Strapping on a good heart rate monitor is an easy way to supercharge your running or training. It not only makes your stats more accurate, but it also enables you to start heart rate training in specific zones, which can make your regime more efficient.
Increasingly, companies are starting to add heart rate monitors into running watches and fitness trackers, which use optical sensors to detect the blood racing through your veins. But as we've recently found out at Wareable, while these new optical sensors are a great way to ditch the chest strap and get beginners thinking about their heart rate, if you're serious about accuracy, you need to stick to the chest strap for the foreseeable future.
Essential reading: Optical heart rate accuracy, the experts speak
The bottom line is this: if you want pinpoint accuracy, get a chest strap. If you're just after more colour in your workout, and aren't interested in spending your sessions at specific bpms, a wrist-based monitor will do.
Read on for our recommendations.
Best heart rate training chest straps
The MyZone MZ-3 offers a whole lot more than simple bpm (beats per minute) recordings. You get your heart going with the strap on – whether that be running, rowing, swimming, cycling or a session in the gym – and earn points based on your bpm. Rather than simply scoring highly based on a big heart rate reading, the MyZone studies your effort over time and handicaps your levels.
Like the Tickr X, the MZ-3 has storage for 16 hours of data, so you don't always have to carry your smartphone while exercising.
Wahoo Tickr X
While we've seen the chest strap take a back seat in recent months, making way for more tech-filled watches and fitness bands, Wahoo knows it's not dead yet. And the Tickr X is the highest scoring heart rate monitoring device on Wareable right now with a very impressive four and a half stars out of five in our review.
The Wahoo Tickr X has internal memory that'll store 16 hours of your heart rate data and additional motion analytics that track your cycles too. You can workout without your smartphone, and then transfer all the data back when you're home and showered.
Garmin HRM Tri
A real pro tool for Triathletes, this ultra-small and light (a mere 49g) heart rate strap adds considerable bike and running smarts to some of the pool functions of the HRM Swim.
With an built-in accelerometer that'll deliver cadence, vertical oscillation and ground contact time data (like Garmin's HRM Run) while on two legs, and HR stat storage while actually underwater, this is one of the most rounded tools for the three disciplines there is out there. Garmin has also ensured there are no exposed seams and all edges are soft and rounded to prevent rubbing or any wetsuit-doffing difficulties.
Suunto Smart Sensor
Suunto claims the Smart Sensor is the world's smallest Bluetooth Smart heart rate monitor, and it's probably right; it's unfeasibly tiny. The size of a quarter, this little marvel has tiny studs that clip into Suunto's colour-coded belts, as well as compatible Movesense clothing. It'll store heart rate data underwater, but won't send updates in real time, while on land it'll track heart rate and calories burned.
It's Bluetooth Smart, so it'll pair direct with Suunto's Movescount app on your Android or iOS phone, as well as with Ambit devices. At 40g, it's no heavyweight, and it's waterproof to 30m.
Best running watches with built-in HRM
The TomTom Spark follows a series of well-received HR and sports trackers from TomTom, adding an integrated music player into the mix. The 3GB storage gives you more than 500 power ballads at your disposal and there's even a super-charged 'Running Trax' option, a bespoke mix of dance anthems via the Ministry of Sound.
The built-in heart rate monitor means there's no need for a traditional HR strap, and combines with GPS and activity tracking tools to make this an all-in-one fitness device par-excellence. The Spark is available now in a series of bundles including Bluetooth headphones.
Garmin Forerunner 235
The 235 is the Garmin watch with its own bespoke optical HR tech built in. It features full GPS tracking tech, a water resistant build and, more importantly, the brilliantly detailed and useful Garmin Connect software. While the HR feedback from running isn't exactly bang on the money, the data is usable for steady run sessions.
What's more, the Forerunner 235 will keep track of your resting heart rate and steps when worn all day, making it a great companion for hardcore fitness types.
Check out our full Garmin Forerunner 225 review.
Mio Alpha 2
The Mio Alpha 2 takes an EKG-accurate heart rate reading right from your wrist. Heart rate zones can be configurable, with an LED flashing light alerting you to your current zone, and it works with lots of different fitness apps. The onboard memory can hold 25 hours of workout data, with all the distance, pace, speed and calories data coming from the accelerometer.
One big caveat – the Mio does heart rate tracking well, but in our Alpha 2 review we found that it isn't enough of an all-rounder for the price.
Fitbit's Surge boasts an optical heart rate sensor and PurePulse tech that'll automatically monitor your stats every few seconds, using the data to maximise your training and accurately track calorie burn.
You can set a target heart rate zone, ensuring you're pushing yourself enough but not overtraining, and then beam all the data back to the fantastic companion apps. These apps have a nifty trick up their sleeve too – the ability to plot all of your heart rate readings on a graph and review all the data from many weeks in one go. In our Fitbit Surge review, though, what we didn't like was the price, the uninspiring design and display and the very basic smartphone notifications.
Best fitness trackers with HRM
Garmin Vivosmart HR
With HR on the wrist, the Garmin Vivosmart HR is a little less intrusive that wearing one of the companies GPS watches all day long – and with top 24/7 HR monitoring, all day wear is advised. However, there are some problems. There's no GPS built in, which makes it far less appealing to runners, accuracy dwindles at high intensity and excessive wrist flex during weight sessions.
Like any wrist-based HR monitor, the Blaze suffers big problems at high intensity where it succumbs to a fairly hefty lag time and motion noise. However, it's still good enough to colour workouts in the gym and on the road if you're not too worried about pinpoint accuracy?
On the plus side, the resting heart rate tracking is up there with the best, and if you're put off by the technical graphs of its competitors, Fitbit's app is one of the most accessible ways to track your workouts.
Jawbone UP3 and UP4
The UP3 and UP4 are almost identical apart from the NFC payment feature available on the UP4. Advance bioimpedance sensors on both bands automatically keep an eye on your resting heart rate, using the data to let you know how to take better care of yourself. A new update adds passive heart rate monitoring too.
The band can determine what activity you're doing and automatically adjust, while the Smart Coach is like a personal trainer on your wrist, giving you encouragement when you need it most. Take a look at our Jawbone UP3 review.
Headphones with heart rate monitoring
Jabra Sport Pulse
The Pulse takes a rather unique approach, taking your heart rate from your ears instead. These wireless in-ear headphones banish the need for chest straps or watches, taking the reading from your lug holes and sending that data to your smartphone via Bluetooth, with spoken feedback as you go.
Another high scorer in its Wareable review, we gave the Sport Pulse four stars for its features, comfortable fit and neat audio options. That said, some heart rate readings were dubious and again, it is an expensive wearable.
These premium, do-it-all buds offer wireless music (with storage for up to 1,000 songs) fitness and heart rate tracking and an ear bone mic for calls.
Getting up an running with Dash is relatively straightforward. Once you've paired your hearable to the Bragi app, you'll be able to select run tracking from the Activity hub. Here it'll show you that you can see heart rate, steps, distance, duration and calories. When you're out, voice prompts will keep you updated on heart rate status, steps and duration.
Have a read of our Bragi Dash review.
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