Check out my list of the best heart rate monitors and find one that fits your training ability and fitness level. Get stronger, faster, and fitter and post your best race times ever.
It’s not easy picking out the best heart rate monitor. There are hundreds of models on the market and most have some really awesome features. I’m talking things like built in GPS tracking that 20 years ago you would have only seen on old Star Trek reruns. And most monitors are really accurate as well, with most chest strap monitors comparable in accuracy to EKG machines you find in hospitals. It’s tough to narrow down the list.
As a competitive runner I’m really picky about what I use to help me with my training. You should see me trying on tennis shoes. Whew! (And I think my wife is bad with jeans shopping.) The last thing I want is something that’s all hype but no substance and doesn’t help me one bit. And God forbid I get something that sets me back. So when I started looking at heart rate monitors to help me train smarter, I really did some serious research. The result is this list of the best heart rate monitors and really this entire website.
Rather than just pick one monitor and say that this is the best, forget about all the others, I decided it would be more useful to include the best in a variety of different categories. For example, my sister is a triathlete. She does around 5 or 6 competitions a year and usually finishes towards the top in her age group. So she’s good and knows her stuff as far as training goes. She wanted me to take a look at the best heart rate monitor for triathletes, which I did. You can see the best monitor in this category below.
You can also check out some of the best in other categories as well so you can certainly find something that will fit your sport, fitness level, or training style. If you’d like me to add another category, just write a comment below and I’ll see if I can help you out and get it up on the site.
A quick note on the criteria I used to come up with this list. I didn’t rely just on my own judgment and point of view. I’m just one guy, and one guy’s opinion, no matter how good (ha!) may not accurately reflect the market as a whole. This meant I needed to go out and really do my research. So, I read magazines, like Runner’s World, Consumer Reports, and, Bicycling Magazine that talked about heart rate monitors. I also read news articles from the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times with the latest on the world of monitors. I also checked out reviews on retailer websites where the owners of each monitor can post experiences and opinions. These are great sources of information and you can really see which monitors rise to the occasion and come out on top.
That said; check out the awesome list below. I know you’ll be able to find a monitor that will help you become fitter, stronger and faster. And that’s what it’s all about.
The Best All-Around Heart Rate Monitor
My pick for the best all-around heart rate monitor has to be the Garmin Forerunner 305. It is certainly one of the most popular models currently on the market, with over 1,100 5 star reviews on Amazon.com alone. I like the 305 because it has all of the basics that a beginner or intermediate runner or cyclist can use to get started with heart rate training. But it also has enough specialized features where even the most advanced runner that likes doing splits and interval training and multisport transitions can use it and see some tremendous improvements in their training.
I have a full Garmin Forerunner 305 heart rate monitor review that you can take a look at, but here are some of the highlights.
The 305 offers amazing GPS navigation features. You can track where you are, where you’ve been, and how long it took you to get everywhere. You can set up elaborate courses using the Garmin software on your computer and load those onto the 305. The routes that you set up can be overlaid onto Google Maps so you see elevation and you can even add stops, like water breaks, along the way. If you run or bike the same course again you can try and beat your previous time. The Garmin 305 will track your progress and tell you if you are ahead or behind your previous time.
If you join the Garmin Connect website you can load your training data up there and compete against others virtually on courses that you both have created. It’s really cool and really motivating for us competitive types.
The Forerunner 305 also offers 5 heart rate training zones that you can program into the monitor. The 305 will measure how long you stayed within a certain heart rate zone during your workout. It will even give you a little beep if you stray too high or too low outside of the range you want to train in that workout session.
The Garmin Forerunner 305 heart rate monitor is also designed for multisport athletes. You can set it up so that it will record data specific for each sport. If you are in a multisport competition you can even program in transition time from the run to the bike for example, and the Forerunner 305 will automatically change the type of data it records. By purchasing the optional 10 speed bike sensor you can track your pace and performance in even more detail while biking.
As far as the actual wrist watch goes, the display is very easy to read and customize according to what you want to see. There are 40 different data options that you can choose to have the 305 show you. The buttons are large, well positioned and responsive. And the battery is long lived. It’s a rechargeable type and you get about 10 hours with the max charge.
The GPS is also highly accurate. I found several scientific type tests, one done by the University of Arizona that showed the GPS to be as accurate in determining speed as an accelerometer and a podometer. Position accuracy on the 305′s GPS is down to about 10 meters (32 feet).
I gave the Garmin Forerunner 305 monitor 5 out of 5 stars because it offers so much for such a good price. And I really think that everyone can benefit from using it, from beginning runners, to advanced marathoners.
The Best Heart Rate Monitor for Beginners and Intermediates Who Would Benefit From Some Coaching
If you are just starting out, trying to get back in shape, or haven’t seen much improvement in your race times recently then some coaching would certainly help you out. Most of us don’t have the budget or even the opportunity to hire our own personal track coach. So you are left trying to do it on your own.
In my running pursuits I’ve gotten advice from friends and even read a couple of books. I’ve also learned a lot by trial and error. To be honest though, I wish I had a Polar FT60 heart rate monitor when I first started out. It’s coaching and planning tools are really amazing and can take your training routine to the next level. Here are some of the things it can do for you. If you want to read more info just check out my full Polar FT60 heart rate monitor review.
The Polar FT60 heart rate monitor will offer you training recommendations based on your heart rate. It will tell you at what intensity you need to train and for how long you should be in that intensity zone each week. If you are training too hard, the FT60 will gently tell you to back off. The same goes for if you are training too easily, the FT60 says, “Get your butt going!” Well, not exactly, but it does tell you to when you need to work harder to see the benefits of training.
The Polar FT60 can be customized to your training goals. You get three choices. Improve Fitness, for those who want to boost their cardiovascular fitness level. Lose Weight, for those who are mainly focused on cutting fat and burning calories. And Maximize Fitness, which is for people who really want to maximize their cardio fitness level and can train every day.
Based on your fitness goals, the FT60 will plan weekly workouts for you. It will recommend the following three criteria for your workouts. The first, time targets, is how long you need to train at a particular intensity level for the week. The Calorie Target is how many calories you need to burn that week. And the Zone Target is how much time you need to spend in each of Polar’s 3 different target heart rate zones.
The FT60 analyzes your previous week of training data and makes recommendations for the upcoming week. It will tell you how long and how hard you need to train to reach your goals. You get a nice little envelope that appears on the wrist monitor every Sunday at midnight that will analyze the previous week’s data and tell you if you met your goals or not. It will also tell you what you need to be doing in the coming week to improve. Pretty cool.
The FT60 even offers a starting fitness test that records your baseline fitness level. The test is a pretty good assessment of your VO2 Max. You can use the baseline test to see how much you improve over time.
There is no GPS built into the Polar FT60 like you see on the Garmin monitors, but Polar does offer an optional GPS sensor that you can buy separately.
The FT60 also has a really nice training website, PolarPersonalTrainer.com where you can create customized training programs, and track your progress in even more detail. The neat thing about this site is that you can add many different types of workouts and sports, not just running and biking. You can add things like Wii boxing or cross country skiing. You can even compete against others on the site in a variety of different categories like most miles run in a week, or most calories lost in a year.
So the coaching, the analysis, and the weekly workout recommendations with the FT60 really make it stand out among heart rate monitors for me. I gave it 4.5 out of 5 stars. It really can help you train smarter. Using the FT60 you should really see some big improvements whether your goal is to drop a few pounds or pound out a new marathon PR.
The Best Heart Rate Monitor for Serious Runners and Cyclists
When I’m out racing I always like to check out the people around me. If someone passes me, I always think, why are they passing me? They don’t really look like they are in better shape than me. Then I say to myself, well, they probably went out too fast and I’ll catch them before the end of the race. Many times I do. However, other times I get to the end of the race, exhausted, only to find one of those people that passed me sitting on the side, chatting with friends, having an after race snack and enjoying the day. I really hate that.
Now although I’d like to beat everyone, I realize that I don’t run full time, and I’m not Kenyan. (Just kidding, there are plenty of world class runners from many countries.) I would like though to have an edge and improve my personal times in races. So I naturally look at what some of the top runners are using to enhance their training. If the serious guys and girls are using something for training, then I want to take a look at that for myself. As far as heart rate monitors go, some of the top University track coaches are using the Garmin Forerunner 405CX to help their athletes train better.
If you are serious about improving your running or cycling times or if you like your sports equipment loaded with high tech features, then you need to take a serious look at the Forerunner 405CX. Here’s why.
Wearing the 405CX is like having your own personal fitness lab on your wrist. The 405CX collects an incredible amount of data on your body’s performance while training. And you can send all of this data to your computer using the software that comes with it. After your training session, the Forerunner wrist unit will automatically transfer all of your workout data to your computer wirelessly. You just need to put the USB ANT stick into your computer and get the wrist unit to within 3 meters (10 feet). Once the data is loaded you can analyze it further and look for any weakness to improve upon.
The GPS is amazing with the Garmin Forerunner 405CX. It is extremely reliable, accurate, and free. You don’t have to pay any monthly fees to use the service. One really cool thing that you can do with the GPS is to plan your own road courses with the Forerunner 405CX. You can plot the location, route, and distance you want to go on your computer. Then simply load this onto your wrist unit and the 405CX will record your performance on the route as you go. You can try and beat previous times if you’ve run the route before. If you use the Garmin Connect website you can even download other member’s courses and compete against them in a virtual race.
As with the Forerunner 305, the Forerunner 405CX has a Virtual Partner that you compete against while you workout. You program the Virtual Partner beforehand and set a pace for it. When you’re out running the Partner shows up on the wrist monitor as a little man icon. The Garmin then tells you if you are ahead or behind the Virtual Partner. This is a real motivator.
You can choose from three types of workouts; simple workouts, which are based on time, distance, and calories; heart rate workouts, which are based on five different heart rate zones; and interval workouts, which are based on time or distance. Using the interval workout setting you can also program rest time and a warm up or cool down. This is fantastic for setting up sprint intervals.
One of the major differences between the 405CX and the 305 is with the interface on the wrist unit. The Forerunner 305 has buttons that you use to control the screens, whereas the Forerunner 405CX has a bezel control. Basically the bezel works like an iPod scroller. You move your finger along the outside of the wrist unit to scroll through the different screens instead of hitting buttons. It’s really intuitive as you can see from the video below. Note that Omar lists a price at the start of the video. That price has dropped pretty significantly since the video was posted.
The other major different between the 305 and the 405CX is the appearance of the two models. You can see from the pictures that the 405CX looks more like a fitness watch and is slightly more compact and sleeker. You really can’t go wrong though with either of these two fantastic Garmin products.
There are a bunch of other things you can do with the 405CX. You can read more in my Garmin Forerunner 405CX review. Overall, I gave the 405CX 4 out of 5 stars. I’d probably consider it the luxury sedan model of heart rate monitors. The thing is though, if you want to get serious about your running or cycling and improve your overall fitness level, then you need a serious heart rate monitor. The Garmin Forerunner 405CX will provide you with some serious firepower in your quest to be the best.
The Best Heart Rate Monitor for Triathletes
I’m not a triathlete myself but I have tremendous respect for these athletes. Talk about a tough sport. You not only have to be in incredible condition, but you also have to have the mental fortitude to get through a race that can last all day, and then some. You also have to be skilled in three disciplines and know all the nuances necessary to compete in each. Wow. So if you are into triathlons you need a serious piece of heart rate training equipment.
Now the problem with most monitors on the market, in relation to triathletes, is that you can’t use them in the water. Many wrist watch monitors are waterproof. However the problem lies in the data transfer from the chest piece to the wrist monitor. The chest piece picks up your heart rate and transfers that to the receiver on your wrist with no problem, in the air. Only in the water the signal gets garbled and can’t pass from one device to the other. The Suunto t6c has solved this problem by offering an optional Suunto Memory Belt, and that is one of the main reasons I recommend this monitor especially for triathletes. The Memory belt will collect and store your heart rate data without the need for a wrist unit. You can then use a docking station that comes with the belt to upload your swimming training data to your computer.
I have a full Suunto t6c heart rate monitor review on this site if you want to read more, but here are some highlights of what you get with the t6c.
The Suunto t6c will record an incredible amount of data about your performance. Using the five different Suunto Training Effect Zones, which are based on heart rate, you can plan your workouts. Suunto has a Suunto training guidebook on their website to help you with weekly training. You can effectively plan high intensity days and recovery days to maximize increases in your fitness level. The t6c will display your Training Effect Zone and tell you when you should try to hit it during your workout.
Another benefit for triathletes is the Suunto Bike POD (peripheral observation device), which measures your pace on the bike. This is not included with the base t6c model but can be purchased separately. You can easily use the wrist unit to switch and show information about your performance just during cycling.
You can further analyze and plan your workouts using the Suunto software that comes with the t6c. You can load all of your training data onto your computer and the software will tell you what you need to do for your next five workouts. It will tell you how intensely you need to train based on data taken right from your body. When you’re out running or biking the Suunto t6c will alert you to either pick up the pace or slow down based upon your training goals.
Like many of the other heart rate monitor manufacturers, Suunto offers a really neat website, Movescount.com. Your page on the site looks kinda like a Facebook page that has all of your training information. You can look at your average heart rate during a workout, your route that you biked, swam, or ran, and how many calories you burned over say 1 week. You can also share workouts and other information with other users and follow different people on the site.
Overall I really like the Suunto t6c and gave it 4 out of 5 stars. I think anyone can really benefit from using it. However the optional sports specific POD’s, like the biking POD and the Foot POD with GPS tracking combined with the Memory Belt for recording swimming data make the Suunto tc6 the ideal heart rate monitor for triathletes.
Check for the Best Prices for the Suunto t6c Heart Rate Monitor
The Best Budget Heart Rate Monitor
Looking at all the other monitors on this list you’ll see that most are priced in the $150 to $200 range. This is really not that expensive considering the high level of technology that you get with most monitors. It’s also really a drop in the bucket compared to what most people like to spend on sporting goods equipment. I know I’ve spent at least that much on shoes before. And I know cyclists have to shell out some serious cash to feed their sports addiction. However, times are tight and a heart rate monitor in the $200 range can be a stretch for many budgets these days. So, I took a look at some budget monitors.
There are some really good ones on the market right now. My research showed the best of these to be the Omron HR-100C. The two things that you need to ask when looking at budget heart rate monitors are, “How accurate is this thing?” and “Is this going to break next month?” To answer the first question, I went to Consumer Reports Magazine. They conducted extensive tests on a variety of different heart rate monitors and found that the Omron HR-100C was highly accurate even when compared to an EKG. An EKG (electrocardiograph) is what hospitals use to measure patient’s heart rates. So the HR-100C is pretty darn accurate.
To answer the second question about quality and durability I looked at dozens of owner reviews. Usually you see any problems pretty quickly because people will write comments on the product talking about how pissed they are that it broke so quickly. And you’ll see a bunch of one star reviews. This was not the case with the Omron. Everyone seemed to love it and there were no reports of breakages. The average rating was 4 out of 5 stars with over 1,000 reviews posted on different sites.
Since the HR-100C passed those two tests, I looked at some of the features you get. Now don’t expect electronic coaching and GPS tracking in a monitor that’s under $50. But you can expect the basics and if that’s all you need then the Omron HR-100C is perfect for you.
You can set up three different training zones based on your fitness goals. In the Weight Management Zone you’ll be training at a lower intensity, about 60-70% of your maximum heart rate. This zone is good if you’re just starting out. The Aerobic Zone pushes the intensity level up a notch so that you can build strength and endurance. The Anaerobic Zone is 80-90% of your maximum heart rate and designed to build power and speed.
As you train in a particular heart rate zone, the Omron will beep if you stray outside of the zone you planned for that workout. So if you are going too light, it will beep to tell you to pick up the pace. The same if you are going too hard and your heart rate is too high.
Another nice bonus is that the Omron HR-100C is very easy to use. The initial setup is a real snap and the monitor screen is simple to read. You can also easily scroll through different screens and see all of the data you need to track like your heart rate and your stopwatch time.
Overall the Omron HR-100C is a great bargain for the price and offers all of the basics you need in a heart rate monitor. You can read more about it in my Omron HR-100C heart rate monitor review on this site.
I hope you enjoyed this list of the best heart rate monitors and found it useful as you search for ways to improve your fitness level. If you’d like to give your opinion on any of the monitors mentioned just add a comment below.