There’s dozens, even hundreds, of heart rate monitors available on the market right now. However, not all heart rate monitors are the same. I’ve owned and been using various heart rate monitors for years and it’s a tool that I personally find very effective in my own training.
However, the difference between a good heart rate monitor that makes it easy to track your training progress, and a bad heart rate monitor means, for many people, the difference between actually using the device or not.
And trust me here: you want to use a heart rate monitor because it can revolutionize your training.
I’ve written this comprehensive list to help you find the best heart rate monitors, to save you time, effort, and possibly money. I’ve also written it because I’m a big fan of heart rate monitors, I use them all the time for my own training, and I really do feel everyone who is serious about seeing improvements in their training (be it conditioning for Muay Thai or MMA or simply trying to get a better 10K running time) needs to utilize heart rate training to optimize and their training performance.
If you want to get started with heart-rate training, once you have a heart rate monitor (which you need), start on my Ultimate Guide to Heart Rate Training for fighters series.
Keep in mind that some of the different heart rate monitors (and different devices that have them — such as running watches or activity trackers) are tailored to specific sports (like running), so what I consider ‘the best’ for a fighter athlete may not specifically be the best if you are long distance runner or swimmer or some other sport athlete.
This article is updated for mid-2017 and I’ll keep it revised as the new year (2017) progresses as Heart Rate Monitor technology is rapidly being updated.
Best Heart Rate Monitor
Why Monitor Your Heart Rate
As our body adapts to increased training stimuli, adaptions take place in the heart, allowing for improved heart efficiency. In simple English: ‘you get more fit.’
Some of these improved cardiovascular adaptions include:
- lower stroke volume (more blood pushed through heart per pump)
- increased maximum threshold heart rate
- improved lactic threshold (the point where your body moves from aerobic to aerobic energy production)
- improved oxygen transport network (capillaries & oxygen)
To see improvements in these areas, you really need to be able to measure and track your heart rate.
Heart Rate Monitors are a Runner’s Best Friend
If you are a runner, heart rate monitors can keep you in your peak target zone while you are doing intense training or aerobic sessions. Walkers and joggers will also benefit from monitors because if you are trying to burn fat then your monitor will let you know when you are in the target zone. For cyclists, heart rate monitors will help you track your endurance, interval and temp rides, and improve your endurance.
But you can also use Heart Rate Monitors for other activities, such as Boxing, Muay Thai, and MMA to guide your training (note: you’ll likely need a device that support chest strap tracking though so it remains accurate through high intensity sessions).
What Monitoring Your Heart Rate Can Do For Your Training
Quite a lot, actually, In fact, taking regular measurements of your heart rate regularly (such as your resting heart rate) and during your training is one of the best ways to exactly measure your heart’s performance and track any cardiovascular improvements.
What a Heart Rate Monitor Can Help You Improve
The reason you need to monitor your heart rate is pretty simple: you can specifically trigger specific adaptions by tailoring your training to keep your heart rate between certain thresholds.
By targeting training at certain intensities within certain heart rate thresholds at certain amounts of time, you can target and force improvements for different energy systems such as:
- General Aerobic Energy Training (stroke volume training
- General Anaerobic Training
- Anaerobic Capacity Training
- Lactic Threshold Training
- V02 Max Training
So You can take the guesswork out of your training easily and by yourself!
I’ll give a real world example here. For example, for fighter types, you can monitor your heart rate after a three-minute pad, bag, or sparring round and record how long it takes your elevated heart rate to lower. By measuring the time it takes for your heart rate, after these training intervals, to decrease to a lower heart rate level, you can identify how fit you are (and in the greater context of a training regimen, estimate how far along you are to being in your maximum conditioning).
How to use a heart rate monitor to improve your fight conditioning is a series of articles in itself. The key takeaway is that a) you need a heart rate monitor to track your heart and take measurements and b) you want a good heart rate monitor that will make it easy to do so.
If you are serious about Muay Thai, MMA, Boxing, or any sport, getting a good heart rate monitor and USING it to monitor your heart rate is one of the best things you can do to guide your training and accurately guide your conditioning improvements based on REAL data.
Buyer’s Guide to Heart Rate Monitor: How to Choose
When thinking about what type of heart rate monitor to purchase, take into consideration what type of training you will do and how accurate you want the data to be.
For example, chest straps tend to be more accurate than watches. Another thing to take into consideration is the type of activity you are doing. Some heart rate monitors are better suited for running where others you can take swimming. The following is a guide to help you choose the right heart rate monitor for your lifestyle.
As of 2017, there’s a lot of heart rate monitor choices on the market — from fancy running watches, to sleek fitness trackers, to regular heart rate monitors. Heck, even some smart phones allow you to check your heart rate.
But not all monitors are the same. The truth is, it’s best to look at what you need your heart rate monitor for and buy the device that targets that focus. While you can get a ‘do everything’ device, it may not provide the best fit for your specific training goals. Do everything is often inferior to do something specific best.
Types of Heart Rate Monitors
There are pretty much two types of heart rate monitor tracking formats on the market right now.
Chest Strap Heart Rate Monitors: Chest strap heart rate monitors go around your chest and keep track of your rate electronically. It then sends the information to a watch, which shows your heart rate. This is the most accurate type of heart rate monitor available on the market. However, wearing a heart rate monitor strap is often uncomfortable and an inconvenience.
Wrist Band Heart Rate Monitors: Wrist bands can also monitor your heart rate through a sensor that detects your pulse. Each company selling wrist-heart rate monitors advertises their own unique technology for reading your heart rate. However, regardless of the advertising spin each company pushes, what remains the same between all wrist band monitors is that the wrist sensor is less accurate than the chest strap monitors. However, wrist band monitors are a lot more comfortable than trapping on chest straps each time before your workout.
Fitness Trackers vs Running Watches vs Heart Rate Monitors
It’s a crowded market right now in the wearable fitness tracker space. What used to only be a single category of heart rate monitors has expanded now to include several distinct (yet often overlapping) devices: Fitness Trackers, HRM Watches, GPS Running Watches, Smartwatches, and Smart Phones.
Types of Heart Rate Monitor Devices on the Market
As for ‘Wrist Band Heart Rate Monitors’, we can further divide this into three groups (yes, I know it’s confusing).
Choose the type of heart monitor depending on how accurate you want your reading to be and what you will be most comfortable wearing.
Also known as activity trackers. These are all-in-one activity monitors that record how far you’ve walked (or, depending on the device, how much of a specific exercise or activity you’ve done over a certain period of time). Many (if not all) fitness trackers now include heart rate monitors built in to them, doubling as an activity tracker and a heart rate monitor now.
These are similar to Fitness Trackers in that they track and measure your level of activity; however, these are specifically included features designed for runners such as distance mapping (via GPS), pedometer tracking, heart rate recording, and some means to tie all these different values together. Running Watches, now, often do pretty much the same thing Fitness Trackers do, but offer more features.
Heart Rate Monitor Watches
These devices (such as the Polar) are pure heart rate monitors and don’t usually offer the extra functionality of the Fitness Trackers / Running Watches. However, they are often significantly cheaper than the other categories and work just fine if ALL you want to do is track your heart rate. As of 2016, the trend is to combine Heart Rate Monitors into watches and add in other features besides heart rate tracking. But you can still buy pure heart rate monitors to save money.
Heart Rate Monitor Chest Straps
These are by far the most accurate of the heart rate monitors, though they lack all the sophisticated display and tracking features of the wrist-based devices. If you want to do high-intensity workouts and accurately monitor your bpm, you’ll need a chest strap monitor (or a wrist heart rate monitor that pairs with a chest strap).
Many of the new smartwatches are now pulling double duty as heart rate monitors and fitness trackers. However, smartwatches are often not specifically focused on these areas (but include them as a feature point), and as such don’t offer optimized features for people who are specifically need these features.
Earbud Heartrate Monitors
One new category that’s popped up are earphone heart rate monitors. However, these are far less accurate than even the wrist-based heart rate monitors and are, at best, only useful for a rough estimate of heart rate. As such, we don’t consider them a serious heart rate monitor and won’t be covering them.
What Device to Choose?
This one is hard and there is no right answer.
Pure heart rate monitors are dying out, or at least merging into other product categories. The trend is now to combine heart rate tracking with other features — continuous heart rate tracking, zone tracking, calorie counting, sports watch features, smart phone syncing, and more. If you want to get a pure heart rate monitor, you still can, but it seems the differences between the product calories are becoming blurry, with each including features from the other.
What used to simply be looking at the Polar heart rate monitors to find the best heart rate monitor for your budget has become significantly more complex with readers now being presented with Fitness Trackers, Running Watches, Smartwatches that all include built in heart rate monitors.
For running or serious training, look at Running Watches
For runners or serious athletes looking to improve performance, we recommend looking at the GPS Running watches, which are the most comprehensive tools for tracking, measuring, and improving training.GPS Running Watches are basically fitness trackers designed specifically for running with more running-specific features. The advantages here are a device that gives more detailed and accurate real-time feedback on your pace while running as well as distance covered via the included GPS.
Some GPS Running watches even include detailed heart rate tracking, heart rate zone training features, and smartphone push notifications. GPS Running Watch devices are often more specialized for the hard-training athlete then Fitness Trackers are and often include more advanced tracking, heart rate monitoring, and training tools. GPS Running watches are usually quite a bit more expensive than fitness trackers, running anywhere from $150 to $500. Running watches are designed for ‘runners’ but can also be used as comprehensive heart rate training tools by other types of athletes.
For casual workouts or beginners, look at Fitness Trackers
For those people who are looking for a more casual style of training, a Fitness tracker may be a better fit. they are smaller, offer less of a wearable footprint, have better battery life, and are significantly cheaper. These are great if you are looking to boost your workout motivation, you want to monitor your heart rate over time, or you want basic calorie counting and movement tracking. The battery charges typically last for a week, and they often feature push notifications and sync with your phone (to upload data and metrics too). The Fitness Trackers are your general ‘all in one’ devices that can do a bit of everything. And between 60 to 120 bucks, they are affordable.
For those who just want to track your distance for a few laps and record your heart rate, you can get by with your Smartphone and a running app. You might not need a specific training device if this is all you want to do and you are not trying to target specific areas of training, or you don’t need continuous heart rate tracking.
For the budget-minded who don’t anything other than heart rate tracking, look at Heart Rate Monitors
HRM Watches are an excellent tool for serious athletes who ONLY need heart rate tracking for individual workouts and/or people who don’t need all the extra feature thrown in by the GPS Running Watches and Activity Trackers. These are also a good budget buy for people who don’t want to spend more than 20-40 bucks and primarily just need the heart rate tracking.
For the high-intensity athletes, look at Chest Straps
Finally, it must be said that ALL wrist-based heart rate monitors — from fitness trackers, running watchers, to pure heart rate trackers — fail spectacularly when it comes to keeping accurate heart rate tracking during high-intensity sessions. This makes wrist-based heart rate monitors difficult to use for athletes who want to use them for boxing, MMA, Muay Thai, sprinting, or any other activity with short explosive durations.
However, you still can accurately track your heart during high intensity, but you’ll have to wear a chest strap heart rate monitor. Some of the more expensive running watches do support chest strap syncing, as do the cheaper pure heart rate wrist watches by companies like Polar.
Main Features of Heart Rate Monitors & Fitness Trackers to Consider
Heart rate monitors have different features, so think about what you want to be reported back to you. The basic monitors will give your low, high, average, and continuous heart rate while throughout your day or while you are working out. Some monitors have GPS that will keep track of your distance, speed, and elevation. Once you get into the more advanced trackers, you will get more information.
GPS: If your monitor has GPS, you may have a speed and distance monitor. This calculates how far you have gone during a certain workout. It generally uses satellite reception to get accurate information on the data.
Basic Heart Rate Tracking: Ability to test your basic heart rate, either automatically or via the push of a button. ALL heart rate monitors have this feature. However, the more basic heart rate monitors don’t allow automatic tracking, zone targeting, or any other advanced HRM tracking feature.
24/7 Heart Rate Monitoring: some devices all you to constantly record your heart rate as long as the device is connected to your wrist. This feature is more prevalent with some of the fitness / activity trackers such as the FitBit, but the feature is slowly making its way into the more top end Heart Rate Monitors and premium Running Watches. The stored data is synced to your computer or phone via a wireless connection.
Calorie Counter: Calories counters come on many heart rate monitors, through a software interface. This estimates how many calories you have burned during your workout. If you are keeping track of calories as well as activity, then you will want a heart rate monitor that will give you this information as well.
Hear-Rate Zone Targeting: Basic heart rate monitors will provide you with three target zones, where more advanced models will give you up to six target heart rate zones. More advanced trackers allow you to specify what type of activity to monitor for in each zone, such anaerobic, aerobic, and endurance heart rate tracking (and may even automatically track at that zone when your heart rate moves into the new zone). Less advanced trackers will require you to program a specific zone for each activity. If you want to use your heart rate monitor for improving your cardiovascular training during Boxing, Muay Thai or MMA workouts, I recommend this feature.
Recovery heart rate mode: tracks how long it takes your heart rate to return to its normal resting rate. This is a very good indication, when used correctly, of your overall cardiovascular fitness and particularly useful for tracking your heart performance for interval training or sprint work.
VO2 Max Testing: Some of the newer (and top end) devices allow you to take the measurement of your VO2 max given various heart rate inputs. A proper VO2 Max testing requires you to wear a device over your mouth while running on a treadmill, so an algorithmic calculation of your VO2 max may be inaccurate. However, it may provide a good guesstimate of your overall V02 Max, which is the gold standard figure in determining someone’s fitness level.
Lactate Threshold Testing: more advanced heart rate monitors (Fenix 3, Fenix 5) do allow specialized testing to find your Lactate Threshold (also called Anaerobic threshold). This is basically a measure of your power output and one of the most important metrics for fighters and athletes. A higher lactate threshold means you can do more ‘work’ for a given duration. All things being equal, athletes with higher lactate thresholds are more ‘fit’ because they can produce and utilize more energy at a higher work rate than athletes with lower thresholds.
Advanced Conditioning Metrics: the ability to measure your recovery time, body fatigue level, training load, and more. These are advanced heart rate metrics; how these metrics are analyzed and presented vary between brands. These are useful because you can use them to determine how effective your workout has been at improving target fitness goals; you can also use these to help gauge your recovery — how long you should rest for. Only the more advanced running watches offer these (Garmin 235, Fenix 3, Fenix 5, etc).
Time in target zone: Tracks the time you spend exercising within your target zone. Some zones and goals require more time than others.
Fitness trainer: Alerts you with sound or other visual signals if your heart rate falls below or rises above specified heart rate training zones.
Stopwatch and lap/split times: this feature makes for recording your running times between laps on a race course easy to track. You can hit the LAP button to monitor how your running pace has been over each lap and compare your performance over the entire workout (the split).
Sport Watch: Some of the wearable heart rate monitors (running watches, fitness trackers, some ‘pure’ heart rate monitors) includes watch features such as clocks, alarms, stop watches, countdown timers and calendars.
Speed and distance monitor: tracks your speed and distance covered over a workout segment. To do so, a GPS is required for outdoor tracking or a footpad for indoor tracking (where GPS satellite cannot be connected to)
Digital interface: Links your heart rate monitor to your computer, either via a cable and / or a wireless connection such as blue tooth.
Tethering: Links your device to another wearable device such as your smartphone and allows you to access messages on your phone via your wrist heart rate device such as text messages, answering phone calls, push notifications without the need to pull out your phone. This can be useful when you are running or if you leave your phone in your bag and stay withing 10 to 20 meters of it.
Ability to Pair with Heart Rate Chest Strap: On this note, even having the ability to pair with an optional heart rate chest strap is another feature and, for some training types, absolutely required.
Bluetooth Pairing: ability to pair with a chest strap and other tracking devices over Bluetooth.
Coded transmitter: for the devices that do pair with a chest strap, one feature you might want is for the device to encode the signals between your chest strap and your unit to prevent interference of other devices affecting the signal. This could prevent your tracking signal from going awry in a crowded area like a gym when other people are wearing such devices around you.
Sport-specific features: Special features that target specific sports — such as pool lap counters, cadence feedback for bikers, and stroke monitoring for swimmers, and more. How accurate these movement trackers for specific sports are, however, is questionable.
Battery replacement: some devices allow you to replace the battery on the device
Best Heart Rate Monitors for Fighters (MMA, Muay Thai, Boxing, etc)
If you are simply looking to improve your overall training performance and NOT your just your running performance, then you are going to want a heart rate tracking device that lets you target your training. Typically, I recommend you look at either HRM Watch or a GPS Running Watch with advanced training heart rate targeting features built in. The HRM Watch style device is easy enough for basic workout heart rate training and they are usually pretty cheap (under 40 bucks on Amazon).
However, having a more advanced (and expensive) GPS Running Watch can make it much easier to monitor and target your heart rate training during your actual training or during conditioning work — and these devices let you store your data and better access it so you can compare how your training — and heart — improves over time.
Heart Rate Monitor: absolutely required.
Fitness Trainer: having your device notify you when you move out of a targeted heart rate zone is useful, especially if you want to focus on your activity without having to look at the device (such as hitting a bag or in a pad round or during sparring conditioning work).
Recovery heart rate mode: this one is big for fight athletes and what I consider a must-have feature if you train MMA, Muay Thai, Boxing, Kickboxing or any other high intensity sport. This feature basically tracks how long it tracks your heart rate, after a session of continuous work, to return to its pre-work state. This allows you to track how your heart is improving with your training. As your cardiovascular system improves over time, the recovery time should reduce. This lets you calculate how ‘fit’ you are and estimate how ‘fight ready’ you are, provided you’ve been tracking your performance over time and have some numbers to compare your current against.
Time in target zone: This is a useful feature if you want to keep your heart rate in a certain zone for a certain period of time. Useful for some heart rate threshold training protocols such as Anaerobic Threshold Training; this feature makes it a lot easier to achieve those training targets.
VO2 Max Testing: While not exactly accurate compared to the real VO2 max text, this feature (which is found on some top end models) can be a useful gauge of your overall cardiovascular condition. It’s not a make or break feature, but I’d definitely prefer having it to not.
Stopwatch: Good for interval training. Some of the heart rate features are combined with stop watch functionality, but it’s also useful having a simple stop watch feature, which any decent HRM should include.
Chest Strap Syncing: fighters require a heart rate monitor to be able to track hear rates during short, but high-intensity exercise while being able to provide accurate real-time feedback (such as in the middle of a pad or sparring round or right after a round ends). The only way to accurately get this information is to wear a heart rate chest strap which syncs to a write heart rate monitor or a running watch via HR+ or Bluetooth. Being able to sync wireless with a chest strap is required here.
Chest Strap Heart Rate Monitor: you’ll need this, for a reason stated above.
The Best Heart Rate Monitors By Category
The guide of the best heart rate monitors includes chest straps, fullHRM watches, GPS Running Watches, and Fitness Trackers.
Best Bang For Buck
While this classic style heart rate monitor won’t impress anyone with its display, bland design, and uncomfortable strap, it wins in terms of performance, features, and cost. If you want a fully functional heart rate monitor ONLY (minus fancy features, activity tracking, etc) with all the important heart rate measuring stats and an AFFORDABLE price of $60 USD, the classic Polar FT7 can’t be beat. And even better, this includes the Chest Strap Monitor as well!
So for less than $60 bucks, you get the cheapest performance heart rate monitor system you can get — one that covers everything you might want to do in terms of tracking your heart rate.
This is great for fighters and athletes on a budget who just want accurate heart rate measurements without paying too much (again, you’ll likely need the chest strap if you want to do high-intensity work). If you like the Polar line of products and you want a more modern take on the Polar HRM with a color screen, activity tracking, 24/h heart rate tracking, and all the other heart rate monitor features the F7 has, look at the Polar A360 though it costs about 180. You can pair the A360 with the Polar H7 Bluetooth chest strap for better tracking.
My main complaint here is that the heart rate monitor interface is a bit confusing and it’s heart to actually see what’s going on in the screen. But considering it’s about 1/4 or 1/5 the cost of my favorite pick, while offering about 70 percent of the same heart-rate tracking and monitoring features, I can’t complain too much about the lousy interface and hard to read screen.
Best Overall Heart Rate Monitor
The Garmin 235 is the best overall running watch, given its aesthetics, form factor, and features and price. This watch has enough there to keep beginners to advanced users happy. For general heart rate training, the feature set is superb, giving everything you need to target your heart rate at different zones. You can even test your V02 max. However, though the feature set is strong, the actual heart rate monitor stumbles when it comes to tracking your heart rate. If you want to track through high-intensity bouts, you’ll need to pair it with a heart rate chest strap, which you can though this adds about $100 to the cost
Best Fitness Tracker Pick
This is a crowded category right now and probably the biggest market for heart rate monitors. It is this category that favors the casual user. There’s a lot of different devices out there right now, but the one that stands out the most with features, comfort, and price is the Garmin Vivosmart HR+.
The waterproof design, the built-in MP3 player, the accurate heart rate tracking with various tracking metrics, the continuous heart rate tracking, make this one stand out as the best fitness tracker of 2016 (and the best yet). A close runner up is the Fitbit Blaze.
For more advanced persons who need full on heart rate tracking guides and who need to track through high intensity workouts (sprints or boxing rounds say), this device is not accurate — you’ll need another device that pairs with a chest strap monitor.
Best Chest Strap Pick
This one handles running, swimming, and cycling. It’s a chest strap designed for serious athletes with various tracking features built in. You can also pair it, as a chest strap, with the Garmin Running watches such as the 235 to more accurately track heart rates or use the running watch to record through high-intensity exercises.
Best Fitness Trackers with Heart Rate Monitors
A fitness tracker is usually a band you wear around your wrist. Unlike a Running watch, it does not usually feature a suite of conditioning metrics, nor does it include a highly detailed watch-face screen. The screen (if it has any) is usually minimal and the focus of the fitness tracker is to measure your daily activity. This measurement is usually the number of ‘steps’ you take during a given day. Some fitness trackers also include 24-7 heart rate monitoring as well.
Basically, for the casual person trying to count their calories, monitor their sleep, and track their basic heart rate over the day, fitness trackers are a good-t0-have tool. However, they lack the precise measurements and heart-rate metrics that the Running Watches offer. As such, I don’t recommend activity tracker bands for athletes looking to improve their conditioning.
Still, for the casual weekend warrior type looking to track their calories and do some basic heart-rate measuring, fitness bands are useful to have (and cheap).
The Best Fitness Tracker
The Garmin Vivosmart HR+ has GPS along with tracking your heart rate. It has a rectangular face that largely displays numbers. It can be a little thicker, but men found it fine where women found it a little clunky. The Vivosmart HR+ gives you notifications, activity tracking, and GPS run tracking. Sleep tracking is also available and it will monitor your heart rate all day and night. It is an accurate monitor that will provide you with ample amounts of data. A nice feature is you do not have to bring your phone on runs or other activities to use the GPS. Other trackers do not have this feature. It does not give you special data for activities like gym workouts or Zumba class. So if you are looking for more sports options, another tracker might be a better option. The app and website will give you plenty of tools to build a training plan, workout schedules, and check your progress goals. While it doesn’t have many sports options, the Vivosmart HR+ has a host of other features that are helpful.
Overall, this device wins our pick for the best overall fitness tracker with a heart rate monitor due to the level of features it includes and the fairly accurate heart rate tracking. With good distance tracking, continuous heart rate tracking, long term archiving for resting heart rate and interval intensity, and waterproofing, this is the best on the market. The Garmin Vivosmart HR+ just does what a fitness tracker does better with more in it than the competition.
The Fitbit Blaze has one of the most accurate resting heart rate trackers on the market, which makes it stand out here on this list of heart rate monitors. However, heart rate recording still sucks compared to chest straps, which is a flaw all the devices share so far.
The companion app has the easiest to read activity tracking graphs (vs the more technical and confusing graphs sported by competitors).
However, the Blaze also tracks your active minutes, stairs climbed, calories, distance, and steps. The Blaze has multi-sport modes to further track your information.
Besides keeping track of your sports and activities, it also will give you notifications such as calendar, texts, and calls. The Blaze also features GPS, but you will need your phone to connect to it. From there, it will keep track of your routes and distance. If you don’t like taking your phone on runs, try another monitor.
The Blaze does offer instructions and coaching right on the screen. If you forget to log your exercise, the Blaze does it for you. This is nice if you are not used to tracking your workouts. In addition, the battery life lasts for about five to six days. The Blaze is a good choice if you are searching for an accurate resting heart rate tracker.
The Blaze (like most optical heart rate monitors) fails when it comes to high intensity excessive — the heart rate does not track very accurately here. It somewhat makes up for it with some of the best measurements for the resting heart rate. But given the packed set of features includes in the small device, the stylish and comfortable form, and the reasonable price, the Blaze is the best all round Fitness Tracker.
The Jawbone UP 3 is one of the best fitness trackers on the market for the casual user. It is splash-proof while still being able to monitor your heart rate. It is thin and lightweight, so you will hardly know it is there.
There is no LED display, which may be a downside for some. It tells you what mode you are in through lights, orange for sleep and blue for activity. A white light means there are notifications from the app.
The UP3 keeps track of your resting heart rate as well as continuous heart rate. It will provide you with trends over periods of time such as months, weeks, or days. You can keep track of how different things affect your body, such as sleep, stress, alcohol, or caffeine. The Jawbone UP3 is a sleek, lightweight heart rate monitor that is perfect for those looking for a simple tracker.
Those looking for real time feedback of their heart rate or who want to seriously train won’t find the Jawbone UP3 the right device, however.
Best Running Watches
Many of the better Running Watches now include Heart Rate Monitors built in. In fact, we feel some of these devices are the perfect marriage between functionality and ease of use for training. The downside is the battery life tends to last a couple days and the devices are at the more expensive range (several hundred dollars). However, they offer the most features and are ideal for athletes serious about training
Best for Serious Training
The Garmin Forerunner 235 has GPS, is water resistant, and is good for run sessions. It has an LCD color display with side button controls. The tracker itself looks good and is comfortable to wear around your wrist.
The 235 is the sequel to the years’s 225 and the Garmin running watch model that hits the sweet spot of features and functionality for fighters who want to improve their conditioning. This is the Running Watch / Heart Rate monitor that I bought and use myself. It’s our favorite pick as the best running watch with
It’s my favorite pick as the best running watch with a HRM when considering the features for the price you pay. It’s still not that cheap, but this running watch packs in everything you need to be your own strength & conditioning coach.
The Forerunner 235 has training zones so you can separate your endurance runs from regular training sessions.
The LCD changes color based on what zone you are in and also tells you your heart rate in real time. If you have gone off your mark, it will vibrate or alert you so you can get back on track. When compared to a chest strap, the Forerunner 235 was about three to five beats per minutes off, so it is still pretty accurate.
The heart rate monitor is dormant when you are not running. If you do want to check your heart rate, just scroll to the display and it will take a reading. This conserves battery life but it does not store the data.
Not all heart rate zones are the same, but this one comes preloaded with zones. It uses the formula 220 minus your age. You can manually change the heart rates to suit you, which is done for more accurate fitness information. This is a good heart rate monitor if you don’t mine manually tailoring it to your needs.
As of 2017, the new Fenix 5 is the Running watch to beat and offers everything under the sun and more. It’s a better heart rate monitor than 235 with more accurate tracking with a full set of conditioning metrics that the 235 does not have (optional ones at that, you can derive the extra metrics on your own…but the Fenix 5 gives them to you on a plate, which makes it easy to use). However, the Fenix 5 is also 2x the price ($500+).
The downside to the 235 is actually the heart rate tracking. For slower, aerobic type cardio work, it’s an excellent device. For high intensity or circuit work, the heart rate tracking is poor. Unfortunately, this makes it somewhat unsuitable for intense training workouts. You can resolve this problem by wearing the optional heart rate chest rate strap which pairs with the 235. If you are willing to do so, the 235 is the best GPS Running Watch on the market.
Best for Do Everything Running Watch
It is designed for cyclists, people who go to the gym, and runners. The Spark has an LCD monochrome screen with a backlight. It can be a bit large but the numbers are easy to read.
The Spark keeps track of the distance you walk through arm movement, while also keeping track of steps, and calories burned. It provides you with accurate data, especially when it comes to recording your heart rate. The Spark was put to the test against a chest strap and it was accurate within one beat per minute, which is incredibly accurate for a watch heart rate monitor.
The watch gives you the option to train in heart rate zones. This is perfect if you would rather train for beats per minute rather than the pace you are going at. If you do decide to go with zone training, you will get a voice that will let you know when you are on track. The TomTom Spark is one of the most accurate heart rate monitors on the market, so it is a good choice if you want to train in your heart rate zone.
The one thing that sets this one apart from the competition is the built-in MP3 player which can sync to a pair of Bluetooth headphones. The competition does not have a built in MP3 player. This means you can take the Tom Tom out and play your music from the device without needing to bring you phone or ipod with you.
The combination of heart rate monitor (with zone training ability), fitness tracking features, GPS tracking features, and MP3 player make the TomTom Spark the best general all-in-one Running Watch with HRM.
The Garmins (235, Fenix, 630) have more advanced heart rate training features (and pairs with a chest strap for more accurate heart recording), but the TomTom includes more general features which probably appeal more to the casual runner / weekend warrior types.
Best For Fighters, Athletes, and Coaches
Just released April 2017, the Fenix 5 is the strength & conditioning coach’s dream watch.
This one is for those who really want maximum access to different conditioning metrics that the Garmin 235 and other watches lack right now.
The Fenix allows you to track and directly measure your V02 Max and your Lactic Threshold from within the watch itself. It also has the new and improved Training Effect 2 software from
It also has the new and improved Training Effect 2 software from First Beat, which basically looks at your heart rate data, your running times, and gives you highly detailed (and surprisingly accurate) measurements for your overall fitness.
The watch tells you your Training Effect after a workout (how anaerobic it is, how aerobic it is, and how much that workout improves your targeted fitness, based on your previous training data). It gives you your estimated recovery time, your stress level, and even a lot more.
Even better, the Fenix 5 supports HRV tracking, which is one of the best metrics for determining how fatigued (and how fit) you are, a metric used by many of the top strength & conditioning coaches. Note that HRV is supported by the built in software does not display it so you’ll have to use third party apps.
The Fenix 5 is the first Garmin watch that supports Bluetooth devices (other than your phone). That means you can pair your Fenix 5 with a Bluetooth chest strap (or other devices). This makes it a hell of a lot easier to train with as you don’t need to wear your watch when you say hit pads. Just wear a Bluetooth strap that’s paired with your Fenix 5, which sits in your training backpack. This works as long as you are within 30-50 feet of it.
I’ve upgraded my Garmin 235 to the Fenix 5. It was a pricey upgrade, but the huge assortment of conditioning metrics provided by the Fenix 5 is worth the upgrade 2x over.
Best Fitness Tracker Hybrid
The Fitbit Surge is designed for those who like cycling, running, and working out in general. It is more like a smartwatch than a fitness tracker, so it has lots of neat features that you may or may not use. The LCD screen is monochrome so it is more blue gray colors for the menus.
The Surge keeps track of your heart rate through LED lights. While it is recording that information, it also gives you accurate data on how many calories you have burned throughout the day. The Surge allows you to keep track of your heart rate during workouts and runs, as well as your resting heart rate. Over time, you will have detailed data about what causes your heart rate to fluctuate and what your normal heart rate is.
The monitor also has GPA to track runs as well. It uses satellites to track your distance, pace, and time. You can use the GPS feature with other sports such as golf and hiking. For example, when using it for golf it will map your route but it will not record your shots. The Fitbit Surge is a nice option for a heart rate monitor that provides you with detailed information.
Mio brought one of the first heart rate monitors to the market, so they have updated it a couple times to the Alpha 2. It is designed for sports and has a screen that fits level with the silicone strap. The tracker itself is pretty large, but the LCD display is bright and simple to read.
The heart rate monitoring alerts you when you move outside a target zone and records your rate while training across all five zones. The Alpha 2 does track your steps while you are exercising, but not the rest of the day, which is kind of weird. There is also no GPS with this monitor, which can be a downside. Yet, without the GPS it is water resistant up to 30 meters.
The Alpha 2 monitors your heart rate about every hour and stores this information. So you will get a good overall picture of your resting heart rate as well as your active heart rate. While this tracker is missing some standard features, like tracking steps, it is good for monitoring your heart rate.
Best Heart Rate Chest Strap Sensors
For some activities, you need to wear a chest strap that pairs with your heart rate monitor or smartphone. You can choose either an ANT+ device (pairs over an infrared frequency) or a Bluetooth enabled device.
Bluetooth is superior for distance and range, but not all heart rate monitor devices support Bluetooth (such as most Garmin devices) while all decent heart rate monitors will pair with an ANT+ strap.
Best Non-Bluetooth Chest Strap Sensor
If you are searching for a heart rate monitor that can handle swimming, cycling, and running, then the Garmin HRM Tri is for you.
It is lightweight and has rounded edges so you will hardly know you are wearing it. The battery lasts up to 10 months, so that is nice.
This is the best heart rate monitor strap overall, in our opinion, because it handles specific tracking for most of the major sports besides just running.
The swimming feature stores up to 20 hours of heart rate information during your swim. When you are out of the water, it gives you a real time report to the watch.
For running, it measures additional running dynamics such as vertical oscillation, cadence, and ground contact time. You can view these metrics by pairing it with a Garmin device that supports these extra running metrics (the Garmin Forerunner 235 for example).The Garmin HRM Tri is designed specifically for triathletes, whether you are a beginner or advanced.
The Garmin HRM Tri is designed specifically for triathletes, whether you are a beginner or advanced. However, you can use it for any activity.
Best Bluetooth Chest Strap Sensor
The well-loved Polar H7 was one of the go-to heart rate straps, being reliable, accurate and Bluetooth enabled. As of 2017, the H7 has been replaced with the Polar H10 which includes more sensor contacts on the band and some improvements in overall accuracy. It’s also able to store one workout session on the strap itself, so you don’t need to pair the strap with a heart rate monitor watch or phone to get the data.
The Polar H7 is about half the price, so if price is of concern, go with that. But if you want to best Bluetooth the heart rate strap, the H10 has the crown right now.
The MyZone MZ-3 is one of the top chest strap trackers on the markets. It can be used for a variety of activities, such as cycling, swimming, rowing, running, or working out at the gym.
The MZ-3 keeps track of your heart rate over time and studies your levels. There are five zones in all, which are color. You get points called MyZone Effort Points (MEP) for how longs you are in the different zones. For example, the lowest zone is gray and if you are in it for one minute you get one point. Yellow is the midrange and you get three points for every minute you are in that zone.
The MZ-3 can be used for the casual runner who is training for a 5k or for a marathon runner who trains hard. It also works well for those who go to the gym on a regular basis. Furthermore, you don’t need to carry your smartphone around because it stores up to 16 hours of data. This is a well-rounded heart rate monitor for athletes of any level.
It mainly monitors cycling and running but can do other types of workouts as well. You do need to bring your phone along for GPS monitoring, so that is a downside if you don’t want to carry it on workouts. If you are looking for a good chest strap for indoor cycling or you are working out near your phone, this is a good option.
The five different activities it tracks include spin class, static cycling, cycling, treadmill, and running. The data for each one is tracked slightly different. It will monitor your heart rate through all of the different activities. The monitor can calculate your burn and burst levels so you can train within your heart rate zones. The Tickr X is designed for runners and cyclists and can be used by both beginners and advanced athletes alike.
The Final Word
There are a lot of different devices on the market right now that have a built-in heart rate. The difference really comes down between what sort of advanced features you want in your device.
Do you just want a plane jane heart rate monitor and nothing more?
Or do you want a full notification system, mp3 player, 24/7 continuous heart monitoring, and fancy heart rate zone targeting features?
You’ll also want to decide specifically what kind of training you want to use the heart rate monitor for.
Are you just looking to casually check your heart rate during a light run, or do you want to specifically target your heart rate during serious training to aim to boost cardiovascular improvements?
And will you be wearing the heart rate monitor for high-intensity workouts such as Cross Fit, Muay Thai Pad Rounds, and sprints, or will you only be doing slow running?
Depending on your answer, there’s a difference device suited to that activity. There is no real ‘one size fits all’ heart rate monitor device just yet.
So think carefully about what you need it for and what you’ll do with it.
We’ll be covering some guides to the best fitness trackers and best GPS running watches in some future articles as these device categories are not necessary the same as pure heart rate monitors (and may or may not have any heart rate monitor functionality).
Our above list, however, gives the best overview of heart rate monitor devices we’ve found as of 2016 across all the product categories, be them smartwatches, fitness trackers, running watches, or pure heart rate wrist watches.