Whether you’ve started running during the pandemic or are a seasoned triathlete, heart rate data will help you take your training to the next level.
You might already use a GPS tracker or an app, which typically measure results by telling you how far and fast you’ve gone. Heart rate is how hard your body is really working. What that means is much more accurate data on things like how many calories you’ve burnt.
It can also help you push your boundaries – that 5km time might be the same as last month, but if your heart rate is lower, push harder! And it’s even more useful if you’re crushing the carpet during a Zoom workout because it’s the only accurate data you can really get.
So, how do you find the right heart rate monitor? For some, a wrist strap is the most convenient. Others prefer a chest strap, and most major brands are now releasing monitors for the top of the forearm too.
Chest straps typically measure the electrical pulse in your body when your heart contracts. Arm and wrist bands use optical technology, which shines a light into the skin and measures what comes back. In terms of accuracy, it’s generally accepted that chest straps are the most accurate, but we didn’t notice any major differences and found the forearm straps were easier to get on and off.
You’ll also want something Bluetooth compatible, so you can connect to fitness apps and your computer. We’ve tested heart rate monitors from across the market – and most of those we’ve tested have both Bluetooth and ANT+ connectivity, so you can pick the right one for you.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.
Dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart runner’s heart rate monitor belt
Catchy name, right? OK, perhaps not, but as we’ve come to expect from Decathlon, it does exactly what it says on the tin, for an incredible price. We tested this chest strap extensively on an indoor cycling app and didn’t get a single data dropout – and it worked just as well while running outside. To get going, you simply step into the strap and pull it up to your chest before clipping on the unit, which connects almost instantly. There are no buttons but it “wakes up” when you clip it to your chest. It is sweat-proof, so will be fine if you’re swimming in perspiration on the treadmill, but maybe avoid taking it in the pool. There’s no posh app to go with it, and it has no capacity to store a workout to upload later, so you’ll need to link it to a device – like a watch or an app. But for most people, that is exactly what they intend to do anyway. This lacks some of the high-end features of the more premium products, but for 99 per cent of people using heart rate monitors, it will perform exactly as they want it to – and for less than £30, it’s an absolute no-brainer if value is also one of your key considerations. We’ll be using it again and again.
Buy now £29.99, Decathlon.co.uk
Wahoo Tickr X heart rate monitor
This is the sleekest of all the heart rate monitors we tried, sitting almost flush with the chest, and weighing only 48 grams. We loved the strap, with a popper on each end that you can pull around your chest and attach to the electronic unit (most other similar products have a looping strap, which you have to step into and pull up). Features wise, you can swim with it but it’s only waterproof up to five foot – though it will serve the needs of the average triathlete. For runners, it offers added metrics such as cadence and ground contact.
Another feature that sets it apart is that it will connect to up to three devices at one time so you could, for example, transmit your data to your running watch, to an indoor app such as Zwift, and to Strava all at the same time. It also boasts one of the longest battery lives – up to 500 hours – of all of the products we tested. The brand has a very versatile app so you can record your workouts. Left your phone at home? No problem. It stores up to 50 hours of data and you can upload later. It’s Wahoo’s premium product so not the cheapest we’ve seen but costs less than many others with a similar spec. Plus, the brand refers to its customers as “Wahooligans”... who wouldn’t want to be one of those?
Buy now £64.99, Wahoofitness.com
Garmin’s long been a market leader in wearable tech, and this strap has stand-out features if you’re already a Garmin user. It captures running analytics that can help you improve your form and the brand’s coaching app uses some advanced running data that can only be accessed from other Garmin devices. You can also record data without linking to another device or app and upload it later – plus if you have a Garmin watch you can do that directly without using a computer or another app first. This is particularly useful for the triathletes out there, as you can record your session with this chest strap (which is waterproof up to ten meters) and upload it right away. The HRM-Pro also scores really high on the “it just works” scale, connecting right out of the box and… just working. The app, Garmin Connect, will even tell you how much battery is left, which is great because no-one wants to watch their heart rate suddenly drop to zero during their best 10km effort in months. It’s on the pricey side, but maybe worth the investment if you’re serious about your training.
Buy now £119.99, garmin.com
Myzone MZ-3 physical activity belt
There is a lot we loved about this heart rate monitor. It claims to offer 99.4 per cent accuracy and we thought it performed well, providing real-time feedback on heart rate, calories and effort, and linking via Bluetooth to all the apps and devices we tried. The battery lasts up to 16 hours, and is rechargeable. It’s waterproof up to ten metres, and it will hold up to 16 hours of data. Plus, it has a sturdy red strap that stays fixed to your chest – no matter how rogue your running technique is.
With heart rate “zones” becoming an increasingly common way of training, the brand’s app also does a great job of making it easy to understand. It works out your top heart rate and creates colour-coded zones so you know exactly how hard you’re working. It then uses this data to award you MEPs – no, not Members of the European Parliament (we’re not sure how that would work), but Myzone Effort Points, which reflect how hard you’re working. The MZ-3 and app have been used in major gym chains, enabling PTs and customers to connect so they could see how hard you’re really working. Unfortunately, we couldn’t test this out because they’re currently closed, but it is worth considering if you’re working out your 2021 fitness goals.
The brand is quite gym-focused, and it will ask you for a centre number when you register – but there’s a general number to use if you don’t use one. The app also has some great social functions, allowing you to connect with other athletes and compare notes. This is the most expensive monitor on test, and it has fewer features than some of its competitors. What sets it apart is the app, and the unique social and sharing options that will really come into their own when we’re finally allowed back into gyms.
Buy now £129.99, Myzone.org
Polar verity sense
Polar is a go-to brand when it comes to heart rate technology – so we couldn’t wait to try the latest addition to its optical heart rate sensor family. This is a versatile and ultra-compact device that measures your heart rate from your arm or temple, meaning it is suitable for a wide range of sports from running and cycling to swimming and boxing.
“Where a chest strap or fitness watch works well for one sport or activity, it might not work for another,” the brand’s CEO, Tomi Saario, says. “The Verity Sense is our answer to this.” We certainly found that it was more like a second skin than a heart rate monitor. Not only is it easy to set up and use (you literally only have to press one button), it is also extremely comfortable, with an adjustable band so you can get the perfect fit.
We tracked our heart rate during hill sessions, long runs and Zoom workouts, finding it paired easy with our wrist-based device and synced with popular apps such as Strava through dual Bluetooth and ANT+ connectivity (there is also the Polar Flow fitness and training app). The battery lasts for 20 hours of training, while it can hold up to 600 hours of training data, so if you want to take a deep dive and optimise your sessions then you can. At £79.50, the Verity Sense falls in the middle of the market – but there’s certainly nothing run of the mill about it. A great choice.
Buy now £79.50, polar.com
Samsung Galaxy Fit2
If you’re looking for a smartwatch that allows you to track your heart rate during workouts as well as alerting you to every like you get on Instagram for your follow-up sweaty selfie, then look no further. Samsung’s compact Galaxy Fit2 tracks the time you’ve spent exercising, your heart rate and the calories burned from your wrist. We found it easy to switch between screens, so we could see our heart rate in real time during our Zoom workouts and hill sessions (a big plus in our books), while it automatically recognises five different exercises, from dynamic workouts to running and rowing.
The data was broadly in line with other products on the market, enabling us to see how long we had been in the “vigorous” or “moderate” zone for each session. Available in two colours, this smartwatch was comfortable to wear and didn’t move around, although we found the clasp tricky to secure sometimes. The Fit2 connects with your phone via two apps, meaning it provides real-time alerts for messages and social media notifications. It also analyses your sleep patterns and tells you to move when you’ve been inactive for too long (we found this a particularly handy feature while working from home). At £49, we think this is a great value option – and it looks fab too.
Buy now £49.00, Argos
WHOOP strap 3.0
This strap doesn’t quite fit the bill in terms of activity monitoring, but if it’s good enough for LeBron James, we figured you’d want to know about it. It does monitor your heartbeat, but won’t broadcast it live during an activity. Instead, it’s used to take a more holistic view of your training, and life in general, focusing on the relationship between “strain” and recovery – and it’s great at telling you when you’re overdoing it, using real data, so you have to listen. Stayed up late drinking wine and watching movies? Whoop knows! It will tell you exactly how much sleep you got, and how much you’ll need the next night as penance. For the more serious athletes out there, tracking sleep and recovery will help you understand when you really need a rest day so you don’t put yourself at risk of injury. The strap won’t cost you anything, instead you’ll have to pay a Whoop membership, which starts at £30 per month, but is reduced if you commit to a longer payment plan.
Whoop was initially designed for pro-athletes so their coaches could analyse their data, so there are also some great features to share if you’re staying in touch with a PT during lockdown, including video overlay so the pros can analyse your training technique. The strap is small and comfortable, and it comes in a range of colours and patterns.
Buy now £30.00, Whoop.com
Pronounced Sk-oh-sh (we knew you were wondering), this brand may not be that well-known in the UK but it’s huge in Canada and this is the second version of this particular armband. The Rhythm+2.0 can be worn on the upper arm or the forearm, and we loved using it for cycling and running. It’s a little easier to slip on and off than a chest strap when you’re wearing multiple layers, and even goes under arm-warmers surprisingly easily. The unit looks a bit bulky initially but the curved shape means it doesn’t stick out too much. Another thing we like about arm heart rate monitors is that they have on and off switches, rather than just waking up when you put them on. Call us old school, but you know where you are with an on button – and a rechargeable battery, which lasts up to 24 hours. It was one of the easiest to set up, appearing instantly on our devices when it was in pairing mode. And it’s waterproof up to three metres. The product should be available from March 10.
Buy now £69.99, Scosche.com
The verdict: Heart rate monitors
We loved the convenience of the armband heart rate monitors for cycling and running, and all of the straps we tested worked well and had their unique advantages, with a huge range of features on offer. However, all most people want is something that will record their heart rate and show it to them live on their watch, computer, or phone. On that basis, the best option has to be Decathlon’s heart rate monitor belt, which does just that for a mere £29.99.
We’ve also reviewed the best turbo trainers for cycling at home