If you are a strictly recreational runner or a seasoned professional, having the best heart rate monitor for running could help you improve your fitness. Whether that means being able to run at a faster pace, having the strength to run the hills instead of hiking, or being able to hold a conversation with running buddies without feeling out of breath, there is one measurement that can get to the heart (pun intended) of your fitness goals. You guessed it, heart rate!
Heart rate is one of the most valuable training metrics for athletes of all types. Monitoring your heart rate while active and at rest gives a lot of insight into your fitness, recovery, and day-to-day health. Combining data such as resting heart rate, heart rate during activity, and heart rate variability with running pace and perceived exertion will give you great information about fitness trends and is very valuable when gearing up for a big event.
For this guide, we researched the various types of heart rate monitors on the market. We look for traditional ECG chest straps, forearm and upper-arm straps, and watches that measure heart rate on the wrist. With countless options in each category, heart rate monitors can be difficult to sort through. Our testers assessed various heart rate monitors on comfort, battery life, and accuracy. We compared the optical sensors found on armband sensors and watches to the more accurate chest straps to see how they performed, especially at high heart rates where they tend to struggle.
Best Heart Rate Monitors for Running
Best Overall Chest Strap Heart Rate Monitor for Running: Polar H10
Best Chest Strap Heart Rate Monitor for Running – Runner-Up: Garmin HRM-Pro Plus
Best Arm Strap Heart Rate Monitor for Running: Scosche Rhythm24
Best Arm Strap Heart Rate Monitor for Running – Runner-Up: Polar Verity Sense
Best GPS Watch Heart Rate Monitor: Garmin fēnix 7 – Solar Edition
Best GPS Watch Heart Rate Monitor – Runner-Up: Apple Watch Ultra
Other Great Heart Rate Monitors for Running: Myzone MZ-Switch, Coros Heart Rate Monitor
Best Overall Chest Strap Heart Rate Monitor for Running: Polar H10 Heart Rate Sensor ($90)
- Accurate ECG heart rate readings
- Long battery life with an easily replaceable battery
- Easy connection to multiple devices
- Comfortable strap
- Extended strap size is an additional expense
- Two different Polar apps are more confusing to navigate
The Polar H10 heart rate sensor is an easy-to-use and reliable monitor that is a favorite among many. The ECG monitor is accurate, and the unit is slim and lightweight. It is paired with the most comfortable strap that we tested. The material is soft and stretchy, and the flat buckle closure did not dig in or cause chafing. In addition to the rubberized ECG leads on the front, sections of silicone dots along the strap help keep it in place. Even when we got sweaty, this heart rate monitor stayed in place. The monitor uses a CR2025 battery and boasts an impressive 400-hour battery life. It is water-resistant to 30 meters and can be used in normal swimming conditions.
The monitor connects to devices using both ANT+ and Bluetooth. We found it to connect quickly and easily to our Garmin fēnix 7 GPS watch and an iPhone, and pairing it with other apps was a breeze. The monitor itself has internal memory and will save one activity to download later. This memory was less than some other monitors we tested. We found the Polar app situation a little confusing as there are two: Polar Beat and Polar Flow. It wasn’t immediately obvious which one should be used, but we used Polar Flow, and this worked well for firmware updates and checking settings. It can also be used to record activities.
Sensor Type: ECG | Battery Type: CR2025 lithium | Battery Life: 400 hours | Strap Sizes: XS-S (58-71 centimeters/ 23-28 inches), M-XXL (67-95 centimeters/ 26-37 inches), XXXL (82-140 centimeters/ 32-55 inches) | Connectivity: ANT+, Bluetooth (2 connections)Shop the Polar H10 Heart Rate Sensor
Best Chest Strap Heart Rate Monitor for Running – Runner-Up: Garmin HRM-Pro Plus ($130)
- Good battery life
- Additional data and running metric capabilities
- Easy connection for Garmin users
- Need Garmin device to take advantage of all of the features
- Records data without a watch but will not record actual activity unless it is started on a Garmin device
The Garmin HRM-Pro Plus is an accurate ECG chest strap monitor with additional metric tracking features, making it an excellent choice for the data-loving runners in our midst. This heart rate monitor connects to equipment and devices using both ANT+ and Bluetooth, with the capability for three Bluetooth connections. The strap was not the most comfortable of the bunch, but it functioned well. A small tag covers the clasp area to prevent it from digging into the skin, which we liked. The unit runs off of a standard CR 2032 battery with an estimated battery life of 360 hours. The battery is easily replaceable, and this model has a tool-free battery door that can be twisted open, which is a small but thoughtful detail. The monitor device is a little thicker than others tested and stuck out enough to get in the way of a sports bra band.
This strap is ideal for people who already use Garmin products. It easily paired with our Garmin fēnix 7 and the Garmin Connect app. In addition to heart rate recording, it can store data with onboard memory and capture running dynamics such as vertical oscillation, ground contact time, and stride length. It also has an indoor running mode to transmit pace and distance on indoor tracks and treadmills, though you will need a compatible device to take advantage of these features.
Sensor Type: ECG | Battery Type: CR 2032 | Battery Life: 360 hours | Strap Sizes: 23.5-42 inches (60–106 centimeters) Optional strap extender: 23.5-56 inches (60–142 centimeters) | Connectivity: ANT+ (unlimited), Bluetooth (3 connections)Shop the Garmin HRM-Pro Plus
Best Arm Strap Heart Rate Monitor for Running: Scosche Rhythm24 ($100)
- Green and yellow light improves optical heart rate accuracy
- Onboard memory for recording activities
- External indicator lights give a visual to heart rate zones and battery life
- Somewhat narrow band size range
The Scosche Rhythm24 earned top marks among the optical heart rate monitors tested. The optical monitor uses green and yellow lights to improve accuracy across different skin tones. Most optical heart rate sensors only use green light. The band itself is designed to be worn on the upper forearm. Depending on your arm size, there is enough stretch to be used on the bicep area as well, and it functioned well for our tester in both places. While optical monitors are not as precise as ECG monitors, this one performed very well at rest and during some warm weather, running, and hiking.
This heart rate monitor is a little bigger than the others we tested but was still comfortable to wear. It has some nice extra features, including recording up to 13 hours of activity without your phone or watch that can be downloaded later. The exterior of the monitor has visible color-coded lights that indicate your heart rate zone. The device is rechargeable and has a battery life of 24 hours, and a green battery indicator light is visible on its exterior. The ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity were easy to sync to a GPS watch and smartphone, and the device syncs quickly to the Scosche Rhythm Sync app for updates and to sync activities. It also easily connected to third-party apps, such as Strava. You can choose between multiple activity modes on the app, and the monitor is waterproof down to 10 feet for swimming.
Sensor Type: Optical, green, and yellow light | Battery Type: Rechargeable with specific device charger | Battery Life: 24 hours | Strap Sizes: Standard band 7-12.5 inches (18-32 centimeters), XL band 8.25 – 15.25 inches (21-39 centimeters) | Connectivity: ANT+, BluetoothShop the Scosche Rhythm24
Best Arm Strap Heart Rate Monitor for Running – Runner-Up: Polar Verity Sense ($100)
- Very compact and lightweight
- Longer transmission to device range for pool and gym activities
- Good battery life
- Smaller size range for strap
The Polar Verity Sense is an armband heart rate monitor that packs a lot of features into a tiny package. Measuring just a hair under three by one centimeters (1 x 0.4 inches), the monitor “pod” itself is barely larger than the coin batteries powering the chest straps mentioned above. This monitor uses green lights on the sensor to detect and monitor heart rate. The unit is clicked into a plastic holder on an elastic strap that can be worn on the forearm or upper arm and also has a unique holster that can attach to goggles at the temple for heart rate data while swimming. We found the strap to be very comfortable on both arm positions and easy to adjust, and our heart rate data was pretty accurate during walking, running, weight training, and cycling activities. The battery life of this rechargeable monitor is an impressive 30 hours.
Connectivity to devices and apps was easy using both ANT+ and Bluetooth, and this monitor also connects to the Polar apps. One nice feature is its ability to transmit to devices over a longer range. You can broadcast to a device up to 150 meters away, so you can start a swim or gym workout on your device and transmit your heart rate data to your phone app directly without having to save and download it later. The unit also has onboard memory to record and download activities later, as well for situations where you don’t want to have your phone nearby. For those looking for a compact, lightweight optical monitor or who are frequent swimmers, this is an excellent heart rate monitor choice.
Sensor Type: Optical, green light | Battery Type: Rechargeable with specific device charger | Battery Life: 30 hours | Strap Sizes: 23-32 centimeters (9-12.5 inches) | Connectivity: ANT+, Bluetooth (2 connections)Shop the Polar Verity Sense
Best GPS Watch Heart Rate Monitor: Garmin fēnix 7 – Solar Edition ($700)
- It has the foremost feature set among GPS watches
- Excellent battery performance
- Hardy build quality with premium materials
- Aesthetics are too rugged and sporty for work life
- Optical sensors are inconsistent and inaccurate
- Very expensive
The Garmin fēnix7 – Solar Edition is a popular GPS running watch that was also the top pick in iRunFar’s best GPS watch guide. As far as heart rate monitoring goes, the watch uses a green light optical sensor to track heart rate, providing data every second for accurate daily heart rate data. The watch also provides heart rate variability data, either with a spot recording or by measuring overnight and generating a report in the Garmin Connect app.
As with all optical monitors worn on the wrist, the heart rate data is less accurate during activity than that provided by an ECG chest strap. The wrist-based heart rate data obtained from GPS and smart watches at rest are much more accurate than those collected in motion. If you aren’t concerned about the accuracy of heart rate information, this watch’s wrist monitor will give decent info about your heart rate trends during activity. We have found this watch to be fairly accurate overall in its averages, but viewing the graph shows some spikes and dips that are certainly due to motion artifacts. It also struggles to measure heart rate accurately if your skin is old. If you seek more precise heart rate data, pairing this watch with a chest strap monitor for use during activity is easy.
While the battery life of this watch is solid by itself, the solar charging capabilities extend its use between wall charges significantly, especially if you’re running in sunny locations.Shop the Garmin fēnix 7 - Solar Edition
Best GPS Watch Heart Rate Monitor – Runner-Up: Apple Watch Ultra ($800)
- Excellent productivity, athletic, and health performance features
- Health activity monitoring and advanced safety features
- Battery performance is weak compared to dedicated sports watches at this price point
- Must be paired with another Apple product to function; no Android compatibility
- Touch-first design is difficult to use with cold or wet fingers
The Apple Watch Ultra packs a lot of features and data collection into a small package and is popular among runners who want a smartwatch with GPS capability, long battery life, and health-tracking information all in one. It was named the best smartwatch for running in the iRunFar best GPS watches guide.
This watch edges out other competitors in the category for its heart rate tracking capabilities. It uses a green LED light optical monitor on the wrist to track heart rate 24/7 and provides both resting and in-activity heart rate data. The watch also provides heart rate variability information. These sensors work great at rest, and several different apps can be used to analyze the information obtained from the watch. In addition to tracking heart rate, the watch provides ECG monitoring, a feature not found on most GPS watches. One caveat is that the ECG monitoring is only designed to detect a normal rhythm or atrial fibrillation. This is valuable but limited information.
As with all optical monitors, moisture, skin tone, and movement impact the device’s accuracy. The degradation in heart rate data from arm movement is the worst with wrist monitors, so while watches like this one provide great data on a continuous day-to-day basis, the information obtained while running will not be as accurate as that from chest straps or even upper arm optical monitors. That being said, heart rate monitoring is certainly not the primary reason to purchase an Apple Watch, but this device will provide quality heart rate data for its users.Shop the Apple Watch Ultra
Other Great Heart Rate Monitors for Running
- Dual use more versatility
- Small monitor size
- Good battery life
- Pricier than other options
The Myzone MZ-Switch offers the best of both chest strap ECG and armband monitors. The module can record heart rate using ECG by attaching to the included chest strap with two snaps. It also has a green light optical sensor, which can be used on the wrist, forearm, or upper arm. Our tester found the chest and upper arm straps to be comfortable, but the wrist strap has scratchier nylon. The forearm strap has a Velcro attachment that is easy to adjust while wearing but may wear out faster with long-term use.
We found both sensors to be very accurate, and according to Myzone’s site, the ECG sensor boasts 99.4% accuracy, while the optical monitor is 95% accurate. The optical monitor has color-coded lights that correspond to your heart rate zone so that you can keep track of your effort without having to look at a phone or watch. Like our other picks, the unit connects to devices using ANT+ and Bluetooth and has its own smartphone app to view settings and activities recorded directly on the monitor using its onboard memory.
Battery life is reported to be three to six months per charge by MyZone, but doesn’t really specify what type of use that translates to.
Sensor Type: ECG and optical, green light | Battery Type: Rechargeable with specific device charger | Battery Life: 3 to 6 months | Strap Sizes: Chest Strap: Small (53-69 centimeters / 21-27 inches), Standard (61-86 centimeters / 24-34 inches), and Large (69-102 centimeters / 27-40 inches) | Connectivity: ANT+, Bluetooth (2 connections)Shop the Myzone MZ-Switch
- Rechargeable battery
- Up to 38 hours of battery life
- Pairs quickly to up to three different devices
- Compatible with all brands, not just Coros products
- The strap on the arm is not very comfortable
- Optical sensor is still less reliable than ECG
All the major GPS watches for running today include optical heart rate measurement using a built-in sensor on the back side of the unit, but the Coros Heart Rate Monitor takes steps to make this somewhat unreliable heart rate measurement technique more accurate. If you talk to the brands off the record, they will sheepishly admit that their sensors mostly work but are prone to inaccuracy, particularly at the upper ends of your heart rate zones. So, it’s not surprising that watch manufacturers still readily market their ancillary heart rate monitors, usually in the form of an ECG sensor on a chest strap.
Coros has taken steps to make its first optical heart rate monitor as accurate as possible. Firstly, it’s an arm strap designed to be worn on the upper arm, which is a better location than the forearm or the wrist. Secondly, the sensor uses five LED lights with four photodetectors, which is actually the same hardware used in Coros’ watches like the Apex 2 and Apex 2 Pro.
Head of User Engagement for Coros, Darian Allberry, told us, “The accuracy benefits of the Heart Rate Monitor (product) vs. a watch is more specifically the wearing location of the upper arm, where the sensor is located closer to the heart to be more responsive to changes in HR for things like interval sessions, and that the upper arm has much deeper tissue when comparing to the wrist which creates less “noise” for optical heart rate, thus making it much more accurate.”
The strap is decidedly more stable and secure than a chest strap, particularly if you sweat a lot and have issues with chest straps sliding around or loosening. While we didn’t find the Coros strap to be particularly more comfortable than a chest strap, it’s an excellent option for those who don’t like something around their chest. The rechargeable lithium-ion battery follows Coros’ tradition of having a long run time of about 38 hours on a full charge, and the battery is activated and deactivated automatically using a sensor to detect skin contact. The heart rate readings are very consistent with other brands’ traditional chest monitors, though they’re still subject to interference from sweat, cold, heat, and even tattoos on the skin where the strap is worn.
This heart rate monitor is compatible with all watch brands and can pair with up to three devices via Bluetooth.
Sensor Type: Optical, green light | Battery Type: Rechargeable with specific device charger | Battery Life: 38 hours | Strap Sizes: Arm strap: 7.09 – 12.6 inches (18 – 32 centimeters) | Connectivity: Bluetooth
Comparing the Best Heart Rate Monitors for Running
|HEART RATE MONITOR
|Garmin HRM-Pro Plus
|Optical, green, and yellow light
|Polar Verity Sense
|Optical, green light
|Garmin fēnix7 – Solar Edition
|Apple Watch Ultra
|ECG and optical, green light
|3 to 6 months
|Coros Heart Rate Monitor
|Optical, green light
Glossary of Terms about Heart Rate Monitors for Running
- Heart Rate – Heart rate, also frequently called pulse, is the number of times your heart beats in a minute. Each heartbeat is a series of heart muscle contractions triggered by a built-in electrical impulse in your heart. An ECG heart rate chest strap like the Polar H10 measures these electrical impulses. Blood travels through vessels in your body into your heart, which is squeezed with a muscle contraction into the lungs to get oxygen. The blood then flows back into the heart, and another heart muscle contraction squeezes the oxygenated blood out into your body to fuel your muscles and other organs. When you are active, and your tissues need more oxygen and fuel, your heart rate speeds up, and when you are at rest, it is lower.
- ECG – An electrocardiogram, commonly called ECG or EKG, is a tracing of the electrical activity of your heart. Electrodes on the chest detect and track the electrical activity that moves through your heart and causes your heart to beat. This electrical activity is translated into a waveform that maps out each phase of the heartbeat. In a medical setting, an ECG is measured using stick-on electrodes connecting wires to an ECG machine. A more simplified version of exercise heart rate monitors, like the Garmin HRM-Pro Plus, uses two rubberized patches on either side of the chest as the electrodes. This is the most precise way to monitor heart rate outside of a hospital setting.
- Optical Heart Rate – Optical heart rate, also known by the technical term photoplethysmography or PPG, uses light transmitted through the skin to the blood vessels in your arm to detect your heartbeat. Your blood absorbs some light, and the rest is reflected to a sensor on the heart rate monitor. As your blood pumps through these vessels with each heartbeat, the volume of blood in them increases and decreases, and the amount of light absorbed and reflected from the optical heart rate monitor also changes. The optical sensors on a heart rate monitor like the Polar Verity Sense detect the time between these pulses and allow them to calculate your heart rate. This is the same technology used in the finger clips you have likely worn in a doctor’s office or hospital when checking your pulse and oxygen levels.
- Heart Rate Variability – Heart rate variability (HRV) is the fluctuation in time measurements between each adjacent heartbeat. These fluctuations are measured in milliseconds, or thousandths of a second, and are a normal variation found in healthy hearts. Higher HRV levels may indicate a more relaxed state and better cardiovascular health. Lower HRV levels may indicate higher stress levels. Several heart rate monitors in this guide, including the Garmin fēnix 7 – Solar Edition, can measure HRV.
- Resting Heart Rate – Resting heart rate measures your heart rate at rest. This is best taken first thing in the morning, right after waking up. Generally speaking, a lower resting heart rate indicates good recovery and good cardiovascular fitness. There is no set number to strive for as resting heart rate varies from individual to individual and can be impacted by medications and other underlying conditions. Having a watch, like the Apple Watch Ultra, that you can wear all the time, can get you an accurate reading of your resting heart rate.
How to Choose the Best Heart Rate Monitor for Running
Chest Strap Versus Arm or Wrist Strap
The three most common types of heart rate monitors (HRM) for running are chest straps, arm straps worn on the forearm or upper arm, and wrist monitors, which are either a watch or a wrist strap.
When it comes to accuracy, the best heart rate monitor for running is a chest strap, like the Polar H10. They use electrocardiogram monitoring, called ECG or EKG, to detect and track your heartbeat. A strap encircles the chest around the lower rib with two electrode patches on each side that contact the skin and sense your heart’s electrical conduction to record your heart rate. The chest strap heart rate monitor is less likely to have data errors from moisture or movement as they are made to fit tightly and don’t shift with arm swing.
Arm and wrist strap monitors, including the Polar Verity Sense and the Garmin fēnix 7 – Solar Edition, use optical monitors to record heart rate. LED lights mounted on a sensor detect changes in blood flow in the blood vessels in the arm. This small change in volume in the vessels as blood pumps out of the heart correlates with your heartbeat and can be measured. These heart rate monitors are easy to take on and off and can be comfortably worn all day, making them a good choice for sleep tracking and all-day monitoring. Optical sensors on the wrist and arm are more likely to be susceptible to erroneous readings from arm swing during activities like running that can cause the sensor to move or slip.
Compatibility with Devices
The best heart rate monitors for running use two types of technology to connect to watches, smartphones, or fitness equipment: Bluetooth or ANT+.
ANT+ (Adaptive Network Technology) is a low-power wireless network technology that allows sensors from different manufacturers to communicate and share data with other devices. Heart rate monitors utilizing ANT+ technology, such as the Garmin HRM-Pro Plus, Polar H10, and Myzone MZ-Switch, can connect to multiple devices simultaneously using ANT+ without interference. This means you can simultaneously use your heart rate monitor to connect to your fitness watch and fitness equipment, such as a treadmill or cycling computer, to track your heart rate during activities.
Bluetooth is another method used to connect heart rate monitors to other electronics. This connects like you would connect other Bluetooth devices, such as wireless headphones. Bluetooth is most commonly used to connect a heart rate monitor to a smartphone app, such as Polar, Garmin Connect, or Strava, which is then used to display your heart rate or download activity data from the heart rate monitor module.
Optical Versus ECG Monitoring and Accuracy Expectations
When choosing the best heart rate monitor, ECG monitoring is the gold standard for accurate heart rate recording. Chest heart rate straps, like the Garmin HRM-Pro Plus, use a simplified version of the ECG monitoring you can find in a hospital or doctor’s office and are very reliable. The ECG monitor uses electrodes to detect the electrical signals that make up each heartbeat. In the case of a heart rate monitor chest strap, two rubberized areas on the strap that contact your skin measure the electrical signal, and the unit can count the number of beats each minute. As long as the chest strap electrodes maintain good contact with your skin, this heart rate tracking method is highly accurate and not significantly impacted by body movement or moisture. Several research articles have confirmed this, including one by Pasadyn et al. (2019), who found that a Polar H7 chest strap heart rate monitor had the most accuracy over optical heart rate monitors when compared with a traditional three-lead ECG during treadmill running.
Optical heart rate recording uses a light source — often LEDs — that transmits light through the skin to the blood vessels. Optical heart rate monitors for sports are often worn on the wrist, forearm, or upper arm and measure the blood flow in the large blood vessels in your arm. These measurements are translated into a waveform representing your heartbeat, and an algorithm calculates the beats per minute. These recordings are very accurate at rest but are susceptible to factors such as device fit and motion artifacts that make them less reliable during intense exercise. This issue worsens, particularly if the device is not tightly fitted and there is a lot of arm movement, such as running. GPS watches, like the Garmin fēnix 7 – Solar Edition, use optical heart rate monitors to track heart rate, though they can be connected to chest straps as well for more accurate data.
The accuracy and comfort of even the best heart rate monitor for running will be impacted by your activities while wearing it. As mentioned above, the accuracy of optical heart rate monitors worn on the wrist is much less when the arm moves. The arm swings and movements associated with running, swimming, or intense cross-training, such as CrossFit or kettlebell workouts, will likely make your heart rate data less accurate and useful. In addition, wearing a watch with heart rate monitoring on the wrist while doing weight workouts runs the risk of the watch being struck by a piece of equipment and being damaged. A chest strap that records data during activities, such as the Garmin HRM-Pro Plus or the Polar H10, is a good choice for activities that don’t require the GPS of a watch, as you can download your activity after you are finished. Another option for those who don’t like the feel of chest straps is a forearm or bicep optical monitor, like the Scosche Rhythm24, Polar Verity Sense, or Myzone MZ-Switch.
In addition to movement, debris between the skin and the optical sensor will also interfere with readings. For example, mud, sand, or sunscreen could cause errors in optical heart rate readings. Navalata et al. (2020) found that the accuracy of a chest strap heart rate monitor was superior to multiple types of optical sensors in a trail running setting.
Activities with less or slower arm and hand motion, like cycling, walking, or hiking, are better suited for wrist heart rate monitors. Wrist monitors are more comfortable for daily wear since you won’t have to worry about fitting an armband monitor under your sleeve or dealing with the more constrictive feeling of a chest strap.
Types of Use
One of the most important things to consider when choosing the best heart rate monitor for running and life is how you plan to use it. Not all heart rate monitors have the capability to provide constant readings. Most arm and chest straps we tested only record heart rate during activities.
We prefer a watch-based optical heart rate monitor such as the Garmin fēnix 7 – Solar Edition or Apple Watch Ultra for daily wear. These are comfortable and serve multiple functions in addition to heart rate monitoring. In the Apple Watch’s case, built-in ECG capability can detect atrial fibrillation, a particular abnormal heart rhythm. This technology will likely be available in other GPS watches in the near future. If you are already diagnosed with or at risk for atrial fibrillation, this is an excellent choice for a GPS watch and health tracker that can also alert you to an abnormal heart rate.
As we mentioned above, chest strap ECG heart rate monitors will be the most accurate during all types of activity. Many of these have built-in memory to store data directly on the monitor to be downloaded later. Upper arm optical heart rate straps are a good compromise for those who want accurate heart rate readings but find chest straps uncomfortable as they have less variation with movement than wrist monitors.
Comfort is an entirely subjective matter when it comes to running gear, and heart rate monitors are no exception. The strap materials, size of the heart rate monitor device itself, clasps, adjustability, and wear position will all impact comfort. Our team found the Polar H10 more comfortable than other heart rate chest straps.
Comfort is one area where the chest strap heart rate monitors tend to fare worse than their counterparts. Many runners don’t like the sensation of constriction around their lower chest from the chest strap. Wet and hot conditions can lead to chafing or slipping of the device, especially for those with a higher sweat rate. Runners who wear sports bras, especially higher support bras, often find chest straps more uncomfortable as they add another layer of compression around the chest. Most straps come in a range of sizes, but people on the high or low end of the size range may have trouble getting a good fit. The small size of the Polar Verity Sense made it a favorite with our testers.
Arm and wrist strap heart rate monitors are a little more comfortable and easier to adjust while wearing than chest straps, and for many people, they are the right choice for the best heart rate monitor for running. Arm strap optical heart rate monitors can be worn on the forearm or upper arm to further dial in comfort and fit runners with a variety of arm sizes. If you have issues with swelling of the hands or fingers during long efforts, having a constricting band around the arm or wrist may become uncomfortable or even cause some numbness or tingling. Usually, loosening the strap will help reduce pressure and alleviate this, but you may need to remove the band entirely if you develop these symptoms and they do not go away right away with loosening the strap.
As with many types of gear, heart rate monitors have a range of price points. Our research found the lowest price for a basic heart rate monitor with Bluetooth and ANT+ to be around $30. On the other end of the spectrum, some monitors cost nearly $600 and provide continuous ECG monitoring and additional metrics that, while interesting from a data perspective, are probably unnecessary for most runners. For most people, the best heart rate monitor for running isn’t necessarily the most expensive. We found that most well-equipped and reliable ECG chest strap and optical arm strap heart rate monitors fall into the $70 to $100 range. While not cheap, these will be a solid investment that will last many years, with only the occasional battery change or strap swap needed to keep them going. Many more expensive options, including the $800 Garmin fēnix7 – Solar Edition, provide many other features besides heart rate monitoring.
Why You Should Trust Us
We began searching for the best heart rate monitor for running by researching the types and models geared toward sports available today and found 28 that would fit the needs of runners. We initially narrowed our selection of the best options on the market to 11 offerings for testing. Since the first publication of this guide, we’ve continued to test several other models.
Initially, we spent several months using both chest strap and arm strap optical heart rate monitors in a variety of conditions to compare their comfort, ease of use, durability, and accuracy. We rated the monitors on the sensor type, accompanying apps and connectivity options, and battery life. Our testers often wore two monitors simultaneously to perform direct comparisons. We did our best to take the various heart rate monitors out in hot and cold weather to see how they functioned on sweaty or cold skin. We also tested them in the rain to see if moisture would affect their performance. As part of testing for accuracy, we compared the various optical heart rate sensors to ECG monitors at low and high heart rates, wearing them on everything from easy jogs to short uphill race efforts at maximal heart rates.
Our testers have been running with heart rate monitors for decades and have seen them evolve from uncomfortable chest straps to the various options available today. Our testing can help you choose the right heart rate monitor system for your needs, whether you want something that will measure your heart rate all day and night or something you just use for running.
Frequently Asked Questions About Heart Rate Monitors for Running
Why should I use a heart rate monitor?
Monitoring heart rate has a wide variety of applications when it comes to running and fitness. Heart rate monitors can be worn all day or only during activity to monitor various metrics that give insight into your health, fitness, and training readiness. Heart rate monitors for running can record, track, and trend resting heart rate, heart rate variability, and heart rate or heart rate zone during training.
Keeping track of resting heart rate and heart rate variability over time can be a good indicator of overall fitness and changes in fitness. A heart rate measuring watch, like the Garmin fēnix 7 – Solar Edition, can make it easy to track this metric. Changes in these measurements can signify problems such as dehydration, illness, or poor recovery. Monitoring these numbers and noting any upward or downward trends can help to decide how hard to push in workouts or whether you need a little more rest. Using a heart rate monitor during training sessions can ensure you stay within the prescribed workout zone to avoid going too hard or too easy and overexerting or missing out on fitness gains.
What is a heart rate zone?
Heart rate zones are target training zones based on a percentage of your maximum heart rate (MHR). To calculate and use heart rate zones for training, you first must calculate your MHR. The gold standard and most accurate way to determine this is through medically supervised testing in a sports physiology lab where you are monitored as you run on a treadmill with increasing speed until exhaustion. This test will provide your actual MHR and several other metrics like lactic threshold and VO2 Max that measure your body’s ability to use oxygen during exercise. For those who do not have access to this or aren’t interested in advanced testing, simple math equations give fairly accurate estimates.
The most basic and widely used way to estimate your MHR is to subtract your age from 220. If you are 40, your MHR estimate would be 180 beats per minute. There are other equations, including the Tanaka (208 – 0.7 x age) and the Gulati (206 – 0.88 x age, for females), that can also be used (Abdelmoneim et al., 2015; Roy & McRory, 2015).
Once the maximum heart rate is established, you can calculate the percentages used for heart rate training zones. Most heart rate monitors and their associated apps and standalone fitness apps, including Polar, Garmin, Scosche, Wahoo, and Strava, will calculate all this for you. You can then use these to guide your training. The Garmin fēnix 7 – Solar Edition and Apple Watch Ultra can display heart rate zones as part of your activity recording during exercise, and some of the heart rate monitors like the Myzone MZ-Switch and Scosche Rhythm24 have color-coded lights for a glance at your heart rate zone.
Most guidelines use five training zones, outlined below:
- Zone 1: 50-60% MHR
- Zone 2: 60-70% MHR
- Zone 3: 70-80% MHR
- Zone 4: 80-90% MHR
- Zone 5: 90-95% MHR
It is commonly recommended that 80% of runs should be at low or easy intensity (zones one to three) and 20% of runs should be hard or high intensity (zones four and five) (Seiler, 2010). This will allow for good recovery and improved fitness
How do I train for running using my heart rate monitor?
Some runners will monitor heart rate during activity to gauge fitness level and provide objective data to determine run exertion and pace. Tracking heart rate during a particular workout or course over time is a good indicator of fitness gains. Improved cardiovascular fitness will mean that you can run faster at a lower heart rate, and your heart rate will drop faster between intervals or after workouts. An excellent way to monitor changes in fitness is to continuously monitor heart rate, both at rest and during activity. Wearing a heart rate monitoring watch like the Garmin fēnix7 – Solar Edition or the Apple Watch Ultra makes this easy.
Training within specific heart rate zones based on a percentage of your maximum heart rate is a widely used training method. Varying training runs among the different zones, which means you will be running at different intensity levels. This variety of easy and hard training helps build aerobic capacity and lactic threshold while emphasizing good recovery. While it is possible to do these workouts based on pace or perceived exertion, using your calculated heart rate zones is another way to ensure your easy days are truly easy and your hard days are hard enough. In an article by Johnson et al. (2017), researchers found similar outcomes between heart rate and perceived exertion training, but training using heart rate improved the accuracy and precision of target zones and was helpful for beginner runners who may not have the experience to accurately determine their rate of perceived exertion for specific workout types yet. For more information and resources about using heart rate in your training, check out some prior iRunFar articles, An Inconvenient Truth: Why Heart Rate Always Matters and Listen To Your Heart: Tips for Navigating Heart-Rate Training.
It is important to note that many factors can influence heart rate. Stress levels, hydration status, heat, humidity, caffeine intake, sleep, age, and certain medications and supplements can all alter heart rate at rest and during a run. Care should be taken to monitor your perceived exertion in addition to heart rate and adjust your workout to avoid overexertion or heart illness (Achten & Jeukendrup, 2003). The maximum heart rate calculation used to determine training zones is simply an estimate and does not consider any of the above factors.
What is heart rate variability, and why would I track that?
Heart rate variability (HRV) measures the time between individual heartbeats. For those familiar with ECG tracings, this would measure the R-R interval of each adjacent beat. These are normal, very small variations measured in milliseconds. Heart rate variability is influenced by both your body’s sympathetic nervous system, associated with higher stress and fight or flight mode, and the parasympathetic nervous system, associated with lower stress states and rest. High-stress levels from things like illness, emotional taxation, overtraining, poor recovery, dehydration, and more will result in lower HRV.
Conversely, a more relaxed, less stressed, and well-recovered state will result in higher HRV. The Garmin fēnix7 – Solar Edition is an excellent heart rate monitor to measure your HRV. Tracking your HRV numbers can help guide your training intensity as they indicate your fitness and recovery state (Kiviniemi, 2007). It is important to note that these numbers are very individual, and looking at your personal trends and fluctuations is more beneficial than comparing your HRV numbers to someone else’s (Shaffer & Ginsberg 2017). For more information on HRV, check out What the Heck is Heart Rate Variability? for an in-depth discussion of the ins and outs of HRV and its utility in training.
Can I track heart rate variability with a heart rate monitor?
Heart rate variability requires a heart rate monitor to be calculated. The most accurate calculations will be from ECG chest strap monitors like the Polar H10, though optical heart rate monitors like the Garmin fēnix7 – Solar Edition are improving their ability to calculate HRV. Many Garmin GPS watches and the Apple Watches can record HRV and will report these in their respective apps and on the watch if you are taking a spot reading of HRV. Several third-party apps can pair with your chest strap heart rate monitor and provide an HRV readout that can be trended. It is recommended that these readings be taken while at rest, such as first thing in the morning after waking up so that they will be most accurate.
What are the two types of heart rate monitors?
ECG and optical (PPG) monitors are the two types of heart rate monitors used for sports. As detailed above, the ECG monitors, including the Polar H10, use electrodes on a strap around the chest to detect the heart’s electrical activity, tracking the heartbeats and translating the electrical signals to beats per minute or your heart rate.
Optical monitors like the Polar Verity Sense and the Scosche Rhythm24 are most frequently worn on the wrist or arm and use specialized LED lights to detect changes in blood flow through blood vessels under the skin, translating variations in blood volume in the vessels with each heartbeat into heart rate.
What should I look for when buying a heart rate monitor?
Important things to consider when buying a heart rate monitor are cost, battery life, waterproof capability, and your intended use of the device. You’ll also want to consider what other equipment you will use it with. Most of the best heart rate monitors for running have good accuracy while at rest, so if day-to-day use and resting heart rate, sleep tracking, or heart rate variability readings are most important to you, then a GPS watch that has heart rate tracking capability, like the Garmin fēnix 7 – Solar Edition or Apple Watch Ultra, will be a great choice.
If heart rate accuracy during activities is your priority, ECG chest straps like the Polar H10 or the Garmin HRM-Pro Plus are good choices. These can connect to devices using ANT+ technology and Bluetooth to sync with various devices.
If you prefer comfort over absolute accuracy, arm strap monitors still provide excellent readings and are easier to adjust and wear than chest straps. These use optical sensors and ANT+ or Bluetooth to connect to gym equipment, such as rowers or treadmills. They’ll also connect to your smartphone or GPS watch.
If you want to leave your phone and watch behind, all of the heart rate monitors in this guide have onboard memory and can record an activity right on the monitor to be synced with various apps for analysis later.
What type of heart rate monitor is most accurate?
The chest strap heart rate monitor using ECG technology to track and record heart rate is the gold standard device and most accurate. The Polar H10 was our top chest strap heart rate monitor pick.
How do heart rate monitors connect with running watches or activity-tracking apps?
Heart rate monitors use two types of technology to connect with running watches, apps, and exercise equipment.
ANT+ is a low-power wireless network technology that allows sensors from different manufacturers to communicate and share data. This is often used to connect to multiple types of equipment simultaneously, such as watches, treadmills, and bike trainers.
Bluetooth connects heart rate monitors to smartphone apps for tracking and activity analysis. In the past, it was only possible to connect to one Bluetooth device at a time, but improvements in technology mean that many of the heart rate monitors on the market today have the capability of connecting to multiple Bluetooth channels at the same time. The Garmin HRM-Pro Plus can support up to three Bluetooth connections simultaneously.
Call for Comments
- Do you use a heart rate monitor for running?
- Which type of heart rate monitor do you prefer?
- Do you use heart rate monitors for tracking daily metrics like HRV or resting heart rate?
The above guide is only informational and does not constitute training or medical advice. If you’re new to running or have health concerns that can be affected by an increased heart rate, consult your healthcare provider to find a safe approach to training. Seasoned runners can also consult with a credentialed running coach if you have questions about your specific heart rate zones or training plan to determine the safest approach to training for you as a runner.Back to Our Top Heart Rate Monitors Picks
Abdelmoneim, S. S., Gulati, M., Mulvagh, S. L., Pack, Q., Scott, C. G., Barr, L., & Allison, T. G. (2015). Impact of utilizing a women-based formula for determining adequacy of the chronotropic response during exercise treadmill testing. Journal of Womens Health, 24(3), 174-181.
Achten, J. & Jeukendrup, A.E. (2003). Heart rate monitoring: applications and limitations. Sports Medicine, 33(7), 517–538. https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200333070-00004
Johnson, E. C., Pryor, R. R., Casa, D. J., Ellis, L. A., Maresh, C. M., Pescatello, L. S., Ganio, M. S., Lee, E. C., & Armstrong, L. E. (2017). Precision, accuracy, and performance outcomes of perceived exertion vs. heart rate guided run-training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 31(3), 630-637.
Kiviniemi, A. M., Hautala, A. J., Kinnunen, H., & Tulppo, M. P. (2007). Endurance training guided individually by daily heart rate variability measurements. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 101(6), 743-751.
Navalta, J. W., Montes, J., Bodell, N. G., Salatto, R. W., Manning, J. W., & DeBeliso, M. (2020). Concurrent heart rate validity of wearable technology devices during trail running. PLOS One, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0238569
Pasadyn, S. R., Soudan, M., Gillinov, M., Houghtaling, P., Phelan, D., Gillinov, N., Bittel, B., & Desai, M. Y. (2019). Accuracy of commercially available heart rate monitors in athletes: a prospective study. Cardiovascular Diagnosis & Therapy, 9(4), 379-385.
Roy, S. & McCrory, J. (2015). Validation of Maximal Heart Rate Prediction Equations Based on Sex and Physical Activity Status. International Journal of Exercise Science, 8(4), 318-330.
Shaffer, F. & Ginsberg, J. P. (2017). An overview of heart rate variability metrics and norms. Frontiers in Public Health, 5, 258.
Scheid, J. L. & O’Donnell, E. (2019). Revisiting heart rate target zones through the lens of wearable technology. ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal, 23(3), 21-26.