Runners obsess over distance, time and pace, but these are pretty blunt tools when it comes to understanding what’s actually happening physiologically during training. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking running harder and longer is the best way to get fitter and faster. The reality is that a good weekly training schedule should have runs that mix up the intensity. That’s where heart rate monitoring comes in.
Polar heart rate monitors in the end-of-summer sale
Before you're engrossed in the world of heart rate tracking, consider snapping up a bargain from Polar - it's offering up to 33% off some of its best-sellers right now, including:
- Polar H10 – Super accurate, third-party app compatible and our favourite strap monitor - read our full review below. Now 20-30% off, depending on colour.
£76.50£53.55 or £61.20
- Polar Verity Sense – A versatile arm strap that transmits your data to the Polar Flow app - scroll down for our full review. Now 20% off.
But be quick, because the sale ends this Sunday (11 September).
What is the benefit of using a heart rate monitor?
Strap on a heart rate tracker, whether round your chest, arm or in your ears, and you can unlock useful insights into your real-time performance, helping you train at the right effort for your goals. It can estimate your fitness levels, indicate potential peak performance, help with recovery recommendations and even spot your susceptibility to injury or incoming illness.
Now it’s easier than ever for runners to monitor their heart rate. From chest straps to headphones, there are a huge array of wearable options to keep tabs on your ticker. But what’s the best?
If you’re looking for accuracy, a dedicated ECG-based chest strap like the Polar H10 is still the gold standard. Optical heart-rate sensors on dedicated running watches don’t offer the same precision, but they are convenient and an increasing number of models now have these built-in as standard so there’s no added cost.
Because you tend wear a watch 24/7, they open up a world of new insights beyond the run, using continuous heart rate tracking as a window into things such as recovery, stress levels and sleep.
Monitors for the forearm and bicep are also common, while heart rate sensors are also available in earphones. Whichever style you choose, digging into your BPM can help make you a better runner. So here’s our pick of the best heart rate monitors for runners you can buy right now.
What are the best heart rate monitors on the market?
Best heart rate chest straps and arm straps:
If you’re serious about heart-rate training then beat-to-beat accuracy is paramount. That’s why the Polar H10 is still top of the pile. The ECG (electrocardiogram) strap offers super-fast responses to changes in the intensity of your workout, which are reported back to a paired device in real-time. It’s also waterproof to 30m, making it ideal for triathletes as well as runners. There’s enough memory for 65 hours of training between syncs and 400 hours of battery life. It’s easily paired with two Bluetooth devices and ANT+, and it plays nice with the top performance tracking apps like Strava and Endomondo.
Garmin HRM-Pro Plus Heart Rate Monitor
As well as ECG heart-rate monitoring, the Garmin HRM-Pro Plus Heart Rate Monitor also tracks your torso movement, providing data on your cadence, stride length, vertical oscillation, ground contact, ground contact balance and vertical ratio with the aim of helping you improve running form and power (with a compatible Garmin watch). You’ll also get tons of insight from the heart rate data, including zone training with audio updates, calorie burn, fitness age, recovery times and training load. In addition, it has a treadmill setting that calculates distance and pace. As well as connecting to Garmin devices, it can connect to other sensors via Bluetooth and ANT+.
The Wahoo TICKR offers three simultaneous Bluetooth connections for hooking up with your favourite apps and sensors, which is especially useful if you use a lot of tech for indoor training. The monitor provides real-time heart rate tracking as well as workout duration and calorie burn, and the coin cell battery is claimed to last for 500 hours. At 48g it's also extremely compact and lightweight, and a great entry point to HR chest straps if you are new to the technology.
Moving the heart-rate strap away from the chest has generally been for comfort and convenience over accuracy, but that’s not the case with the Scosche Rhythm24 (the successor to the popular Rhythm+), which sits around the forearm. You get an improved 24-hour battery life (13 hours of data storage), while it also promises Bluetooth Smart and ANT+ connectivity for data transfer to a companion device. Helpfully, the LED lights let you know at-a-glance which HR Zone you’re operating in and how much battery you have left. The Rhythm 24 also offers IP68 water-resistance, meaning it’s happy in the pool. The strap also measures Heart Rate Variability (HRV), an increasingly important metric in measuring heart health, fitness and recovery. It works with over 200 fitness apps, so no issues with compatibility here.
Polar Verity Sense
If you’re not a fan of chest straps – and due to the tight-fitting nature of their design they don’t suit everyone – this is a good option that provides more accurate data than a watch’s optical wrist sensor. The Verity Sense is an elasticated band that can fit anywhere on your arm, meaning there’s less chance of grip and motion interfering with the sensor’s readings. It connects to third-party apps and software via Bluetooth and ANT+, and transmits your data to the Polar Flow app, which you can monitor while you work out as well as post-workout. Swimmers will be glad to hear that you can clip the sensor to your goggles to track your sessions in the water. One thing to note is that you have to switch it on before tracking your workout, which is different to a HR belt which just starts tracking as you begin recording, and it offers 20 hours of charge but can be recharged via USB.
Best running watches with built-in heart rate monitoring:
Garmin Forerunner 55
The Forerunner 55 is a worthy entry-level heart rate watch from Garmin. If you're new to HR monitoring, this is a good place to start as the 55 provides accurate HR tracking which goes towards the watch's training advice and recovery suggestions. Like most wrist-based HR sensors, it's not as accurate as a HR chest belt, but if you're looking for near-accurate heart rate tracking and advanced recovery advice, you won't go wrong with the Forerunner 55.
Apple Watch Series 7
Apple Watches are building a solid reputation for the accuracy of their heart rate sensors, and the latest iteration takes this to a level where it's nearly as accurate a chest belt. The Series 7 tracks HR throughout the day and night, and during workouts, plus you can monitor your resting HR, breathing rates and recovery at any time. It offers the ability to alert you if your HR remains above or below a certain threshold, as well as notifying you if it identifies irregular heart rhythms that could potentially be atrial fibrillation. The watch can also produce an ECG on the app that Apple claims is similar to those used by medical professionals, so is the one to get if you have any concerns about your heart health.
The Whoop band takes heart rate monitoring to another level – the sensor tracks your HR 24 hours a day and provides detailed insight into the results, including measuring your resting HR and HR variability. The system then uses this data alongside other metrics, including skin temperature and blood oxygen levels to track sleep, recovery levels and stress, to provide targeted workout plans and training suggestions. The strap features five LEDs and four photodiodes for some of the most accurate and regular HR readings available. To get the full use out of this system though, you'll need to sign up for membership starting at £18 a month, which means it's aimed at dedicated athletes flush with cash. But if you're driven by data – especially when it comes to how rested your body is – this could potentially be an essential tool.
Best heart rate monitoring headphones:
Jabra Sport Pulse
While a chest strap will always offer the most accurate heart rate readout, some experts suggest the ear is the next-best position for listening in on your BPM. Jabra was one of the first companies to place a heart rate sensor in headphones and its latest model offers ‘clinical grade accuracy’, according to the brand. The Sport Pulse headphones pick up your heart rate via your inner ear, but they don’t just track your HR while playing your favourite bass-enhanced running playlists – they also track your VO2 Max in a similar way to many running watches. This additional feature can help inform and guide your training, especially if you don't own a running watch.
Philips In-Ear Wireless Sports Headphones
Thanks to a sensor built into the earbud, these track your heart rate as you run. They are fully sweatproof and waterproof, and feature six hours of playing time when fully charged, even when they're tracking your BPM. The buds also feature two fitting options – either in-ear held in place by wingtips, or with the hooks that fit over your ear. The price makes them a decent budget option if you're looking to dip an earlobe into the earbud HR market.