For a very long time buying a heart rate monitor chest straps was the only option you could go for. But now smartwatches, running watches, fitness trackers and even running headphones pack in the tech required to monitor HR.
Whether it's using heart rate for running, cycling, swimming or finding out what plays nice with the Apple Watch, Strava or your Peloton sessions.
Wearables are now equipped to track your heart rate in relation to improving sleep monitoring, tap into stress tracking and even help detect signs of serious heart conditions.
So whether you want to supercharge your run, cycle or HIIT training sessions or simply keep a closer eye on your ticker with an extra layer of biometric data, we've picked out the best heart rate monitors to do that. We've also broken down which ones are the most accurate and the kind of things you should be looking out for when you're thinking of buying one.
Got any questions? Let us know in the comments section below.
Best heart rate monitor strap
Polar H10 chest strap
Best heart rate watch
Polar Vantage V
Best HRM for swimming
How to buy a heart rate monitor
When people ask us about buying a heart rate monitor in relation to fitness, it always comes down to the type of device they're using to work out. When it comes to chest straps, most use ANT+, which is only compatible with specialist running watches that use that same connectivity ‚Äď i.e. Garmin, Polar and Suunto watches.
So ANT+ is limited to specialist devices, and the rise of the smartphone is a big factor here; those who want to use their phone to work out will need to look for a Bluetooth-enabled strap, which will connect to apps like Strava, Runkeeper and Endomondo.
Chest strap versus optical wrist sensors
The biggest battleground is now chest straps versus wrist devices, the latter of which use optical technology to "see" the blood pulsing through your veins. Optical sensors are integrated into most new running watches, smartwatches and fitness trackers from the likes of Garmin, Fitbit and Suunto and Apple.
Essential reading: Best heart rate monitors for Strava
Debate rages about accuracy, so we will put it here plainly: chest straps are more accurate, and wrist devices will struggle when you're really pushing hard. However, optical wrist wearables are far more comfortable and convenient, and, if you're running steadily, should do the job just fine.
We should mention that there is a new breed of optical heart rate sensors that moves the tracking to the forearm and the upper arm, too. Both Polar and Wahoo as well as Scosche have heart rate monitoring armbands available that claim to offer the same level of accuracy you'd get from a chest strap. There are also heart rate monitoring headphones with the ear regarded as a place to deliver reliable data. Some companies are even taking readings from our temple to give us a more reliable hit of HR data. Much like wrist-based devices, you really need to get that fit right to ensure you get those accurate HR readings.
The accuracy question ‚Äď what's good enough?
At Wareable, we are serious runners, but are still happy with the imperfect data from our wrist devices because of the convenience they offer. Not carrying two devices everywhere is much easier, and when it comes to training in HR zones, the likes of Garmin and Polar do a good job.
That said, when indoor cycling, we do tend to reach for the chest strap. Why? We find it more comfortable on a bike, and the high intensity of a spin class works better with a chest strap than a relatively even-paced run.
For continuous heart rate monitoring whether that's during the day or when you're at sleep at night, wrist-based heart rate monitors on the whole do a very good job on the accuracy front based on our experience.
Best heart rate monitor for workouts like HIIT and spin classes
Buy now: Amazon | ¬£90
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 the most reliable.
Like its predecessor, the Polar H7 (which is still available), 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. It also introduces a modified design, adding silicon friction dots to help keep the strap in place, plus 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 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 the Polar Beat app, which is built for heart rate based training. It's still the chest strap we go back to and can comprehensively say it still delivers the goods.
Buy now: Amazon| ¬£129.99
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 ‚Äď whether that be by running, rowing, swimming, cycling or a session in the gym ‚Äď and earn points based on your bpm. It's also being integrated into a whole host of fitness classes at studios and gyms across globally.
Rather than simply scoring highly based on a high reading, the MyZone studies your effort over time and creates a golf-style handicap for your level. Your aim is to better your own performance, and like golf, MyZone adds a gamification element enabling you to compete against others, even at vastly different abilities.
Design-wise, it's your pretty conventional chest strap with a red elasticated strap, which comes in three sizes, along with the module you can clip out. It also has an internal memory - capable of storing 16 hours of data - so you don't always have to exercise while carrying your smartphone. It offers a 7-month battery life from a single charge and is waterproof down to 10m so you can take it for a swim too.
If you do keep your smartphone nearby, you'll also benefit from the live stats along with the league tables, personal goals and challenges to keep you motivated. In MyZone-supporting gyms this data often appears on big screen during your classes. The app has improved over the years too, adding new features that puts that heart rate monitor to better use.
Whether you're casual exercisers or a serious athletes, this chest strap will have appeal. It's comfortable, delivers accurate data and will help keep you motivated to work harder in those training sessions.
Wahoo Tickr X
Buy now: Amazon | ¬£70.76
Despite launching way back in 2015, the Wahoo Tickr X remains a great heart rate monitoring chest strap to consider thanks to its affordable price and additional features it manages to pack in. Especially if you're into spinning.
It looks like your pretty standard chest strap with a watch-style battery already embedded, which should last for over a year. It's comfortable, easy to clip on the sensor and easy to clean too.
While it's best suited to Wahoo's own Fitness app, it also works with a host of devices, making it perfect for those who like to work out with a smartphone, and has dedicated modes for spinning and other types of activity. What's more, accelerometers inside can glean extra stats for running while it can be combined with additional sensors to add cadence and RPM data for indoor cycling, making it a much better bet than most simple straps.
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.
It dishes out real-time heart rate data you can view in the paired app. It's also capable of helping you train within heart rate zones and you can set burn and burst heart rate levels (calculated by the device). All in all the data is excellent, and the graphs and feedback is as well presented as we've seen on any app. What's more, it's accurate too, and often, particularly when we put it to the spin bike test.
Even if you're not an indoor cyclist looking for that hit of heart rate data, this is still a fantastic heart rate monitor chest strap well worth considering.
Scosche Rhythm24 HR
Buy now: Amazon | ¬£99.99
So you don't like wearing a chest strap and you don't trust your wrist-based monitor to do the business. There is another option ‚Äď and based on our experience, it's one that does deliver the goods on the accuracy front.
Scosche launched the first heart rate monitoring armband before Wahoo and Polar decided to offer something similar. Like its predecessor, the Rhythm24 HR sits on the forearm to track your BPMs. The idea is that there are less motion artefacts that can impact on a reading that can happen further down on the wrist.
It's available in a range of different coloured bands, is waterproof and has the ability to store workouts onto the wearable and then sync it later. The LED lights built-in indicate your current heart rate zone while training and can also indicate when you need to stick it back on the charger.
The Rhythm24 is ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart-compatible so you can use it with a whole bunch of third-party fitness apps, sports watches and sports equipment. There's also the Scosche companion app where you'll find dedicated profiles for a range of activities. It's clean, simple and very easy to use keeping you firmly focused on that heart rate data.
We've tried the Rhythm24 HR and the sweat-proof and water resistant wearable passed the high intensity interval test. Plus, it was also very comfortable to wear during our workouts. It's also capable of measuring heart rate in the water, but we're still putting that to the test to find out just how reliable that data is.
Bottom line, Scosche proves you can comfortably wear a heart rate monitor elsewhere on your body and still get those results you crave.
Check out our Scosche Rhythm24 HR review to find out more about the heart rate monitoring armband.
Best running watch for heart rate
Polar Vantage V
Buy now: Amazon | ¬£439
Polar's heritage is built on heart rate monitors, so it's no surprise to find that it's making the biggest progress as far as improving readings from the wrist. With the new Vantage V and cheaper Vantage M and Ignite multisport watches, it's come up with some of the best in the business.
Polar still uses an optical based sensor, but its sought to improve accuracy and reliability by adding additional LED sensors to penetrate the skin deeper to take a reading. It's also using more LEDs and including electrode sensors to ensure the sensor is in proper contact with the skin.
HR sample data: Polar (left) and Garmin chest strap (centre)
That heart rate monitor is used for a whole host of features on the new Vantage watches. So along with real-time heart rate data during exercise, you also get VO2 running estimates, calorie burn based on maximum heart rate and more advanced metrics like cardio load and muscle load for those really serious about training.
In addition to those hardcore training metric, it'll also continuously measure heart rate 24/7 pinpointing when heart rate is at its highest and lowest to help accurately calculate calorie burn.
We've throughly put it to the test and found the monitor to be a solid performer for activities like running and interval training where most optical sensors are susceptible to having problems. It's a similar story for the Vantage M, which offers the same sensor tech inside of a more affordable watch design. Polar still regards its H10 chest strap as the best heart rate solution for serious athletes and is still required to carry out a number of the training-centric tests available on the Vantage V (like the orthostatic test). But on the whole, we were very impressed with how well Polar does dishing out heart rate metrics.
Check out our full Polar Vantage V review and Polar Vantage M review to see how the two shaped up in other departments. Also, look out for the Polar Ignite, which will also feature the same heart rate tech.
Garmin Forerunner 945
Buy now: Amazon | ¬£519.99
The Forerunner 945 sits at the top table of Garmin's sport watch line up, and is designed with hardcore triathletes in mind. It makes use of Garmin's latest Elevate optical HR tech, and in our testing it's mustered the best performance of a Garmin device to date.
Read this: Training with heart rate zones
Unlike the bulkier Fenix series of watches, the 945 brings that heart rate monitor tech into a slimmer more lightweight body. And it's packed with heart rate-based features that you can make use of. You can train in heart rate zones, receive heart rate alerts, and broadcast heart rate data over ANT+ with paired devices. You can go swimming with it of course, but you'll need to pair it with Garmin's HRM-Tri or HRM-Swim bands to get reliable data in the water.
Outside of workouts, you can also perform HRV stress tests to asses how well recovered your body is for taking on your next workout session. Additional heart tate-based metrics including lactate threshold can be unlocked when it's paired with Garmin's Running Dynamics Pod.
HR sample data: Garmin (left) and chest strap (centre and right)
In our testing putting it up against Polar's H10 chest strap, it actually fared really well and is definitely an improvement on what we've seen from Garmin's heart rate setup in the past.
While the Fenix 5 and other Forerunners have been sluggish in early parts of runs and during high intensity, the Forerunner 945 put in a solid performance, which makes it much easier to recommend. Of course, the Forerunner 945 is capable of being paired with a chest strap if you do really need that hit of accurate data.
But if you're looking for a sports watch that's slimmer than the Vantage V but still delivers generally solid heart rate results for everyday training, the Forerunner 945 is well worth considering.
Check out our full Garmin Forerunner 945 review.
Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR
Buy now: Amazon| ¬£169.25
Suunto's Spartan watches are steadily becoming better rivals to Garmin and Polar's top end watches, and one of the ways the company is doing that is through its improving heart rate monitoring skills.
We could be talking about the Spartan Sport Wrist HR, but with the slimmer body and pretty much the same features, the Trainer Wrist HR is the one we'd like keeping an eye on our BPMs.
It uses an optical based sensor like the majority of devices on this list and also has the benefit of being able to be paired to Bluetooth Smart-packing chest straps if you're not satisfied with the HR data. That compatibility also means you can record heart rate during swimming when paired with Suunto's Smart Sensor accessory.
Along with real-time heart rate data it'll also dish our data relating to heart rate average, heart rate zones, provide insights into recovery and optimal performance condition and provide calorie burn estimates.
HR sample data: Suunto (left) and Polar chest strap (centre and right)
Like its more expensive sibling, the triathlon-friendly watch performed very well in our own heart rate monitor tests and is up there with Polar for one of the wrist based sensors we've tried. We put it through high intensity training, checked in on resting heart rate throughout the day and put it through the running test and were pleased overall with what it delivered. It wasn't identical to a chest strap, but it didn't dish out anything that was wildly inaccurate.
It's a well priced sports watch and while we have our gripes about Suunto's software, we can't massively fault the heart rate sensor and the other hardware features that make it a solid buy.
Have a read of our Suunto Spartan Trainer Wrist HR review to see what we liked and disliked about the heart rate monitoring sports watch.
Garmin HRM Tri
Buy now: Amazon| ¬£62.95
There are a lot of wrist-based sports watches that claim to offer accurate heart rate monitoring in the water. We are talking about the likes of the Polar Vantage V and Vantage M. The Scosche Rhythm24 armband and the new Polar OH1+ (which can be worn on your goggles) promises accuracy on par with a chest strap too. New devices like Instabeat, promise to let you view real-time heart rate through your goggles. We haven't tested those comprehensively enough to say they do deliver the goods, so for now we are going to stick with a chest strap that does.
The HRM Tri strap from Garmin is a real pro tool for triathletes. It's an ultra-small and light (a mere 49g) heart rate strap that 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.
Apple Watch Series 4
Buy now: Amazon | ¬£399
We can debate whether you should call the Apple Watch Series 4 a sports watch or a smartwatch, but there's no doubting it is becoming a solid device for heart rate monitoring. That heart rate monitor can be used for exercise but also for keep closer tabs on your heart health.
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 falters. 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.
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.
Along with the improved hardware, Apple has clearly done some software tinkering too to improve the performance of its heart rate monitor in a big way. While Fitbit and Samsung do 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.
Have a read of our Apple Watch Series 4 review to see why we're big fans of the new Apple smartwatch.
Fitbit Charge 3
Buy now: Amazon |¬£119
The Fitbit Charge 3 is the company's new flagship tracker and it's packing the same HR setup as the Charge 2. So expect a similar performance. Like any wrist-based HR monitor, it can struggle at high intensity, but it will still be good enough for workouts in the gym and on the road if you're not too worried about pinpoint accuracy.
It's relying on Fibit's own PurePulse technology to deliver features like real-time heart rate bpm readings while working out and the ability to train in heart rate zones. Like the Apple Watch though, it's not just about using heart rate for exercise here. The Charge 3 also monitors heart rate continuously to assess your current state of fitness through resting heart rate readings.
It also uses that sensor to unlock mindfulness features like stress tracking through guided breathing exercises. The heart rate sensor is also put to use during sleep monitoring to produce additional metrics to help analyse the quality of your time in the land of nod.
HR sample data: Polar (top) and Fitbit (bottom)
In our testing, we had mixed results. The Charge 3's sensor seemed to lag behind the chest strap we tested it against throwing up some suspect live readouts. Post workout, the Charge 3 was better at analysing data in the app than it was during a workout. When it comes to continuous heart rate monitoring, it's certainly a different story and that real-time data feels a lot more reliable.
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 and HR data too. it's not a perfect tracker by any means, but definitely more reliable than a lot of fitness trackers we've tried. Also, If you're looking for something with a slimmer design that offers heart rate tracking and is cheaper, definitely take a look at the Fitbit Inspire HR.
Have a read of our in-depthFitbit Charge 3 review for more insights into Fitbit's flagship fitness tracker.
Garmin Vivosmart 4
Buy now: Amazon | ¬£100
The Vivosmart 4 is one of the best fitness trackers out there thanks to its slimline design but also because it because it does to enhance the use of its onboard heart rate monitor to offer more insightful data.
It can of course be used to measure exercise intensity although you'll be relying on the motion sensors to track that activity as there's no GPS support. There's support to take VO2 Max measurements, so the maximum amount of oxygen your body can utilize during exercise. Just note that you'll need to do a few workouts to get this calibrated.
Like Fitbit's tracker it can also offering continuous heart rate monitoring during the day to deliver those resting heart rate readings that can indicate your current levels of health and fitness.
HR sample data: Garmin (left) and Polar chest strap (right)
In addition to that, it'll also take heart rate variability measurements to activate stress tracking and put Garmin's new Body Battery feature to good use. This feature aims to give you a better insight into how well recovered your body is for your next workout session. It does that by taking into account your stress level (measured using heart rate variability), recent physical activity and how much sleep you‚Äôve been getting giving you a score as a percentage.
Performance-wise, the Vivosmart 4 isn't a tracker designed for people with serious athletic ambitions and that's reflected in the performance of the heart rate sensor. It's good for casual users who want to monitor their fitness levels, but it might let you down when things get more intense.
For a surprisingly slender tracker though, the Vivosmart 4 does a whole lot with the heart rate monitor it manages to squeeze in. If you do want something more feature-packed (but minus the Body Battery feature), you can always go for the Vivosport instead.
Check out orour full Garmin Vivosmart 4 review.
Xiaomi Mi Band 4
Buy now: Amazon | ¬£34.99
While the previous Mi Bands have generally underwhelmed in the HR tracking department, there are some surprisingly big improvements with the Mi Band 4.
It still uses an optical, light-based sensor like most wearables on this list, which enables you to take on the spot readings, train in heart rate zones and see resting heart rate trends in the companion Mi Fit app.
Heart rate compared: Mi Band 4 (left and centre) and Garmin Marq Athlete with chest strap (right)
While we fully expected the Mi Band 4 to disappoint in the high intensity test, we found that it held up well against a chest strap dishing out reliable average heart rate and max heart rate data readings.
Like a lot of optical sensors, the Mi Band took longer to pick up the heart rate fluctuations, but for a budget tracker it delivered a decent performance. We couldn't however say the same for the accuracy of on the spot readings, which offered some wildly inaccurate readings at times.
Overall, for the price, if you want an affordable fitness tracker with strong HR skills for workouts, the Mi Band 4 could be the one for you.
Withings Steel HR Sport
Buy now: Amazon | ¬£145.90
The Withings Steel HR Sport is a stylish hybrid that will give you a similar performance to what the Nokia Steel HR delivered in terms of heart rate monitor performance and that's a good thing.
If you're thinking, wait, Withings? Yes, the co-founder of Withings has bought back the business he sold to Nokia two years ago. The Steel HR Sport is the successor to the Steel HR and if you want a reliable heart rate monitor hidden beneath a stylish analogue-style watch, this should be your one.
With the screen baked into the top of the watch face you can now view real-time heart rate data during your workout. Additional heart rate based features include the ability to take VO2 measurements to assess your fitness level. Unfortunately you cannot adjust heart rate zones, for anyone planning to rely on it for a HIIT class.
HR sample data: Withings (left) and Polar chest strap (right)
In testing, the experience was very good and it even held up in some interval training where most optical sensors falter badly to keep up with the rapid change in heart rate. Live readouts tended to trail behind the Polar H10 chest strap we tested it against. Once the session was over though, that data seemed to correct itself in the graphs. The final result was exceptionally close; the Steel HR Sport can keep up.
In the companion Health Mate app you'll be able to view your current heart rate data if you're working out with your phone nearby. It keeps things simple when your session is done and you need to pore over the data.
You'll certainly get more advanced heart rate based metrics elsewhere, but in terms of a hybrid that can handle being put to the sweaty test in the gym our out on a run, the Steel HR Sport does a fine job.
You can check out our full verdict on the sleek hybrid in our Withings Steel HR Sport review to find out how its other features fared in our testing.