Best heart rate monitor: HR watches and chest straps compared

Want to get fit, fast and strong? Just listen to your heart with these wearables
Best heart rate monitors 2022
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Using a heart rate monitor is the best way to get more data from your training sessions.

Whether you're a novice runner, or a serious athlete, everyone can gain something from monitoring their heart rate.

Chest strap monitors are still the most accurate for working out, but heart rate monitor watches (and smartwatches) are now excellent options – if you use them in the right way. We've outlined that information below.

And heart rate monitors are for more than sport. The latest devices can help monitor your heart rate 24/7, help spot illness, stress, tiredness – and help tell you when to take a break.

We've reviewed and tested pretty much every heart rate monitor on the market – this is our list of picks.

Key considerations

HRM rework

Chest strap v heart rate monitor watch

The biggest battleground is chest straps versus watches or fitness trackers with heart rate monitors.

The latter use an LED array to "see" the blood pulsing through your veins, and estimate your heart rate.

Optical sensors are integrated into most wearables from the likes of Garmin, Fitbit, Polar and Apple. They're more comfortable and convenient, and, if you're running steadily, should do the job just fine.

Heart rate watch accuracy explained

However, when you start ramping up the intensity, doing functional fitness, or HIIT workouts, optical sensors placed on the wrist will struggle to cope with the rapid rises and falls in heart rate.

They can also be flummoxed by movement of the wrist during exercises, such as press-ups, burpees or Olympic lifting, as the skin contracts and tightens making it harder for the sensor.

Dark skin and tattoos can also affect accuracy, as skin tone can affect the light reflection. Sadly, not enough work has been done across the board to overcome accuracy issues because of ethnicity, so if you have dark skin and want the very best data from your workouts, think about a chest strap.

Chest straps use electrocardiogram (EKG) sensors are more accurate and responsive to rises and falls in heart rate, and the relatively steady position on your chest makes the data less noisy.

Where can heart rate monitors be worn?

HRM rework

Heart rate monitors are found on pretty much every smartwatch, fitness tracker and sports watch these days. However, there are a few things to be aware of.

The optical heart rate sensors found on most wearables are less accurate than EKG chest straps, and should be chosen by those that favor comfort and convenience over accuracy. The accuracy of the devices listed below is good for steady runs, cycles and workouts – but accuracy can dip during HIIT and workouts that flex the wrist.

That’s why many athletes still favor chest straps over a wrist heart rate monitor. However, that’s undeniably less comfortable – especially for women.

But there’s another option: some can be worn on the upper forearm – which we’ve outlined below.

Types of data heart rate trackers can capture

A heart rate monitor will track your bpm during workouts, and it’s important for that data to be accurate if you’re using it to train within zones. A small discrepancy could have you training in the wrong zone, and ruining your plans.

However, the quality of analysis of that data after your workout (such as VO2 Max estimates) is down to the platform you’re using to track your workout.

But Smartwatch and fitness tracker heart rate monitors can be useful outside of the gym. They will track your bpm 24/7, and analyse resting heart rate, readiness, sleep and even stress. So choosing a more generic device can generate more of a 360 degree look at heart health.

Best heart rate monitor watch

Whoop Strap 4.0

Price: Free with $24/£27 a month subscription | Whoop

Whoop Strap 4.0

Key considerations:

  • Body position – Wrist/fore-arm/bicep/compatible bra/boxer shorts
  • Sensor tech – Optical
  • Pair external HR sensor: No
  • Read our Whoop 4.0 review

The Whoop Strap 4.0 is a unique beast, acting as a 24/7 heart rate monitor – designed to help you determine the effect of workouts on your body after you've left the gym.

The band itself doesn't have a screen, and the fabric strap dominates the design. It's muted, unobtrusive and you can wear a watch (or smartwatch) on the other wrist without looking like a dork. It surprisingly only offers 5 days of battery life, despite the lack of display. You can also position it on the fore-arm, bicep or even in a selection of compatible smart garments such as bras and boxer shorts.

Whoop doesn't track steps and doesn't care about calorie burn. It's not even that good at tracking workouts themselves, and while sessions can be autodetected or manually entered, the feedback is simply max HR, average HR and calorie burn. You can also see a graph off your heart rate over time.

But it’s lazer-focused on the effects of workouts on your body, how much you recover and the quality of your rest – and how ready you are to do it all over again tomorrow. It scores Strain (workouts), Recovery and Sleep.

Whoop 4.0 assesses your sleep quality, and the strain of your workouts and day-to-day life. It then measures your heart rate variability, and other key wellness factors, to tell you how recovered you are. It will also factor in data on sleep conditions, such as whether you had any caffeinated or alcoholic drinks, worked on a screened device or shared your bed.

Whoop 4.0 also adds weekly and monthly reports on your fitness, recovery, sleep and health – and there’s an excellent Health Monitor, which uses a traffic light system to keep tabs on your breathing rate, resting heart rate and body temperature, to alert you when something is out of whack. We used it through a bout of covid, and it’s certainly on point.

But it costs a lot. There's a $24/£24 per month subscription – contracted for a year – but you get the Whoop Strap for free. You can pay less, with an $18/£18 per month subscription (18 month term) – but you need to front up (an insane) £324. That's for a wearable with no screen – essentially a heart rate monitor in a black case.

It’s kind of niche – but also excellent. If you can justify the cost, and the likely need for another GPS sports watch.

Garmin Forerunner 55

Price when reviewed: $199/£149 | Amazon, Garmin

Garmin Forerunner 55

Key considerations:

Garmin's entry level running watch doesn't scrimp on heart rate smarts – it has a built-in optical heart rate monitor using the company's Elevate technology – the same you'll find on the Fenix 7.

While it doesn't produce the same amount of analysis from that data as Garmin's top devices, it will still give you a VO2 Max reading after an outdoor run, and this is tracked in the Garmin Connect app.

And there are some extra features that are gleaned from heart rate data, which make it a powerful training companion, even at a budget price.

The recovery advisor will help runners know when to take a break to prevent overtraining an injury, and there's also a race predictor, which uses VO2 Max to offer guidance on how quickly you can run common distances.

And the Forerunner 55 also hooks up to Garmin Coach to suggest workouts that you can follow.

It still suffers the same dropouts and inaccuracies as most optical sensors at high load, so it's best for steady runners. Of course, you can connect Bluetooth and ANT+ friendly chest strap monitors if you need more accurate data.

But at this price, it's a solid performer in the Garmin range – and if you're looking for a heart rate tracking sports watch that doesn't cost the Earth, the Forerunner 55 ticks a lot of boxes.

MyZone MZ-Switch

Price when reviewed: $159/£139 | Amazon, Myzone

MyZone MZ-Switch

Key considerations:

  • Body position – Wrist/fore-arm/chest
  • Sensor tech – Optical + ECG
  • Pair external HR sensor: No
  • Myzone Switch review

MyZone's Switch gives you an armband monitor, wristband monitor and the traditional chest strap kind to offer more versatility in terms of how you get that hit of heart rate data.

It has both ECG and optical heart rate sensor technology onboard, with the idea that you use the two different methods on different parts of the bodies for activities where they are best suited to give you the best results.

So, for HIIT workouts, stick on the chest strap, for indoor cycling you can wear it on your wrist and use the optical sensor while wearing it on your upper arm will give you good data for runs.

The Switch has both ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity to connect to a range of devices and apps and does of course work with MyZone's own companion app. There's 36 hours of storage and it's waterproof up to 10 metres, which means you can take it for a swim if you want HR data in the water.

Battery life is anywhere from 3-6 months, with regular use of the optical sensor offering a bigger drain than the ECG sensor. Crucially, if you stick to the recommended wearing positions for different exercises the Switch can give you good data you can rely on. If you like the option of having multiple places to track your heart, this is the one to do it with.

Coros Pace 2

Price when reviewed: $199/£179 | Amazon, Coros

Coros Pace 2

Key considerations:

  • Body position – Wrist
  • Sensor tech – Optical
  • Pair external HR sensor: Yes
  • Coro Pace 2 review

Like the Garmin Forerunner, the Coros Pace 2 from emerging sports watch maker Coros is an affordable option that comes packed with features including a heart rate monitor.

It's optical based setup, with support to pair up external heart rate monitors as well. That onboard sensor delivers all the things you'd expect including continuous monitoring, training in heart rate zones, but also feeds that data into Training Load insights and will serve up VO2 Max scores as well.

Our early experiences with Coros watches and its heart rate monitors weren't great, but things have certainly improved since then. For steady paced runs and workouts, the Pace 2 holds up well for accuracy. Pairing up a chest strap monitor is definitely the way to go if you do a lot of interval and high intensity training, but in general it performed well in our testing.

Coros is always looking at ways to put that heart rate data to better use, so it's one that could evolve to become more useful. If you don't want to spend big on a multisports watch and want a good performing heart rate monitor, this is definitely one to look at.

Polar Vantage V2

Price when reviewed: $499/£449 | Amazon, Polar

Polar Vantage V2

Key considerations:

The Vantage V2 is the follow-up to Polar's top end multisports watch where it debuted its new heart rate sensor technology to improve accuracy from the wrist.

With the V2, you're still getting its Precision Prime sensor technology, which is LED based using two different color LEDs and a skin contact sensor to make sure it's taking reliable and accurate readings when you get moving.

That sensor fuels a vast array of features outside of the sports watch staples. It powers Polar's rich training and analysis features and also its advanced sleep monitoring, which is up there with Fitbit for accuracy and insights.

Put to the test, the Vantage V2's HR monitor does a solid job overall. It's certainly not free from the odd wild spike or strangely low heart rate and the start of workouts. In general, it does provide reliable data.

You do have that option to pair up an external heart rate monitor, and if you want to make the most of the V2's best features, that's likely the way to go. Though without it, it should serve many just fine as it did in most of our tests.

Apple Watch Series 7

From $399/379 (41mm) | Amazon, Apple

HRM rework

Key considerations:

We can debate whether you should call the Apple Watch Series 7 a sports watch or a smartwatch, but there's no doubting it's become a solid device for heart rate monitoring.

From a fitness point of view, we've put it through the same rigorous testing as we do with all of the wearables on this list and it really impresses where a lot of wrist-based monitors falter. We're talking high intensity interval training.

Data is viewable inside of Apple's own Workout app but the benefit of having a strong collection of third party Watch apps means you can also view that data in places like Strava and Runkeeper.

It also floods Apple Health with heart rate data, from 24/7 HR, heart rate variability, Cardio Fitness, resting heart rate, walking average – and all of these can be viewed as trends across the last day, week, month or year.

If you don't care about working in heart rate zones though, it's well equipped for taking reliable resting heart rate readings throughout the day and with the addition of an ECG, it's now fit to tap into heart rate readings to detect serious heart issues including atrial fibrillation.

That data can be viewed inside of Apple's own Health app and also be exported to a PDF to be shared with medical professionals.

While Fitbit and Samsung offer decent heart rate monitoring solutions on their smartwatches, it's Apple's that we think does the best job of making it all work and it actually does a better job than a lot of sports watches too.

Fitbit Charge 5

Price when reviewed: $149/£149 | Amazon, Fitbit

HRM rework

Key considerations:

When it comes to heart rate tracking, Fitbit has really been pushing things forward. We've picked out the Charge 5 here, because it's the newest device – and it's cheaper than the Versa 3 and Sense. But there's a lot to like, whichever Fitbit you choose.

As a heart rate monitor, it's multifaceted. Fitbit has lurched towards wellness, so the heart rate monitor populates the new Health Metrics dashboard, to keep tabs on key metrics like resting HR, heart rate variability and breathing rate. All of these can be signs of illness if there are spikes and dips – and the data is well-presented.

But workouts are also tracked, and Fitbit has plenty of workout profiles to choose from.

Heart rate tracking performed well in our review – unless you really start testing the sensor with rapid HIIT and lots of arm bending and motion. It's not chest strap accurate – and there's no provision for pairing one if you need an accuracy boost.

However, there are some metrics for people that workout over simple bpm.

The new Daily Readiness Score (for Premium subscribers) is a Whoop-esque assessment of how rested and recovered you are from workouts, using heart rate variability and sleep data.

There's also the Cardio Fitness score, which is a rebadged VO2 Max measurement.

And Fitbit has put new focus onto stress management detection, again leveraging the heart rate sensor.

While the Fitbit Charge 5 isn't a bulletproof heart rate monitor for athletes, it's also no slouch – and offers more insights than a simple chest strap. If your interest in heart rate goes beyond what happens in your gym session, it's a savvy purchase.

Best heart rate monitor chest straps

Wahoo Tickr X

Price when reviewed: $79/£64 | Amazon, Wahoo

Wahoo Tickr X

Key considerations:

  • Body position – Chest
  • Sensor tech – EKG
  • Connectivity: Dual band ANT+/Bluetooth

Wahoo's top-end heart rate monitor has been updated, and it's now smaller, lighter and better for tracking without taking your phone or running watch along.

The new Tickr X weighs just 48g including the strap is one of the lightest you’ll find. It uses ANT+ (used by Garmin devices) and Bluetooth connectivity and can broadcast bpm data to three different devices simultaneously.

But runners will love the extra data the new Tickr X provides.

It can track cadence, vertical oscillation and ground contact time in running activities, and the new Running Smoothness score pulls these metrics together to offer a singular assessment of your running style. It's much the same data as you'll get on Garmins with the Running Dynamics pod, and we love the focus on form and technique.

The TickrX can store 50 hours of workouts on board the sensor itself, so you don’t need to take your phone out with you to get the data – and it will appear in the Wahoo app. And it will track 500 hours before you need to change the battery.

It looks the part, will give you that accurate hit of data and is available at a good price too.

Polar H10

$89/£79 | Amazon, Polar

HRM rework

Key considerations:

  • Body position – Chest
  • Sensor tech – EKG
  • Connectivity: Dual band ANT+/Bluetooth

As we've already mentioned, if you care about accuracy then for us it's still the chest strap and the Polar H10 is the one we've found to be one of the most reliable.

The iOS and Android-friendly strap boasts Bluetooth and ANT+, so you can pair it to a whole host of devices and third party apps, including Garmin sports watches if you like.

It also introduces a modified design, adding silicon friction dots to help keep the strap in place, plus it's a bit 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 although it won't track heart rate intervals in the water. There's onboard memory to store a 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, mainly throwing data into Strava and the Polar Beat app, which is built for heart rate-based training. It's still a chest strap we go back to and can comprehensively say it still delivers the goods.

Polar H9

$59/£52 | Amazon, Polar

Polar H9

Key considerations:

  • Body position – Chest
  • Sensor tech – EKG
  • Connectivity: Dual band ANT+/Bluetooth

The H9 essentially replaces the older H7, coming in cheaper than the H10 too if you don't want to spend almost $100/£100 for a chest strap.

What's the big difference between the H9 and the H10? There are a few things. It misses out on the new Pro strap, which is designed to offer a more comfortable fit. It sticks with the strap used on the now retired H7. In our time with it, comfort was a major issue. If anything, we preferred the slightly more hugging fit.

It also doesn't offer the ability to store workouts or pair to two Bluetooth connections at the same time. If you can live without those features, you're still getting a heart rate monitor that delivers where it matters.

It's the same ECG-style method of tracking your heart to give you the best accuracy. It has ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity support and works with a host of third party apps. We've also successfully paired it up with Garmin, Polar and Suunto watches too. You're also getting a 30 metre water resistant rating, making it suitable for tracking heart rate for swimming.

Polar's companion Beat app is great if you're very much focused on heart rate-based training, letting you zone in on the metrics and insights that matter. We've used it for plenty of running (both indoor and outdoor) and like the H10, it's accurate and the most reliable way to get data you can trust.

Garmin HRM-Pro

$129.99/£119.95 | Amazon, Garmin

HRM rework

Key considerations:

  • Body position – Chest
  • Sensor tech – EKG
  • Connectivity: Dual band ANT+/Bluetooth

The Garmin HRM-Pro is smarter than your average chest strap that also promises to give you that accurate hit of HR data. So along with measuring your heart rate with an ECG-style sensor, it's also going to serve up a raft of additional metrics to delve into post and during a run.

Those advanced running stats are cadence, vertical oscillation, ground contact time, ground contact time balance, stride length and vertical ratio. If you know what those terms mean (if not, check out our running watch data guide), these can help to identify areas of your technique and running form that could help improve running style and hopefully get you running better and quicker.

Back to heart rate monitoring, and the HRM-Pro connects to devices using ANT+ and has a 5ATM waterproof rating making it safe for the pool and open water swimming. It's powered by the kind of coin cell battery you'll find powering a lot of watches. That should last you up to a year, before you need to pop it out and replace it.

If you participate in team sports, it can also now track additional metrics like steps, intensity minutes and all-day heart rate data.

We've used the HRM-Pro for plenty of testing including putting it to the race test where it was comfortable to wear and crucially delivered the data that mattered. If you've got an ANT+ friendly device and want that extra hit of accurate HR data and advanced running metrics, it's definitely one to check out.

Upper arm heart rate sensors

Polar Verity Sense

$89/£79 | Polar, Amazon

Polar Verity Sense

Key considerations:

  • Body position – Upper arm
  • Sensor tech – Optical
  • Connectivity: Dual band ANT+/Bluetooth

The Verity Sense sees Polar take the design of its OH1 and OH1+ heart rate monitor armbands and improve to make it a better fit for more workouts.

It uses the same optical sensor technology used in the OH1 devices and offers many of the same features. It now introduces a higher quality strap that can be worn on your upper arm of bicep to deliver heart rate data accuracy comparable with a chest strap monitor.

That strap is machine washable and the cradle that holds it in place solves one issue with the OH1 by preventing it from flipping over. That cradle also doubles as a Bluetooth antenna to increase connectivity range to 150 metres.

There's both Bluetooth and ANT+ connectivity letting you pair it up to a range of apps and other connected equipment, Battery life has been boosted to 20 hours and now has internal memory for 600 hours worth of workouts. Those workouts can now be synced over to Polar Flow, which was previously unsupported.

While the sensor technology remains the same, it's now easier to choose between transmitting data to device, recording a workout on the device or taking it into swim tracking mode. You're also getting a new swim adaptor to make sure it stays securely in place when you're in the water.

Accuracy against a chest strap monitor was very solid in our testing. For runs, indoor rowing sessions and home workouts, it rarely threw out any wild data like many watches have a habit of doing. We'd still opt for a chest strap for supreme accuracy, but the Verity Sense gets very close and should be good enough for most.

Wahoo Tickr Fit

$79/$64 | Amazon, Wahoo

Wahoo Tickr Fit

Key considerations:

  • Body position – Fore-arm
  • Sensor tech – Optical
  • Connectivity: Dual band ANT+/Bluetooth

Worn on the forearm rather than the chest, many will find the placement of the Tickr Fit more comfortable and favourable than a standard strap just like the Polar Verity Sense.

Unlike the Tickr X, the Fit uses optical heart rate sensors rather than standard electrocardiography. This has been much maligned for accuracy at peak and high intensity, but thanks to the upper arm placement, we found accuracy to be almost indistinguishable from a chest strap.

It'll dish out calorie burn data and is equipped with Bluetooth and ANT+ support so you can pair it with a whole host of fitness apps, smartphones, GPS bike computers and sports watches.

It's a great alternative to a chest strap, has 10 more hours of battery life than Polar's Verity Sense and crucially for an optical sensor, we found it matches up to chest straps in our side-by-side tests. If you hate wearing something on your chest, the Tickr Fit is a great option to consider.