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 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 Trackers 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, buy on polar.com
RECOMMENDED: 5 Things We Learned Using The Polar M430 Fitness Tracker
Fitbit Charge 2
The PurePulse technology in the Charge 2 (and several other Fitbit trackers) 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 Trackers
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 links to your smartphone so you can see instantaneous feedback on your heart rate during any workout, but it also goes well beyond basic tracking. Based on your effort, which is handicapped by fitness level and adjusts over time to take into account your improvement, it awards you MYZONE points to quantify how hard you’ve pushed yourself. The MZ-3 has storage for 16 hours of exercise data so you don’t need to sync it after every workout. £129.99, buy on myzone.org
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 Tracker For Your Arm
That’s right, heart rate trackers are now eyeing up your entire arm. The wrist isn’t enough for them anymore. They want your lower arm. They want your upper arm. Eventually they’ll want every single square centimetre of skin on your body. Anyway, the best tracker for your arm right now is the Polar OH1.
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 might be right up your street. Meet the Polar OH1, which you wear on your upper or lower arm. (Probably the former – it looks better.)
Anyway, moving beyond the utterly outrageous body placement of the OH1, let’s check on its tracking credentials. These 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.
Does moving the tracker from your wrist to your arm make for more accurate readings? It probably doesn’t make any difference, but Polar’s optical tracking tech is reliable wherever you strap it. £69.50, buy on polar.com
The Best Heart Rate Tracker 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. £80.35, buy on moov.cc
RECOMMENDED: Moov HR Review
The Best Heart Rate Tracking 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 Sport Pulse
Not only will the Jabra Sport Pulse monitor your heart rate during your workouts, it will also track those workouts, coach you in real time and give an estimation of your VO2 max afterwards. This all comes on top of the excellent sound quality and secure fit that you’d expect from a top-bracket set of Bluetooth headphones. £134.99, buy on jabra.co.uk