Q: I want to get a heart rate monitor to track my workouts, but I am confused by all the choices. Which heart rate monitor is best for fitness?
A: This is a great question and one that has come up in the my workout class. It is helpful to know heart rate so you will know whether we are achieving our workout goals as well as whether we are staying within our safe heart rate levels.
Doing pulse checks using clocks and timers does not work well since it cuts into the flow of the exercise. It also takes time to measure and pulse rate can vary greatly in the first few seconds after we stop exercising. Continuous monitoring would be best in order to know how certain exercises are affecting us.
Heart Rate Monitors
There are many, many different models of exercise designed heart rate monitors with prices ranging from very inexpensive to expensive. Here is what I found out in my efforts to evaluate them:
Heart rate monitors for exercise come in three basic designs.
Chest strap models – these types have a band that goes across the chest with special monitors that detect the heart beat. This transfers data to a wrist strap which offers the readout. The positives of this type of monitor is that it will give continuous readings and offers freedom of movement and accurate results. The negatives are that some may find the chest strap annoying and certain models are more comfortable than others. The contact points on the chest strap must be wet to get an initial reading.
Wrist only models – these use optical sensors which shine a light on the skin to illuminate capillaries and measure the pulse. This method is more accurate for a resting heart rate and may not be as effective during vigorous exercise. They come in two varieties:
Touch type – this style does not require a chest strap but requires that you press it in order to get a reading, which might be distracting in a workout. The reading may take several seconds to respond. You must have close contact of the back of the watch to the skin and my require being wet to make good contact.
Continuous reading type – this does not require a chest strap and offers continuous readout. Its biggest drawback is the prices on some models and lower cost models lack certain features.
Chest Strap Style Comparison
Polar Ft1 Heart Rate Monitor
This monitor has an easy to read display that shows your heart rate and also has watch features. It can display a summary of your latest workout and has an alarm that alerts you if you go out of your safe heart range. It comes in at one of the lowest prices of around $40 – 42.
This monitor measures heart rate but does not count foot steps. It does have a smart calorie feature and is water resistant. A nice feature is that you can replace its battery, something that is a hassle in some other monitors. Its price is around $48 – 50.
This version of monitor has many different features including a GPS to measure speed, distance and route. It allows you to create and customize training profiles and much more. Its price of around $350 reflects its full featured design.
This monitor has some features that includes calories, smart coaching, and a training program. It can sync with most gym equipment. It sells for around $50.
This monitor gives continuous heart rate and can indicate information about calories burned and activity level. The chest strap is a comfortable material designed to adapt to your body shape. It can connect to gym equipment and is water resistant. The price is around $60.
Wrist Only Designs
This monitor has Bluetooth technology and connects to fitness apps on both iPhone and Android devices. It can hold up to 25 hours of workout data and is water resistant. It has a rechargeable lithium battery. It sells for around $70.
This monitor requires you to touch a button to get the readout, but does not use a chest strap. It comes with a step tracker as well as heart rate monitor. The prices is around $58.
This monitor is full of about every bell and whistle you could desire including workout summaries, steps, calories, sleep monitor, syncing with smartphones and much more. The price of around $230 reflects its complex features.
As you can see the Polar brand came up a lot and that is because they seem to have more models than anyone else. They also have prices that stayed reasonable on many models and then jumped way up there on their higher end/multi-function model.
For those who are not troubled by the chest strap, then the best model for the money in my opinion is the Polar FT7. It has a few features that will be helpful to those looking for basic heart-rate and calorie burning without all the added details that would push the price upwards.
If you don’t want the chest strap feature and are not troubled by the idea of the optical reading being a little less accurate, then my choice would be the Mio Alpha. It seems to combine some good features but has a reasonable price point.
Now if money is no object then by all means, the Fitbit is top of the line of the optical readers and the Polar v800 top of the line of the chest strap models. However, for those who simply want to know their heart rate, these may have more bells and whistles than you will ever use.