit workouts, etc.
Though it’s really quite impossible for any software to know exactly how many calories you’ve burned, most HRM’s should offer a baseline estimate using your height + weight + time spent working out at a set heart rate.
This feature may or may not apply to your personal preferences. A color display with large fonts and a high contrast digital readout will be better for people who have issues with their eyesight. In general, you won’t save very much money choosing a basic display over those with higher quality.
7.Preprogrammed Workouts (Virtual Trainer)
This is another non-essential but fun and handy feature. If you find that you’re the type of person who needs a little coaching now and then, the ability to download certain workouts to your watch from the cloud will add that little bit of spark you need to get a good pulse-pounding workout in. For example, some preprogrammed workouts will tell you (via a buzzer or warning sound) to start sprinting at set intervals instead of jogging, or to up your speed on the bike instead of coasting for 20 minutes.
8.Ability to Sync With Other Devices
The ability to sync with other devices works hand-in-hand with the ability to use preprogrammed workouts and tracking software that isn’t offered by the manufacturer of the watch you choose. Many smartphone fitness and health apps offer more diverse tracking and training options than those offered by HRM manufacturers, and are designed to work in conjunction with most of the modern ones out there. Last, being able to sync and store your data in your own cloud-based spreadsheets and databases like Google Drive is easy if the watch can connect via bluetooth to your smartphone, tablet, PC or laptop.
This is where reading reviews and asking around can save you from avoidable misery. Some watches do have comfort glitches in their design. Whether they’re too wide, too heavy, don’t offer much adjustment – or they have plastic or metal edges that dig into your arm, making them unbearable and unwearable. These and other design flaws tend to come out pretty quickly if you can find honest reviews to read such as those found on sites like Amazon, Reddit, or reputable health and fitness forums.
10.Light-up Display Feature
Not an absolute requirement. However, if you plan to use your HRM outdoors at night time, a light-up display will really come in handy. One great example is the longstanding trademark “Indiglo” feature that comes with all Timex sports watches.
11.Batteries: Rechargeable or Easy-to-Replace
This is so important if you’re planning on hanging on to the watch for years to come. You don’t want to drop over a hundred or two hundred bucks on a quality HRM and find out that the batteries aren’t user-replaceable (ie., you have to perform “electronic surgery” on it every time the battery dies. The same goes for rechargeable batteries – they don’t charge forever and you might not be ready to let go of it when they decide to give out. Look for those with common battery sizes like CR2, CR2025, CR2032, etc. Look the required replacement battery up online before buying any HRM, to make sure they’re affordable and easy to locate when you need them.
If you’re a cyclist or mountain biking enthusiast, look for HRM’s that are made to clip onto the mid-point of the handle bars, etc. This eliminates the worry of breaking the band of the watch during intense situations and also makes it easier to see without needing to take your hands of the bar. These units will always measure heart rate via a separate chest strap.
13.Distance & Speed Monitoring Features
Higher-priced units will include a foot pod (for walking or running) or cadence/speed sensor (for cycling). If either option is important to you, make sure you know how much these extra add-ons will cost you, if they’re not included with the watch you’re considering. People who like to run or walk will definitely benefit from having a built-in pedometer with their HRM. Buy a watch with GPS features and you’ll be all set for any distance-related workout, including cycling without the need for extra add-on peripheral devices.
Most good HRM’s offer cloud storage and tracking features with their watches. If you plan to store your data on the manufacturer’s cloud servers, make sure they offer an “encrypted connection” when downloading and uploading your heart rate data. You can never be too careful in this day and age!
You Get What You Pay for (what to expect)
Expect basic features like heart rate zone monitoring and (maybe) a light-up display. Don’t expect: Bluetooth syncing, cloud storage, pedometers, GPS, or virtual trainer features in this price range.
$100 – $200
This is the middle-ground price range in the HRM market. For the most part, you’ll find most of the advanced features in this price range that you would when spending more than $200. But generally, you’ll have to trade one or two “kinda want” features for those that you “must have.” For example, you might get smartphone sync-ability but no GPS functionality. Whereas, if you spend $50 – $100 more you might get a watch that’s loaded up with every modern feature available to HRM consumers currently.
As mentioned in the previous point, expect to get a watch loaded with all the features you could ever want in this price range. Though certainly don’t spend double or triple if only one or two basic options are all you want.
Best Heart Rate Monitors to Consider
1.Polar FT4 Heart Rate Monitor
The FT4 is the latest entry level heart rate monitor from Polar. This watch offers basic features such as heart rate and calories burned, which is all you really need when starting a new fitness or fat loss routine. One feature that you won’t find on sub $30 units, that this watch offers is a max heart rate alarm which beeps when you reach or exceed the set max rate you programmed during the setup wizard.
The FT4 syncs up to nearly every piece of modern electronic cardio equipment you’ll encounter at the gym using Polar’s GymLink software, so you can keep an eye on your stats using the equipment’s head unit display instead of the watch. The FT4 comes with a heart rate chest strap included, is waterproof to 30m, and uses two easy-to-source replaceable CR2 batteries.
2.Polar FT7 Heart Rate Monitor
The Polar FT7 is an upgraded model from the FT4 mentioned above, offering a few extra and important features for a little over $20 more. The wristband and chest strap are both antimicrobial, a feature you’ll find on all heart rate monitor watches in this price range. The unique “Energy Pointer” feature included on the FT7 tells you when you’re in the fat-burning zone for your body type, or when you’re working out to improve physical fitness.
Another unique feature that sets this affordable HRM watch apart from cheap ones is the ability to sync your training data to polarpersonaltrainer.com, to use for comparative training data in the future, or for references at your next medical or personal training consult. The FT7 has a max heart rate monitor just like the cheaper FT4, and is designed to be used while you’re swimming, though some reviewers have stated that high levels of chlorine and/or saltwater can influence the readings. Gymlink software is integrated in the HRM to sync with most gym equipment.
3.Garmin Forerunner 110 GPS-Enabled Sport Watch
As the old saying goes “You get what you pay for.” This is one of the most lightweight HRM GPS’s available. As you might expect from the company most famous for their GPS devices, the Garmin Forerunner 110 is more than just a heart rate monitor. It tracks the distance traveled when you’re cycling, running, swimming, etc. And does it with much more accuracy than any pedometer or pod can, since it’s using a remote “HotFix” GPS tracking satellite to monitor your movements.
The onboard technology is very sound, offering tracking under even the most heavy tree, rock, or building cover. The 110 is a slick-looking watch, offering grey with pink striping for women and grey with red striping for men. This HRM comes with an 8-hour-capacity, rechargeable battery and charging cord, so you never have to worry about the battery dying at inopportune moments. Training data (heart rate, calories burned, distance) automatically uploads to the “Garmin Connect” site via their satellites, so you can track and plan your workouts with ease.
4.Garmin FR70 Fitness Watch with Heart-Rate Monitor
The FR70 is a pretty impressive entry-level premium HRM from Garmin that offers a bunch of neat and interesting features beyond simple heart rate monitoring. It tracks your workout time and calorie burn rate based on bodyweight, height, and body type, to give you exceptionally accurate caloric expenditure estimates during exercise. The FR70 is designed to connect seamlessly to a Mac or PC.
You can buy a separate foot pod designed to track your distance, speed and cadence, while walking, jogging or sprinting. There is also an optional speed/cadence sensor available for stationary or outdoor cyclists. The FR70 is also designed to connect to the Tanita BC-1000 body composition scale, to determine bodyweight composition and to measure water weight to tell you when you’re holding water and/or in danger of dehydration.
5.Mio Alpha Heart Rate Monitor Sports Watch
The MIO Alpha Strapless is one of the sportiest-looking HRM’s on the market; perhaps the most popular too. As you’d probably gather from the name, a separate HRM strap isn’t needed. The watch has the very best HRM sensor built right into the display to read your pulse. This is a continuous monitoring device that tracks your heart rate no matter what you’re doing.
The Alpha is also one of the most “sync-able” HRM’s on the market. There are tons of Android and iOS apps available that offer fitness goal tracking, calorie burn, and GPS features such as distance, speed, and cadence. The battery in the Alpha is rechargeable, offering a magnetic USB charging block for easy battery top-ups. The Alpha also has multiple built-in timers, and allows you to program up to three separate heart rate goals for individual workouts, which are displayed on the display in different colors.
6.Garmin Forerunner 15 Heart Rate Monitor Watch
The Forerunner 15 is literally a big brother to the much smaller and lightweight 110 listed above. This watch is considered to be a marathoner’s dream. It’s entry-priced for a GPS, so anyone can easily afford it and start to track their distance and goals.
Like the 110, the Forerunner 15 tracks your every movement via Garmin’s global “HotFix” satellites, and all your exercise data is uploaded automatically to the cloud for tracking and planning your next workout in advance. The watch monitors inactivity in workout mode, and motivates you via a beeping noise to get moving again. It also alerts you when you’re closing in on, or have broken a personal best time.
The rechargeable LION battery is designed to work for 8 hours in training mode, but will last much longer in basic watch/activity tracking modes. One drawback, perhaps is that you have to buy the heart rate strap separately for an extra $50, but this GPS watch is designed to work with your existing chest strap, if you have one, so you can actually save money and get a fabulous GPS tracker to boot!
7.Timex Men’s Zone Trainer Digital HRM
If you’re a fan of Timex products, you’ll not be disappointed to find out that the new Men’s Zone Trainer comes with patented Timex Indiglo backlighting! This HRM takes two replaceable CR2 batteries. It has an off-grey band that holds a black-backed display that makes it look every bit like any other Timex sports watch you’d find out there.
The Men’s Zone Trainer includes a very soft, non-invasive chest strap which is considered by many to be the most comfortable across nearly all other HRM’s on the market. The display offers: heart rate, average heart rate, lap timer, percentage max heart rate, and a Graphic Heart Rate Zone display to tell you when you are in fat-burning mode or fitness improvement. Like all Timex watches, this HRM is water resistant to 99ft.
8.Timex Personal Trainer Heart Rate Monitor
The Timex Personal Trainer HRM is a sleek-looking watch with a sharp display and color-coded buttons, to distinguish between the HRM/Tracking functions and the watch controls such as on/off and Indiglo light control. This watch takes a replaceable CR2025 battery, and includes a separate chest strap, which is designed to work with the both the watch and Bluetooth-enabled gym equipment like rowing machines, stationary bikes, ellipticals, and treadmills.
The display tracks target heart rate, percentage max heart rate, recovery heart rate time, calories burned, and also includes an activity timer that tracks the time you spent exercising and individual lap times. This a larger watch than average. The chest strap has received rave reviews for its adjustability for those with very small chests, and others with 54” or larger chest girth.
9.Basis Peak Ultimate Fitness and Sleep Tracker
The Basis Peak Ultimate Fitness and Sleep Tracker is more than just a heart rate monitor. It tracks several other factors that affect your health during and after exercise, including sleep quality. This is a premium HRM that uses a rechargeable battery, and which doesn’t require you to “strap up” with a separate chest strap each time you want to track your heart rate. Heart rate info is gathered from an ultra-sensitive module inside the watch itself that reads the pulse from your wrist.
This HRM connects syncs with the Basis Peak app on Android and iOS devices, along with Mac and PC computers to track your body and perspiration temps, working and resting heart rate, and also to measure sleep quality by determining how restful your sleep is and how much time you’re spending in the REM sleep cycle. This device also tracks calories burned and adjusts the counter based on the intensity (and type) of exercise, including walking, running, cycling, and swimming.
10.Suunto Quest Heart Rate Monitor Watch
The Suunto Quest offers a complete list of features you’d have to pay extra for with other HRM’s. The kit includes a wristwatch, footpod, chest strap, and plugin Bluetooth connector for your PC or Mac. You also get a choice between colors: yellow, black, or sexy orange. The color choices are a really nice touch, as many of the other brands listed on this page offer only one or two. The Quest is also very lightweight and everything in the kit is extremely durable.
Feature-wise, you get everything imaginable, without the need to purchase separate peripherals or apps for your smartphone: working and resting heart rate, recovery time, calories burned, distance walked/ran, cadence, speed, lap and interval timers – and the ability to download programs you’ve designed on your computer, telling the HRM to give you warning beeps indicating pre-planned intensity changes for intervals during your workouts.
The choice of which HRM you choose comes down to the features you expect, quality of design, connectivity needs (other electronic exercise equipment, smartphone, PC, and GPS), and all round usability.
Read the reviews for each device you’re interested in carefully before making your decision.