The 6 Best Heart Rate Monitors of 2019

Get the most out of your workouts with one of these smart gadgets

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Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Fitbit Charge 3 Heart Rate & Fitness Wristband at Amazon

"Provides feedback on sleep and gives you reminders to move."

Best Budget: Letsfit Fitness Tracker with Heart Rate Monitor at Amazon

"Hooks up to your phone so you can see calls and text messages."

Best for Runners: Garmin Forerunner 235 at Amazon

"Uses GPS to track distance and pace."

Best Chest Strap: Polar H7 Heart Rate Sensor at Amazon

"The monitor transmits to compatible devices via Bluetooth."

Best Watch: Bowflex Strapless Water Resistant at Amazon

"Allows you to easily pull up your heart rate reading."

Best Earbuds: Jabra Sport Pulse Wireless Bluetooth Earbuds at Amazon

"Measures your heart rate via the inner ear."

Our Top Picks

1

Best Overall: Fitbit Charge 3 Heart Rate & Fitness Wristband

5

What We Like

  • Accurate

  • Great value

  • Sturdy but not bulky

What We Don't Like

  • App slow to sync

  • Buggy

Fitness trackers are popular for good reason. They give you an around-the-clock look at your health, from how much you’re exercising to how well you’re sleeping. The Fitbit Charge 3 is a fan favorite thanks to its do-it-all features.

Not only does it continuously measure your heart rate via pulse points on the wrist, but it also tracks all-day activity (like how many steps you walk and calories you burn), provides feedback on sleep, gives you reminders to move, and even walks you through breathing exercises. You can choose from more than 15 exercise modes like running, biking, and swimming. The tracker comes in multiple colors and the bands are interchangeable.

Our tester, who owned other Fitbits previously, thought that it measured heart rate accurately and that it was a great overall value: "I love the extra features compared to the [Fitbit] Alta HR," she said. "Plus, the straps are more secure on this watch." Her only criticism was that the device was slow to sync with its corresponding app. Some online reviewers also experienced glitches like random crashing or unresponsiveness.

Looking for more options? Read our roundup of the best fitness trackers.

2

Best Budget: Letsfit Fitness Tracker with Heart Rate Monitor

What We Like

  • Affordable

  • Connects to smartphones

  • Durable

What We Don't Like

  • Tracking not always accurate

  • May stop charging

Although some heart rate monitors can cost you hundreds of dollars, upping your workout game doesn’t need to mean emptying your wallet. The Letsfit fitness tracker comes with all the bells and whistles usually found on pricier trackers (like activity and sleep tracking) and also measures heart rate via sensors on the wrist. It also hooks up to your phone so you can see any calls or text messages so you'll never miss a beat while you're working up a sweat.

Reviewers love that this is comparable to more expensive name-brand fitness trackers, although some reported the tracking wasn't always accurate. Certain reviewers also said it stopped charging after several months of use.

3

Best for Runners: Garmin Forerunner 235

What We Like

  • Easy to use

  • Finds GPS signal quickly

  • Lightweight yet durable

What We Don't Like

  • Charges slowly with low battery

  • Slow to sync

With so many gadgets geared toward runners available, picking just one can be difficult, but the Garmin Forerunner 235 is a great choice whether you’re training for your first 5K or are a regular marathoner. Not only does it continuously monitor heart rate at the wrist, but it also uses GPS to track distance and pace so that you know exactly how many miles you logged.

The gadget also measures activity (such as steps walked and calories burned) as well as smart notifications, allowing you to view e-mails, text messages, and more without having to reach for your phone. You can even use the app’s wireless connectivity to view the weather forecast. But don’t be intimidated by the numerous features. People who own the Garmin Forerunner 235 say that it’s easy to use and that it finds a GPS signal quickly. In terms of negatives, some reviewers felt it was slow to charge (especially with a low battery) and that occasionally it was slow to sync with smartphones.

Take a peek at our roundup of the best treadmills you can buy today.

4

Best Chest Strap: Polar H7 Bluetooth Heart Rate Sensor & Fitness Tracker

What We Like

  • Comfortable

  • Strap doesn't slip

  • Limited two-year warranty

What We Don't Like

  • Erratic

  • Shorter battery life

Heart rate monitors worn around the chest are more accurate than wrist-worn trackers, but they can sometimes be a bit more difficult to use (they can slip and slide around). Luckily, many reviews of the Polar H7 say that the adjustable, soft fabric strap is comfortable and that slipping isn't an issue, especially if you wet it slightly before exercising.

The monitor transmits to compatible devices (like iPhones, Polar watches, and certain gym equipment) via Bluetooth, allowing users to track their heart rate in the moment and also analyze their workouts after. Some reviewers, however, reported that this product behaved erratically—in terms of both tracking and connectivity—after months of use. The gadget comes in both black and blue and includes a limited two-year manufacturer's warranty.

5

Best Watch: Bowflex Strapless Water Resistant EZ Pro Heart Rate Monitor Watch

Bowflex- Heart Rate Monitor
Courtesy of Amazon

What We Like

  • Very inexpensive

  • Good features for the price

  • Water-resistant

What We Don't Like

  • Tracking not always accurate

  • Flimsy bands

If you can’t leave the house without a watch on, it’s worth considering investing in a timepiece that pulls double-duty as a heart rate monitor. The Bowflex watch does just that. A traditional digital clock face lets you keep track of time during the day (it can also be used as a stopwatch and a timer). Then, when you exercise, quick touch technology allows you to pull up your heart rate reading. Do note that some reviewers felt that its tracking wasn't as accurate as more expensive models.

One reviewer says that the watch looks great with both workout and casual clothing, though some reviewers reported that the bands weren't very durable. It does, however, come in black, khaki, red, teal and white. It's also water-resistant up to 30 meters.

Need more ideas? Check out our article on the best GPS running watches.

6

Best Earbuds: Jabra Sport Pulse Special Edition Wireless Bluetooth Earbuds

What We Like

  • Versatile

  • Snug fit

  • Passive noise-cancelation

What We Don't Like

  • Short battery life

  • Decent sound quality

Earbuds that track your ticker? Yes, it’s a thing! The secret is technology that measures your heart rate via the inner ear. For people who love listening to music while they work out, the Jabra Sport Pulse Special Edition is a great pick. Not only do the earbuds have passive noise cancelation to shut out surrounding noise, but they also have enhanced bass to help bring your favorite workout or running playlist to life. Some users, however, found that their sound quality was just decent.

Overall, reviewers say that the earbuds stay snugly in the ear while exercising, which means that you won’t have to interrupt a run or set of pushups to push an earpiece back into place. And because they’re sweat-resistant, they’ll withstand even your toughest, most drenched workouts.

FAQs

What are the different styles of heart rate monitors?

There are a few common styles of heart rate monitors, including chest straps and wristbands. Chest bands often send data to a watch or app, while wristbands tend to display your heart rate on their screens. There are also earbuds that double as heart rate monitors.

What's the most accurate type of heart rate monitor?

Because chest strap monitors detect electrical signals emitted from each heartbeat, they're widely viewed as the most accurate—however, keep in mind that these monitors need to maintain constant contact with your skin to achieve this. Optical heart rate monitors, which typically sit on your wrist or arm, can also be accurate, but if your watch is slipping around or loose, the accuracy decreases.

How much do heart rate monitors cost?

Inexpensive chest strap monitors can cost as little as $20, but more reliable ones clock in at around $50. Fitness trackers with a heart rate monitor, meanwhile, can set you back around $40 (for lower-end options) up to $200 (for higher-quality, feature-rich models). Earbuds that double as heart rate monitors tend to cost anywhere from $50 to more than $200.

The Ultimate Heart Rate Monitor Buying Guide

Heart rate monitors may sound like a medical device you’d find in the hospital, but they’re actually more common for everyday use than you might suspect. Today, heart rate monitors are often built into fitness trackers, such as Fitbits, and they’re a popular tool for anyone who’s interested in optimizing their workouts. With a heart rate monitor, you can see how hard your heart is pumping and ensure you’re in the proper heart rate zone when exercising. This will help you achieve your fitness goals more efficiently without overdoing it and risking injury. 

Different styles of heart rate monitors use different methods to measure your pulse. Chest strap-style monitors typically use a process called electrocardiography to measure the electrical activity of the heart. Watch-style monitors, on the other hand, use small LED lights to measure blood flow through the skin in a process called photoplethysmography. With both methods, the data is then transferred to a receiver—usually a watch or smartphone app—that you can use to monitor your heart rate in real-time.

Depending on the style and sophistication you’re looking for, heart rate monitors can cost anywhere from $20 to several hundred dollars. Before you start shopping, you’ll want to figure out which pulse monitoring method would work best for your needs, as well as if you want additional features bundled into your monitor. Here are some guidelines on how to buy a heart rate monitor that’s right for you.

Key Considerations

There are several factors you’ll want to consider as you shop for a heart rate monitor. 

Style

As mentioned, there are two common styles of heart rate monitors: chest straps and watches. The major differences between these two styles come down to convenience and pulse monitoring method.

Heart Rate Monitor
Verywell Fit / Jenn Wing 

Chest straps, which typically use electrocardiography to monitor your pulse, are more cumbersome to use, and some people find them uncomfortable. However, they're typically more accurate and therefore the go-to style for serious athletes.

Wristwatches or fitness trackers with built-in pulse monitors are typically more comfortable and convenient to wear, and many people choose to wear them all day—not just when they’re exercising. Many of these models display your heart rate right on the screen, so there’s no need to carry a receiver, but they’re typically a little less accurate.

As the market for fitness technology has grown, several new, innovative styles of heart rate monitors have been introduced. For instance, you can now find fitness rings, armbands, and earbuds that have pulse-monitoring features. Because they’re new, these styles are typically more expensive, but they’re a good option if you find a chest strap or watch to be cumbersome. 

Target Zones

For many people, the main purpose of a heart rate monitor is to ensure they’re in the “target zone” to get the most out of each workout. Knowing your target heart rate zone and ensuring you stay within it while exercising will help you lose weight or build endurance more efficiently without worrying about overexerting yourself. Target heart rate zones vary depending on your age and fitness level—the American Heart Associationhas resources that can help you calculate your individual target heart rate zone.

To this end, another key consideration when purchasing a heart rate monitor is whether it communicates your current “zone” to you while exercising. Basic monitors may simply relay your heart rate, and it’s up to you to know what your target zone is.

Heart Rate Monitor
 Getty Images / Guido Mieth

However, more advanced models send notifications when you reach your target zone and if your heart rate gets too high. Some products offer as many as six zones and can track your time spent in each zone, and you may also find heart rate monitors that include different parameters for various kinds of exercise.

The best option for you really depends on personal preference. If you don’t mind doing the mental work to figure out if you’re in your target heart rate zone, a basic heart rate monitor may serve your needs perfectly. However, if you tend to zone out while exercising, you may benefit from a monitor that alerts you when you’re not exerting enough effort or when you’re pushing too hard.

Accuracy

As discussed in the intro, there are two main methods of measuring your pulse, one of which is more accurate than the other. 

Electrocardiography, the method typically used with chest straps, monitors the electrical activity of your heart. To do this, chest straps anchor a small electrode pad (which must be wet) against your chest, and when you exercise, this pad picks up the electrical signals naturally given off with each heartbeat. This method allows you to get continuous heart-rate readings, and it’s widely viewed as a more accurate method of heart rate monitoring. After all, this is the same system used in hospitals to do cardiac monitoring, just with one electrode pad instead of several. 

On the other hand, optical heart rate monitors, which typically sit on your wrist or arm, use small LED lights to track your pulse—you’ve probably seen these bright green lights if you’ve ever worn a fitness tracker or smartwatch. The green light refracts off the blood flowing through your veins, and while this method is accurate when done properly, it relies on the light having proper contact with your skin. If your watch is loose or slipping around, it can interfere with the accuracy of the reading. 

Because of these distinctions, serious athletes generally opt for chest straps that use electrocardiography. However, optical heart rate monitors have improved significantly in recent years, and today, they’re quite accurate if used according to directions. As such, a watch-style heart rate monitor is generally sufficient for the purpose of everyday workouts.

Heart Rate Monitor
 Verywell Fit / Jenn Wing

Connectivity

In our digital world, many people like being able to view and store data on their phones. If you’re interested in analyzing data from your heart rate monitor, you may want to look for a model that can be synced to an app or have its data downloaded to a computer. This information can be useful for fine-tuning your workouts, and some people even transmit the information to their doctors. 

Additional Features

Today, many watch-style heart rate monitors come with an array of additional features, many of which are focused on fitness. Popular fitness trackers with heart rate monitors often include:

Keep in mind that the more features your device has, the higher the cost will likely be. You’ll want to evaluate which features will be genuinely useful for you.

Product Types

There are pros and cons to each style of heart rate monitor that you should take into account as you shop.

Chest Strap Monitors

As you may have guessed by their name, chest strap heart rate monitors are designed to be worn around your chest. They come with a band that holds the monitor firmly in place below your chest muscles, and you must wet the electrode pad so it can sense the electrical currents created by your heart. Keep in mind this style of heart rate monitor must be in contact with your skin, so you’ll have to wear it under your clothes. 

Most chest strap monitors come with a watch that acts as a receiver, displaying your heart rate for you to see. However, some newer models transmit this information directly to your smartphone instead. Generally, this style of heart rate monitor is considered more accurate because it uses electrocardiography methods, but many people find it inconvenient to put on and uncomfortable to wear throughout a workout.

You can purchase low-end chest strap monitors for as little as $20, but you’ll probably end up spending over $50 for a reliable model.

Armband-Style Optical Monitors

Because fitness trackers have gained such widespread popularity, there aren’t many basic wrist-based optical monitors available today. However, there are still several optical armbands that you can purchase, and these are a good alternative for serious athletes who don’t like wearing a chest band.

Heart Rate Monitor
 Verywell Fit / Jenn Wing

This style of optical monitor uses the LED lights discussed earlier, but because the sensor is placed snugly on your arm—not your wrist—it will often get more accurate readings. Most armband monitors send their data to your phone, which can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s good if you like storing your data in an easy-to-access place, but not great if you don’t typically keep your phone on you while working out.

There aren’t many armband monitors available today, but the models you can buy are all in the $80 range.

Fitness Tracker

Arguably the most popular style of heart rate monitors today, fitness trackers come in all shapes, sizes, and price points. Some of the most popular brands are Fitbit and Garmin, but there are dozens of companies that offer these all-in-one fitness devices. 

Fitness trackers with heart rate monitors use LED lights to measure your pulse, and most come with many additional features to help you stay healthy. For instance, most have a digital face that displays the time, as well as a step counter. Many also include calorie counters or sleep trackers, and some can even be paired with your smartphone to display notifications when you get a call or text. 

The downside of fitness trackers is that they can move around on your wrist, leading to less-than-accurate heart rate readings. However, most experts agree a wrist-based heart rate monitor will work just fine for general workout purposes. Depending on what brand and style you choose, a fitness tracker with a heart rate monitor can cost you anywhere from $40 to $200.

Heart Rate Monitor
 Verywell Fit / Jenn Wing

There are also new fitness tracker rings that have a lot of the same features but without the digital display. Because they’re a new offering, these rings are typically quite expensive, costing $150 or more.

Earbuds

Finally, there are heart rate monitors that do double duty as headphones! The premise here is that many people listen to music while exercising, so why not measure your heart rate at the same time? These earbuds use optical technology to sense your pulse with LED lights, but there are several downsides to this style of heart rate monitor. 

For instance, most are wireless Bluetooth headphones, and they typically have a relatively short battery life and need to be recharged regularly. Further, low-end models often have poor audio quality and may not sit snugly in your ears. 

Depending on which brand you choose, this style of heart rate monitor can cost anywhere from $50 to over $200. 

Brands

There are several popular heart rate monitor brands that you may want to consider as you shop.

The most popular fitness tracker brand today, Fitbit offers several wrist-based models that include optical heart rate monitors. While these products tend to be pricey, many people like the convenience and wide array of features offered by Fitbit products.

Heart Rate Monitor
 Verywell Fit / Jenn Wing

Garmin offers several fitness trackers that include a heart rate monitor, and the brand also sells a chest strap monitor. While this company may not have the same name recognition as Fitbit, Garmin products are widely regarded as high-quality and durable.

Fitness company Polar offers a variety of heart rate monitors with a focus on durability and accuracy. They offer chest straps, armbands, and fitness watches at a variety of price points and sophistication levels. 

Wahoo heart rate monitors are widely regarded as some of the best you can buy, thanks to their comfort, accuracy, and convenience. Wahoo chest straps and armbands are a top choice among many professional athletes, and they’re surprisingly affordable given the quality.

If you’re interested in earbud heart rate monitors, one of the top brands in the space is Jabra. While not cheap, Jabra earbuds are designed to be comfortable and deliver superior audio, all while measuring your pulse during your workout.

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