The best heart rate chest strap
Getting fit isn't just about how often you work out. To see real results, you have to exercise at the right intensity level, too. Wearing a heart rate chest strap lets you track your heart rate while you're working out, so you know if you're hitting your target heart rate zones. The chest strap features a wireless sensor that takes your pulse electronically and sends it to a receiver that then provides a heart rate reading. It offers the most accurate reading of any heart rate monitor, so you can trust that you're reaching the heart rate target zones that will best help you meet your fitness goals.
Use our shopping guide to pick up tips to find the best heart rate chest strap for your workout routine. We've included some specific product recommendations, too, including our top pick from Polar, which offers a 400-hour battery life and can even detect your heart rate when you're swimming thanks to its waterproof design.
Considerations when choosing heart rate chest straps
All heart rate chest straps obviously have a band that goes around your chest to monitor your heart rate, but they differ in how they display the data from the sensor. Some straps require a watch receiver that you wear on your wrist and collects the information from the strap. It displays the data right on the watch's screen, so you can easily check your stats as you're working out. Not all chest straps include the watch receiver, though, so you can sometimes get stuck having to make a separate purchase.
You can also find heart rate chest straps that use Bluetooth connectivity to send their data to a smartphone app. That means you have to carry your phone with you when you're working out if you want to check on your heart rate data as you exercise -- and some people find it tricky to open the app and check the information in the middle of a run or bike ride.
The material that a heart rate chest strap is made of plays a big role in how comfortable and durable it is. Many straps are made from materials that contain latex, which poses a problem if you're allergic to latex. Rubber is another common strap material, but it doesn't breathe well, which makes it pretty uncomfortable when you're sweating because it can cause chafing and irritation.
That's why many fitness junkies opt for a heart rate chest strap that's made of fabric. These straps are stretchy enough to fit comfortably and also wick away moisture to limit chafing and discomfort when you work up a sweat.
The number of heart rate target zones that a heart rate chest strap provides when tracking your data makes a big difference in how helpful it is as a training tool. Some lower-end models only offer three target zones, which include warm-up, fat-burning, and cardio zone. But higher-end chest straps provide additional heart rate zones, so you can customize them based on the type of workout. For example, you might assign an 80% to 90% max heart rate zone for high-intensity exercise and a 40% to 50% max heart rate zone for low-intensity workouts.
The majority of heart rate chest straps measure how many calories you burn during a workout based on your heart rate data. If you're trying to lose weight, any model you consider should have a calorie-counting feature.
While some heart rate chest straps have GPS capabilities to track your distance and speed when you're running outdoors, you'll want a model with an accelerometer if you mainly work out on a treadmill. The accelerometer can use your movement to calculate the length of your strides, so it can easily figure out your distance and speed.
If you opt for a heart rate chest strap that uses your smartphone as a receiver, choose a model that offers some built-in memory. That allows it to store your data when you're working out and aren't able to carry your phone with you, like when you're swimming. The memory allows you to transmit the data from the strap to the app on your phone afterward, so you don't miss out on any information.
Heart rate chest straps all run replaceable batteries that power them, but they don't all offer the same battery life. Some batteries only last for about 100 hours, while others provide up to 400 hours. The longer the battery life, the less often you'll need to replace the battery.
If you swim as part of your workout routine, look for a heart rate chest strap that's waterproof. It won't send any data while you're in the water, but you'll be able to sync it with your smartphone app after you get out of the pool.
Heart rate chest straps typically cost between $20 and $160. You'll pay between $20 and $50 for a basic model with no built-in memory, only a few target heart rate zones, and a shorter battery life; $50 and $100 for a model with built-in memory, a few target heart rate zones, and a mid-range battery life; and $100 to $160 for a model with a longer battery life, built-in memory, more target heart rate zones, waterproof design, and a long battery life.
Q. What types of workouts is a heart rate chest strap best for?
A. A heart rate chest strap works best for aerobic activities that are designed to get your heart pumping and other high-intensity workouts where you're trying to reach a certain target heart rate.
Q. What type of heart rate chest strap should I choose if I have sensitive skin?
A. If you have sensitive skin, avoid latex and rubber straps, which can trigger allergic reactions and cause chafing. Instead, opt for a fabric strap that isn't as likely to irritate your skin.
Heart rate chest straps we recommend
Best of the best: Polar's H10 Heart Rate Monitor, Bluetooth HRM Chest Strap
Our take: Bluetooth connectivity allows you to use this durable chest strap with a variety of sports and smartwatches and for a wide range of activities, including swimming.
What we like: Connects with the Polar Beat app, which means you don't need to bring your phone with you when you exercise. Features a waterproof design and can monitor your heart rate even in water. Strap doesn't shift around during workouts thanks to its silicone dots. Offers a 400-hour battery life.
What we dislike: More expensive than other chest straps.
Best bang for your buck: Garmin's Chest Strap Heart Rate Monitor
Our take: A well-designed, basic chest strap that effectively captures heart rate data at an affordable price point.
What we like: Sends heart rate information wirelessly to the Garmin Forerunner 50. Can be paired with the Edge 305Hr or the Edgecard. Strap is made of soft, comfortable fabric that's adjustable and washable. Battery usually lasts for a year.
What we dislike: Readings show some signs of inconsistency.
Our take: A chest strap that offers comfortable wear and a high-quality sensor to make using it as easy as can be.
What we like: Strap is made from a soft, breathable material. Can fit chests that range from 25 to 55 inches. Offers more than 120 hours of battery life. Can send data to any Bluetooth-connected devices. Meant for biking, but works well for a large range of activities.
What we dislike: Some users find the battery life to be too short compared to the competition.
Jennifer Blair is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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