Just what you’ve always wanted …
If the thought of unwrapping a heart rate monitor this Christmas gets your pulse racing, then make sure it’s the one that you really really want. I’ve been doing some research to help you drop the right hints to anyone likely to give you a gift and have come up with a variety of devices; taking into account wearability, value and accuracy.
Find your max heart rate.
If you’re not yet using a heart rate monitor (HRM), bear in mind that it will help you to exercise at the right intensity for your fitness level, whether your session is Zone 2, Zone 3 or anything above that. A Zone 2 session means working around 60-70% maximum heart rate (MHR) for around 45-90 minutes, while a shorter more intense Zone 3 session will be at 70-80% of of your MHR.
Remember, your MHR can be calculated by subtracting your age from 220, so if you are 45, your MHR will be 175bpm. However, this is regarded by exercise scientists as a very basic and often inaccurate way to establish your MHR.
The best method is to perform a maximum heart rate test. You should always consult your doctor before performing a maximum fitness test. In addition, you should always use the machine in which you race or train on. There are many different step tests to use whether you’re a rower, runner, cyclist, or any other sport. You can find a maximum heart test for just about any sport.
Once you have your maximum heart rate (MHR), you need your resting heart rate (RHR). Measure RHR first thing in the morning before getting out of bed. (How to measure your heart rate).
Heart Rate Reserve Formula
To find out your training zones, using the following calculation:
MHR – RHR x percentage of zone + RHR (eg 172-44=128×0.60=76.8+44=120.8)
60% zone 2 low intensity training starts at 121bpm
Getting feedback on how hard you’re working and whether the intensity needs to be increased or decreased will ensure you have an effective and safe work-out. During active recovery you will be able to track how quickly you are returning to your normal baseline rate and is an indicator of your fitness level and your overall heart health.
Wrist or Chest Monitor?
So what to look out for when choosing the best value heart rate monitor this Christmas.
Feedback from a HRM on your wrist can be had at a glance, however data from monitors worn on your chest, arm or finger will need to be transmitted to a smart watch, phone or other computer for analysis. The data is normally collected by measuring the electrical impulses created by the muscles in your heart as it beats, but more recently optical sensors that shine a light into your skin to measure the variance in blood flow have become widely used, especially in wrist based devices. During exertion, a wrist device becomes less accurate than one worn on a chest strap, as it is unlikely to be worn as tightly and the contact between skin and sensor may be lost. A wrist device, used in conjunction with one on the chest, will ensure accurate data.
The more sophisticated heart rate monitors offer a veritable smorgasbord of features such as, running analytics, cycling cadence, calories burned, GPS to detect speed, location and distance, blood oxygen saturation (SpO2) and sleep patterns. Have a think about what will actually be useful to you before you shell out.
Points to consider:
- The activities you take part in.
- Any health needs.
What type of athlete you are
- This will determine what level of data you need to see.
How and when will you wear a device
- On your wrist – a convenient way to track data throughout the day with immediate feedback.
- On a chest strap – gives very accurate data by placing the ECG sensor close to your heart.
- During sleep – consider a comfortable non-bulky device.
I recommend the Polar H9 as a good entry-level chest-worn device. It has Bluetooth and ANT+ connectivity. It will however only support one Bluetooth connection at a time, unlike the Polar H10 which will support two. The H9 also lacks a memory function to store previous data. To its credit, as a basic device for monitoring heart rate, it is accurate, easy to use and water resistant, making it suitable for a whole range of activities. Its strap, which comes in two sizes, is easy to adjust one-handed and is comfortable and secure. Though it’s more expensive than the Wahoo Tickr, reviews suggest it provides more accurate and consistent data.
- Connect through other fitness equipment and/or with a smart watch or phone (Polar Flow app).
- Ensure the device is Bluetooth or ANT+ compatible.
- Check whether the monitor on a chest strap is fixed or whether it can be popped off for ease of washing. Regular removal of sweat will save the strap from salt corrosion.
Heart Rate Monitors
(Note: ECG and EKG are both acronyms for electrocardiogram – EKG is from ‘elektrocardiogram’ in German)
From the many devices available I present to you a range that stand out to me, in order of least to most expensive and grouped according to your anatomy. I have given prices from the fitness brands themselves, however deals can be had if you shop around online.
Wahoo Tickr – Reliable and good value
£39.99 (Wahoo Fitness)
A good value, reliable, no-frills, chest strap heart rate monitor that will do the job it’s designed for. It can pair with three Bluetooth devices at once and also has ANT+ connectivity. For runners it will capture three advanced running metrics and is a good tracker for cycling. Though it’s waterproof enough for a downpour, it can’t track heart rate in the water, and so is not suitable for triathletes or swimmers. Its strap requires two hands to adjust and is easier to do once removed. The monitor has top mounted LED lights that confirm your connection as you work out and its slim form-fitting design makes it feel comfortable and secure.
I like the Polar H9. Easy to use, clip off the monitor and wash the strap, robust, good battery life, waterproof and safe for swimming. A cost-effective heart rate chest strap that will leave you satisfied and not break the bank. Supports Bluetooth and ANT+.
In the realm of fitness technology, Polar stands out as a pioneer, offering a comprehensive ecosystem to enhance your workout experience. At the core of this ecosystem are two powerful apps—Polar Flow and Polar Beat—specifically designed to complement Polar’s line of heart rate monitors. Beyond these proprietary apps, Polar has embraced a collaborative approach by seamlessly integrating with third-party applications, opening up a world of possibilities for fitness enthusiasts.
Third-Party Integration: Polar’s commitment to user flexibility is evident in its compatibility with a range of third-party apps. These include Nike Run Club, Runkeeper, Zwift, TrainerRoad, The Sufferfest, or the MapMyFitness family, Polar has ensured that you can seamlessly integrate your heart rate data into these platforms. This opens up avenues for diverse workouts, from outdoor running to virtual cycling and structured training programs.
£64.99 (Wahoo Fitness)
The ‘X’ means it has more features than the basic Tickr and this chest worn device is well suited to cyclists and runners with its running analytics and cycling cadence. With 50 hours of onboard memory the Tickr X allows you to run/cycle free from a phone or cycling computer. It’s deemed waterproof up to a metre deep for 30 minutes but has no swim metrics. It’s equipped with Bluetooth and ANT+ technology and can handle three concurrent Bluetooth connections. The only downside being that the strap is a little tricky to adjust.
This is a multisport chest worn device that scores high on accuracy. The Polar H10 is water-resistant and can be used while swimming, rowing, cycling, running and indoor training. It comes in two sizes to suit most athletes and there are a variety of vibrant colourways to add a little individuality. A big plus is its tiny silicone dots that keep the strap in place, even during high intensity workouts. The buckle style connector adds to its comfort. It has two Bluetooth connections and ANT+. Its built-in memory means you can store one training session before syncing with your phone. The free Polar Beat app will assess fitness levels, VO2max and heart rate variability (HRV – an indication of well-being), though it needs to be used with a Polar smartwatch to take full advantage of all the functions. Some reviews suggest that Polar Beat is slow to connect to the H10.
A more expensive device reflecting the long list of features, which only you know if you actually need. To take full advantage you will need a Garmin watch, as they can’t all be accessed via a smartphone. It has Bluetooth with three concurrent connections and ANT+ and will pair with any cycling computer including Zwift. It is water-resistant and features swim and run metrics along with onboard memory. Like the Polar H10 it will give data on heart rate variability. The heart rate module is small and lightweight and fits within the width of the strap for comfort. It can’t however be removed, which means only hand-washing is possible, rather than putting the strap through the machine. The strap is easy to adjust one-handed, doesn’t need to be worn too tightly and doesn’t work itself loose. You get what you pay for with this HRM.
A budget-friendly activity tracker with sleep, heart rate and SpO2 monitoring, claiming to track 151 activities, even kite flying. It is water-resistant, has a large 1.47” display and a bright AMOLED touchscreen. Light and comfortable with a whole spectrum of colour straps and custom watch faces available. It has Bluetooth technology and can be worn as a pendant or on your running shoe as well as on your wrist. It lacks built-in GPS but, for the money, is a good feature-packed wearable for all your basic health and activity tracking.
A very popular fitness tracker wristwatch with built-in GPS and all the major Google apps, including Google maps and Google wallet. It has an Android operating system, with Bluetooth and NFC connectivity. It has a bright AMOLED touchscreen and is water-resistant – the screen locks while in swim mode to prevent water from entering the tracker. You can access Youtube music and its 100 million songs but your compatible phone must be within Bluetooth range to use this feature. Unlike the larger GPS watches the screen display of distance run is small and difficult to read, but that aside this device accurately tracks your heart data, steps, calories, and sleep.
A tough watch, the Elemnt Rival has a ceramic bezel and Gorilla glass lens to withstand the hardest of workouts. It’s a water-resistant multisport device, well designed and not overloaded with unnecessary features. It will track heart rate and give calorie information. Its particular focus is triathlon with embedded sensors to automatically recognise transitions between the sports, leaving the athlete to focus entirely on their performance. The display is clear and bright and reviews say that it’s user-friendly and integrates well with the Wahoo app. The GPS is accurate and allows you to record routes even in dense forest but it has no navigation functionality. It supports Bluetooth and ANT+ technology.
From £219 (Apple)
If staying in touch with family or work while exercising is important to you, then this is the watch/heart rate monitor for you. There are higher-spec Apple watches available that might offer you more of the functions you seek, but this is an affordable model with the Bluetooth connectivity you’d expect from Apple. With a carbon neutral case Apple is leading the way with cutting emissions. It will track your heart rate and also alert you to irregular rhythms. Waterproof, it is designed for every type of exercise, from diving to a depth of 40m, to high intensity training and even meditation. Like a personal trainer, it will motivate you with features like activity rings to track your daily workout and award you when rings are complete. Reviews suggest that it’s slow to recognise which activity you are doing and the ‘always-on’ display isn’t included with this model. It’s a good option as an all-round smartwatch, but if Apple is your go-to, you’ll want to research watches higher in the range if you want more fitness features.
Again an example of getting what you pay for. This is new to the market from Polar who claim it offers the most comprehensive suite of training and recovery tools on the market. The Vantage V3 is a good looking device with a large, easy-to-read AMOLED touchscreen that will give you an ECG reading within seconds. It has Bluetooth and ANT+ technology. The accurate mapping with dual frequency/multiband GPS is a new development and perfect for cyclists and runners. It has a tough aluminium case and Gorilla glass, is water-resistant, tracks SpO2, skin temperature and 150+ sports disciplines. The super-charged, long-lasting battery is a particular feature and is rechargeable. If the price suits you, what’s not to like?
£240-£445 depending on metal and style (Oura)
This is an unobtrusive and lightweight device packed with technology and easy to wear 24/7. Data for heart rate, respiration, body temperature and movement are collected by its three sensors and summarised to score your readiness, sleep and activity. The results must be accessed through an app on your smartphone, for which there is a monthly membership fee of £4.80. Without membership certain data-related features aren’t available and you won’t get the best experience from this device. Before buying a ring Oura sends you a free sizing pack to ensure that you get the best fit and they recommend you wear the ring on your index finger.
Billed by Circular as the ‘world’s thinnest most powerful tracker’ the Circular ring is a less expensive alternative to the Oura. Recorded data is accessed through the free Circular app on your phone. It will track your heart rate/heart rate variability, sleep patterns, your activity and give data on distance travelled, calories burned, VO2max and temperature along with your SpO2 value and breathing exercises for relaxation. Reviews say that it’s comfortable for 24/7 use and it comes in a variety of changeable outer shells, so that you can switch it up. Note that it should be worn for 2 weeks before reliable data can be obtained and there is no paid subscription to an app.