Steps once reigned supreme as the go-to metric for fitness trackers, but nowadays heart rate monitoring has become the essential feature on wearables. It’s a welcome development (although we still think 10,000 steps is a worthwhile goal) because tracking your heart rate allows you to see how hard you’ve pushed yourself in an individual workout if you figure out your heart rate zones and also provides a measure of your overall fitness over time through your resting heart rate or VO2 max.
All these features are now crammed into more cheaper and smaller trackers than ever before, and the choices keep on growing in terms of where on your body you want to strap on those trackers. If you’re keen on grabbing a slice of the ticker-tracking action, here’s a list of the best heart rate monitors on the market.
The Best Heart Rate Monitors For Your Wrist
It’s fair to say all wrist-based trackers have some accuracy issues for heart rate tracking. That said, you can still get a lot of information from the readings they provide, and they are more convenient to wear than a chest strap. Expect to pay upwards of £120 or so for a wrist tracker with heart rate monitoring capabilities.
Heart rate tracking is at the core of everything the Polar M430 running watch does. It links with the Polar Flow website to offer training programmes with sessions based on your ticker. That means interval workouts where you have to get up into the higher heart rate zones, long runs where your task is to keep your heart rate low, and phased runs where you gradually increase how hard you’re working. This integrated approach shows off how useful heart rate tracking can actually be in a wearable, because you can base your entire approach to training on it and improve your fitness. £199.50 (currently reduced to £189.50), buy on polar.com
RECOMMENDED: Polar M430 Fitness Tracker Review
Fitbit Charge 2
The PurePulse technology in the Charge 2 (and several other Fitbit trackers, the cheaper Alta HR and the more expensive Versa and Ionic smartwatches) tracks your heart rate continuously throughout the day and night. In that sense it’s not especially remarkable in the market, but what Fitbit does with the information sets it apart.
The app will show your resting heart rate over time, which is a solid indication of whether you are getting fitter. Furthermore, the Fitbit app gives you a Cardio Fitness Score reading. This equates to a VO2 max measurement and is an even better indication of your overall fitness level. The Cardio Fitness Score is also plotted on a chart to show you whether it’s a good score or not compared with other people of your age and sex.
After your activities the Fitbit app also gives you a graph that tracks your heart rate throughout the exercise, colour-coded by which zone you were in at a given time. There are three zones – Fat Burn, Cardio and Peak – so you can easily see if your workout hit the intensity you were aiming for. £139.99, buy on fitbit.com
RECOMMENDED: Fitbit Charge 2 Review
TomTom Spark 3 Cardio
This waterproof GPS watch can be used for everyday step and sleep tracking, but it’s at its best when you are actually doing some kind of activity and the heart rate monitoring comes to the fore.
The screen can show a graph of your heart rate in real time throughout the exercise you’re doing and you can also set it up to show a target zone to aim for. There are five different heart rate zones on the Spark, ranging from easy up to sprint. After your activities you’ll see a graph of your heart rate and the percentage of your time you spent in each zone. You can also try the built-in workouts on the Spark for running and cycling, which use your existing fitness level to create personalised heart rate-based interval sessions.
The Spark will also bestow upon you Fitness Points based on the intensity of your activity, which all counts towards a daily total – over 100 will help you maintain your fitness, while regularly hitting 500 will improve your VO2 max. £169.99, buy on tomtom.com
RECOMMENDED: TomTom Spark 3 Review
The Best Chest Strap Heart Rate Monitors
If you want real accuracy with your heart rate tracking you need to go for a chest strap. Some find them a little uncomfortable and you wouldn’t want to wear them all the time like a wrist-based tracker, but they can’t be bested when it comes to reliable beats-per-minute data.
It can be tricky for even waterproof trackers to get a reliable heart rate reading when swimming because the water buffets them about and interferes with the optical sensors used on wrist wearables. This chest tracker from Garmin has a non-slip strap to keep it in place when you push off from the end of a pool, and can be used for open-water swimming as well. If you’re using another compatible Garmin device, the HRM-Swim will beam your heart rate to it every time your chest pops out of the water, but it also stores the data to upload to your smartphone so you can review it after your workout. £79.99, buy on garmin.com, check price on amazon.co.uk
The MYZONE tracker is dead set on making your heart rate the focus of your workouts by awarding Effort Points based on the heart rate zone you’re in, whatever kind of training you favour. So time spent in a higher heart zone earns more points, which contribute toward a monthly goal and appear in rankings against fellow MZ-3 users. You can watch those points roll in live via the MyZone app, which also has a vast array of easy-to-follow heart rate-based workouts called Zone Match games. They are especially useful if you’re stuck for an idea for your next exercise bike or treadmill session – all you have to do is match your heart rate zone to the one demanded by the workout and you’ll earn extra points. On the other hand, if you’d rather not be tied to your phone while you exercise, the MZ-3 can store 16 hours of data so you don’t need to sync it after every workout. £129.99, buy on myzone.org, check price on amazon.co.uk
Wahoo Tickr X
Like the MZ-3, the Tickr X is a highly-accurate chest strap tracker with space for 16 hours of workouts before you need to sync it up. It will also link up with dedicated Wahoo apps RunFit and 7 Minute Workout to track your exercise in more depth, including rep and calorie counting. You can also connect it to popular third-party apps like Strava to add heart rate data to your exercise. £64.99, buy on wahoofitness.com
The Best Heart Rate Monitors For Your Arm
That’s right, heart rate trackers are now eyeing up your entire arm. The wrist isn’t enough for them any more. They want your lower arm. They want your upper arm. Eventually they’ll want every single square centimetre of skin on your body. Technological paranoia aside, the reason trackers covet your upper arm in particular is because you get more accurate optical readings from there than on the wrist. There are two top trackers for your arm available right now: the Polar OH1 and the Wahoo TICKR FIT.
Both are designed to fill the gap between the accuracy of chest strap trackers and the convenience of optical wrist trackers, and both do the job well. If you are having trouble with a wrist tracker, which can be inaccurate when cycling and fail to keep up with spikes when tackling HIIT workouts, the TICKR FIT is a comfortable and easy-to-use upgrade. However if your wrist tracker hasn’t gone haywire and you mostly do steady exercise, an arm tracker won’t be a considerable upgrade in accuracy.
If you find chest strap trackers annoying to put on and refuse to give the prime real estate of your wrist over to a heart rate tracker, this device might be right up your street. Meet the Polar OH1, which you can wear on your upper or lower arm. (Probably the former – it looks better.)
Beyond the OH1’s body placement, its tracking credentials are impressive. The OH1 is waterproof to 30m, can store 200 hours of training and has a 12-hour battery life. It will pair with many third-party apps, devices and gym equipment via Bluetooth, and you can also use it with the Polar Beat app to view your heart rate in real time during workouts. £69.50, buy on polar.com
Wahoo TICKR FIT
As if Wahoo was going to sit on the sidelines and let Polar dominate the arm-based tracker sector. Its challenger to the OH1, the Wahoo TICKR FIT, is an optical tracker you can wear on your upper or lower arm. (Probably the former – it still looks better.)
The TICKR FIT edges out the OH1 in a couple of important ways – it has a 30-hour battery life and connects via both Bluetooth and ANT+ (the Polar OH1 only uses Bluetooth). However, the OH1 has a built-in memory to store your workouts to sync with apps and other devices later, whereas the TICKR FIT doesn’t – it transmits your heart rate during a workout just fine, but won’t store it offline. £64.99, buy on uk.wahoofitness.com
The Best Heart Rate Monitor For HIIT Workouts
One of the main uses people have for a heart rate tracker is ensuring they’re ramping up their pulse during HIIT sessions. If that’s your aim, the all-round package offered by the unique Moov HR Sweat is hard to beat.
Moov HR Sweat
To avoid the accuracy issues that plague wrist-based heart rate trackers during HIIT sessions, you pop the Moov HR Sweat in a headband and wear it on your temple. The result is a more accurate reading and no lag when recording your heart rate, even during the most intense workouts. The Sweat pairs with the Moov app to coach you through a series of bodyweight HIIT workouts and interval sessions in sports like running and cycling, with your heart rate constantly shown on screen so you always know how hard you’re pushing. £60.47, buy on moov.cc
RECOMMENDED: Moov HR Review
The Best Heart Rate Monitoring Headphones
Even if you don’t want to strap anything to your wrist, chest or temple it’s still possible to track your heart rate, thanks to several brands of Bluetooth headphones that have a built-in heart rate monitor.
Jabra Elite Sport
Sure, these will play music just like your grandad’s headphones did, but that on its own is old hat now. Jabra’s Elite Sport truly wireless headphones offer a load of other tricks, including a heart rate monitor which they use to coach you through guided workouts, suggesting when you need to work harder or ease off. The Elite Sport will also use your heart rate info to estimate your VO2 max, which then feeds into a race predictor for runners and advise you on how long you need to spend recovering after a tough training session. In short, they’re very smart earbuds indeed – and the 4½ hours of battery life on offer is up there with the best truly wireless options as well. £199.99, buy on jabra.co.uk, check price on amazon.co.uk