What is the best heart rate monitor for running? I’d say it depends on your goals, but right now the data shows that some versions are superior for accuracy.
So if you’re training by heart rate with zones or low heart rate and you need the data to be 100% then this post is going to save you some heart ache.
Make sure you read part 1: Understanding how to train with heart rate!
If like me, maybe you’ve been doing LHR a long time and are really in tune with your body so you tend to know roughly how hard you’re working and it’s ok with you to have days (i.e. in the cold) where the monitor isn’t spot on, but is possibly more convenient, well read on as well!
Best Heart Rate Monitor for Running
Let’s take a look at what the options are, some of which might surprise you like earbuds! And then talk about what plays in to accuracy and if your style of training could make certain tools better than others.
In the end, sometimes you may have to decide between ease of use and top of the line accuracy.
How Accurate are Wrist Heart Rate Monitors?
The two most common heart rate monitors include chest straps and optical monitors (usually on the wrist, but not always as you’ll see!!).
Optical monitors use sensors that detect the blood pulsing through your veins. While more comfortable to wear, especially during a workout, they’re often not as accurate as chest straps. Particularly in cold weather running when your body is trying to pull blood towards the core and thus pulse might not be as strong.
- The blood flow in your wrist is further from the source: your heart.
- Further, poor reading can result if you flex your wrist or move your arm or travel down a bumpy road.
- Wrist-based monitors are more convenient and can be worn all day long without discomfort, but can show bpm discrepancies up to 6 beats.
- Some people notice a spike in the first mile of running. Doing a good warm up has eliminated that for me!
Heart Rate Chest Straps for Running
Chest straps are widely used by runners, including elite athletes. They work similar to an electrocardiogram (EKG) by reading the electrical signals your body sends with each beat of your heart.
They require a receiver like your GPS running watch to display the information. And you’ll need to ensure the one you buy works with your watch or the Running App on your phone, as they have different technologies.
Cleveland Clinic researchers asked 50 healthy adults to wear various heart rate monitors, including an EKG while walking or running on a treadmill. When measured against the EKG, the chest strap heart monitor showed the most accurate readings.
As mentioned above, they tend to provide more accurate than wrist-based technology, however still come with a few cons:
- They can feel uncomfortable
- Can loosen during exercise
- Cause chafing
- Tough to adjust mid-run, resulting in inaccurate readings
If money is a concern, chest straps are more economical than wrist-based optical monitors. Especially if paired with a free running app like MapMyRun!
My main issue with chest straps, is they always chafe me! And I always got spikes, so honestly, they might report as more accurate, but personally I always had more issues. Which leads me back to my standard response of see what works for you because clearly majorly awesome athletes like Noel love ’em!
Activity Tracker or Smartwatch
There are so many activity trackers out on the market now, it’s a little overwhelming…and my question to you is do you need a tracker or do you need a great GPS running watch?
Activity trackers are great for determining resting heart rate, but not as precise during exercise. These popular devices are great for recreational use and for helping users track steps and and gather estimated metrics on heart rate, but are not necessarily as reliable for accurate heart rate recordings.
They do record a lot of helpful data aside from your heart rate:
- counting steps
- calories burned
- calculating elevation gained
- tracking hours of sleep
But…ummmm so does a solid GPS watch like the Garmin Fenix and you know it’s designed more for running or cross training. I guess my opinion is showing, so I’ll just tuck that back up my sleeve.
Speaking of sleeves…get a hold of the fun tip I shared, which had more people tell me I’m a genius than maybe any other thing I’ve done, which is mildly concerning. How to see your watch during winter runs…use the thumbhole!
Polar Heart Rate Monitor Arm Band
There are probably other brands doing this, but Polar seems to have the top spot from my research. This isn’t a chest strap or a wrist based tool, instead it’s an optical sensor that you can wear around your arm or on your head if swimming.
Why? Well mostly based on the above idea I noted about eliminating the chafing and knowing this will work for swimming, as well.
Heart Rate Monitoring Headphones
Sport headphones now use optical heart rate trackers, which is great if you listen to music while you run because you can get an update on your HR too. They work using optical technology that senses your pulse with an LED.
Jabra Elite Sport is one of the best I’ve seen for this. They do a great job with fit and technology, plus they’re waterproof!
Obviously the downside is you’re still relying on an optical sensor and you probably aren’t going to wear them all day or for sleep, if you want continuous tracking. In fact, some of you might remember when I tested out the Oakley Radar Pace. and not only does it tell you HR, but provides sunglasses and coaching.Think a chest strap or watch are your only options for measuring HR on the run, checkout these tools! Click To Tweet
“Smart” Hats for Heart Rate monitoring
Relatively new to the heart rate monitoring scene, LifeBEAM “smart” hats use Bluetooth and ANT+ signals to record bpm and transmit the data to your phone or watch. I actually learned about this during my trip to Israel, as it was developed there! They have some seriously amazing technology happening and I can vouch for it being a pretty normal fit hat, you won’t look at it an know anything is different.
Electro-optical sensors measure your heart rate, calorie burn, and running cadence.
The hat looks like a regular running hat, so if you wear one during runs anyway, it could be a cool addition that does a little bit more than just keep the sweat and sun off your face.
The technology can connect with your GPS watch, Strava, and just about any other device.
Looking for more reviews to find the best things for your run?
Checkout our full page of my must have running gear reviews and guides to save you time searching and money! I share what’s worked for me and fellow runners, along with what wasn’t worth the price tag.
A few common requests:
- Choosing the Best Foam Roller
- Comparing GPS Watches
- Best running socks (lightweight to compression)
- Best compression tights for runners
All right there you have it, a variety of options for measuring your HR while running! More gear you want to know about? Let me know.
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