If you want to keep a better eye on your overall fitness, a heart rate monitor (or HRM) should be a serious consideration. We’ve recommended the absolute best heart rate monitors, from chest straps to wrist wearables and more.
When it comes to your cardiovascular system, not surprisingly, your heart plays an integral role. Responsible for getting oxygenated blood to where it’s needed, and deoxygenated blood back to your lungs, your heart becomes more efficient the fitter you get. As such it’s at the, ahem, heart of a healthy circulatory system.
Keeping tabs on your heart’s performance during a workout, by working in specific heart rate zones, enables you to exercise more effectively towards your goals. A heart rate monitor can make you aware of your resting heart rate, which will provide an overview of your health as well. As you become fitter, you’ll find that your resting heart rate decreases.
You heart rate is also used by many wearables to estimate your VO2 Max, which is another fantastic way to gauge your overall fitness. If you want the most accurate VO2 Max estimation, you’ll want to have an accurate heart rate performance measurement, as the algorithm uses your heart rate as an integral part of its calculation.
Related: What is VO2 Max?
A chest-based HRM continues to provide the most consistent and accurate reading, thanks to higher sampling rates and less fluctuation in its positioning on your body. However, it isn’t exactly the most convenient nor the most comfortable.
Related: What are heart rate zones?
Nowadays, many fitness trackers and smartwatches include an optical HRM. These use light to read your heart rate through your wrist. While they’re undoubtedly more convenient, optical HRMs aren’t always the best for people who partake in high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and other workouts that produce rapid deviations in heart rate.
If you find the idea of strapping on a chest monitor too tedious and wrist-worn trackers too unreliable, there are HRMs you can wear in your ears too. These are integrated into headphones, which means one less device to have to put on if you’re a fan of working out or running to music.
Related: Best running headphones
In addition, HRMs for the ears tend to move around a lot less, and as such are usually more consistent than a tracker on your wrist. The thinner skin in your ears also means that they better lend themselves to heart rate readings. The Moov HR is another innovative option, sitting around your head and taking a reading from your temples.
A good heart rate monitor will integrate with other apps through Bluetooth or ANT+, letting you share your heart rate data regardless of your app of choice. An app such as Strava will work with a wide range of heart rate monitors, for example.
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We’ve listed some of the best HRMs we’ve tested, giving you plenty of options depending on your preferred wearing style and training methodology. Be sure to read the full reviews for the complete lowdown, too.