Strapping on the best 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.
Fitbit, Apple, Garmin and Polar are among the many companies that are starting to add heart rate monitors into running watches, fitness trackers and even running headphones. They all rely on light-based optical sensors to detect the blood racing through your veins.
But, as we've found out in our extensive testing, 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, the chest strap still reigns in most cases.
Essential reading: Best heart rate monitors for Strava
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 for the latest heart rate monitors. Any questions? Let us know in the comments section below.
Best heart rate training chest straps
Like its predecessor, the Polar H7 (which is still available), the H10 is one of the most reliable sensors out there. The iOS and Android-friendly strap has a modified design, adding silicone friction dots to help keep the strap in place, and it's noticeably more comfortable to wear.
It still uses an ECG-style sensor that detects the electrical activity of the heart to deliver your BPM readings, but a new measuring algorithm and extra interference-preventing electrodes help improve accuracy. It's waterproof so you can go swimming with it and there's onboard memory to store one training session, just in case your phone or wearable dies on you.
We've been using it to test against a lot of the new fitness trackers and smartwatches that have landed at Wareable HQ recently and we can comprehensively say it still delivers the goods.
If you want more from your chest strap, the MyZone MZ-3 goes beyond churning out simple bpm (beats per minute) recordings. You get your heart going – whether that be by 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 high reading, the MyZone studies your effort over time and handicaps your levels.
Like the Tickr X (below), 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
The Tickr X, along with the MyZone MZ-3, 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 will store 16 hours of your heart rate data and additional motion analytics that track your cycles, too. You can work out 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 a built-in accelerometer that'll deliver cadence, vertical oscillation and ground contact time data (like Garmin's HRM Run) while on two legs, plus HR stat storage while actually underwater, this is one of the most rounded tools for the three disciplines 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 your 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 including the Suunto Spartan Sport. At 40g, it's no heavyweight, and it's waterproof to 30m.
Okay, so this isn't technically a chest strap, but it also isn't a watch, so we'll give it a home here. The Scosche Rhythm+ is a heart rate monitor that sits higher on your arm and uses optical sensors to read your heart rate through your skin, with two green and an additional yellow sensor used to help gauge measurements with all skin tones, the company claims.
You're given two straps so you can velcro it up around your forearm or your upper arm, making this a nice alternative if you don't fancy something strapped around on your chest but also want to keep an eye on other stats through a smartwatch or fitness tracker.
Moov HR Sweat
Although there's a chest strap version with the Moov HR Burn, Moov's HR Sweat uses your head to track your bpm. According to the company, positioning the sensor to the high temples on the side of the head, where the skin is thinner and the blow flow is increased, reduces sensor movement and makes for more reliable readings.
Building on the real-time coaching capabilities of the original Moov and the Now, the HR Sweat is a small circular sensor that sits inside a small silicone case and slips inside a sweatband or swimming cap.
As with its predecessor, you will then be coached through a range of sessions, including everything from HIIT running to all-over body weight workouts. It's a brilliant system and a leader in the real-time coaching space. We're still completing our review, but the results will be in soon.
Best running watches with built-in HRM
TomTom Spark 3
Of all the running watches we've tested that pack heart rate monitors, the TomTom Spark 3 and the original Spark remain our go-to devices for delivering accurate heart rate readings from the wrist.
With the newer Spark, you now get the addition of route exploration to view your location on the watch screen, plus you still get an integrated music player with 3GB storage giving you more than 500 high-tempo running songs to help get you in the zone.
The built-in heart rate monitor means there's no need for a traditional HR strap, and it combines with GPS and activity tracking tools to make this an all-in-one fitness device par-excellence. The Spark 3 is available in a series of bundles including Bluetooth headphones. If you want the same heart rate accuracy with more outdoor-friendly features, you should check out the TomTom Adventurer as well.
Wareable verdict: TomTom Spark 3 review
After disappointing with the heart rate monitor packed into the Polar A360, Polar's first Android Wear running watch proved more reliable in the HR department. Our testing against the Wahoo and MyZone chest straps showed that it is up to the task, even for interval training.
The M600 is a running watch and smartwatch in one but it puts the focus firmly on running, giving you GPS tracking and all the stats you'll need to track performance. It also gets all the Android Wear goodness, including smartphone notifications and Google voice so you can even interact with it hands-free.
Read our in-depth Polar M600 review now.
Garmin Forerunner 35
The Forerunner 35 is another Garmin running watch which features its Elevate optical HR tech built in. It also features full GPS tracking tech, a water resistant build and, more importantly, the brilliantly detailed and useful Garmin Connect software.
It's the same sensor that appears across Garmin's range, and it performs just like its stablemates – decent optical performance at a steady pace, but falling down fast at high intensity.
But you won't find a Garmin watch with heart rate monitoring for less, and it's packed with decent features such as 24/7 activity tracking including resting heart rate.
Check out our full Garmin Forerunner 35 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 a flashing LED 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.
Keep on running
- Using a running watch to earn your marathon PBHow your GPS running watch can help you cross the marathon line
- Best running apps for hitting your goalsWhether it's for your smartwatch or smartphone, these are the best apps out there
- How to choose the right running watchWant to start tracking your miles? Check out our running watch buyers' guide
Best fitness trackers with HRM
Garmin Vivosmart HR+
With HR on the wrist, our Fitness Tracker of the Year, the Garmin Vivosmart HR+, is a little less intrusive than wearing one of the company's GPS watches all day long – and with top 24/7 HR monitoring, all day wear is advised. HR accuracy does dwindle at high intensity and excessive wrist flex during weight sessions however, so that's worth keeping in mind.
But the built-in GPS makes it more appealing to runners than your average Fitbit, and data is pulled into the ever improving Garmin Connect companion app.
Take a look at our full Garmin Vivosmart HR+ review.
Fitbit Charge 2
Like any wrist-based HR monitor, the Charge 2 suffers big problems at high intensity where it succumbs to a fairly hefty lag time and motion noise. However, it's still good enough for 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. Looking for something with a slimmer design that still offers heart rate tracking? Take a look at the new Fitbit Alta HR.
Wareable verdict: Fitbit Charge 2 review
Withings Steel HR
If you want a reliable heart rate monitor hidden beneath a stylish analogue-style watch, this is your one right now.
The Steel HR builds on previous Withings trackers, adding a heart rate monitor that works continuously or during workouts. We've tried it and it's one of the best we've used whether it's for casual runs or something more intense.
The hybrid also offers automatic run and swim detection plus 25-day battery life and throws your data into the award-winning Withings Health Mate app.
Wareable verdict: Withings Steel HR review
Headphones with heart rate monitoring
Jabra Sport Pulse Special Edition
The new version of the Pulse adds continuous VO2 Max monitoring and still manages to deliver accurate heart rate readings from your ear. 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 Special Edition four stars for its great HR accuracy, solid sound quality and raft of sports tracking modes.
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 and 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 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. It's up there with the Jabra Sport Pulse in terms of delivering reliable heart rate readings from the ear.
Have a read of our Bragi Dash review.
Heart rate monitors incoming 2017
There's a host of new heart rate monitoring wearables that are on their way and are being put through their paces by the team, including the Suunto Sport Wrist HR, the Garmin Vivosmart 3, LifeBEAM's Vi hearable and JBL and Under Armour's Heart Rate headphones. We've also got the Polar M430 and the Garmin Forerunner 935 watches to look forward to, with both watches packing proprietary heart rate sensor technology.
Shop for recommended running watches on Amazon
Wareable may get a commission