Heart rate monitors are the secret sauce to a personalized fitness regimen. If you’re participating in cardio activities like running, cycling or high-intensity interval training (HIIT), a heart rate monitor can tell you exactly how well your body is handling your workout and how effective your workout is.
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Do you often find yourself pushing extra hard during a workout? That common theory of “no pain, no gain” could hinder you in the long run. Over-exercising can lead to extended muscle soreness, injury, fatigue and an increase in your resting heart rate.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that adults should engage in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity (or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity) physical activity per week combined with muscle strengthening activities to get the most health benefits.
A moderate-intensity heart rate is defined as “between 64% and 76%” of your maximum heart rate and vigorous-intensity as “between 77% and 93%” of your maximum heart rate. When you stay in that target heart rate zone, it should prevent you from overexerting yourself during workouts according to Hopkins Medicine.
Finding the balance between over and underworking seems to be the key. Physical therapist and certified yoga/fitness instructor Maura Blackstone, PT, DPT, RYT shared that “understanding your individual heart rate response to exercise can help you reach your goals and improve your health and fitness.”
Target Heart Rate Zones
100-170 beats per minute (bpm)
Activity trackers have been consumer facing since the early 2000s. The Garmin Forerunner came onto the scene in 2003, followed by the Nike+iPod released in 2006, Fitbit in 2009 and Jawbone in 2011.
Today, fitness trackers can track a lot more than just steps; the data can include resting and exercise heart rate, nutrition, quality of sleep and workouts.
On your first search, the sheer volume of heart rate monitor options may be overwhelming. There are a few things to look out for that can help you narrow down your search, though. When you look for a heart rate monitor, some of the most important factors to consider are:
“Wrist-worn technology does have limitations, especially during fitness activities that have more erratic movements. An example of this is cardio kickboxing or HIIT classes.
“Wrist-worn trackers seem to be more accurate with rhythmic activities like walking or running. Accuracy also depends on how many sensors are on the bottom of the watch,” Blackstone told us.
We’ve broken out the top picks based on criteria in the “what to look for section,” narrowing down our selection based on accuracy, price point, battery life, number of activities and general ease of compatibility with smartphones.
The Garmin Vivoactive HR is a wrist-worn heart rate monitor that offers 8 days of battery life when it’s in watch mode with no GPS, and up to 13 hours using GPS. In those 8 days, you can run, bike, swim, ski, snowboard, golf and more. This Garmin watch will track it all.
The GPS and accelerometer features combine to support workouts in both indoor and outdoor environments. The largest complaint for this watch is that the screen is a little difficult to see outdoors.
You get a lot of bang for your buck with the smartwatch capabilities, including call, text, email and social media alerts, as well as compatibility with chest-worn monitors. Oh, and it’s water resistant, too. This is, by far, one of the best overall heart rate monitors on the market.
The Apple Watch keeps getting better, but the Series 3 model is a classic. It’s super sleek, so it transitions from work out to working seamlessly. It is also swim proof and tracks a variety of different activities.
The Series 3 is the simplest Apple Watch on the market since it is the oldest model available. That doesn’t take away from this watch’s power, though. You can track your metrics down to the decimal, answer phone calls, respond to text messages, ask Siri and more.
The Apple Watch does a lot of jobs simultaneously and can do it for at least an entire day, on one charge. It’s designed for 18 hours of use depending on the amount of features you tend to use on any given day.
Voted 2018 fitness tracker of the year by Wareable, the Fitbit Charge 3 is a powerful wearable monitor. It can track your heart rate, sleep, calories, floors climbed and more. Get personalized reminders and choose between over 20 goal-based exercise modes. The battery lasts up to 7 days.
Like the Apple Watch Series 3, the Fitbit Charge 3 is swim proof and water resistant to 50 meters, so you can track swim workouts or wear it in the shower.
Fitbit connects with several everyday apps and syncs wirelessly to most iOS and Android devices. Connecting to a smartphone GPS will give you real time pace and distance during outdoor activities. Need a little extra motivation? You can also connect with other Fitbit users to compare progress.
One feature that is particularly interesting is the ability to set heart rate zones. If you’re really focused on optimizing your workouts, the Fitbit Charge 3 is an excellent choice.
The Polar H10 claims to be the gold standard for accuracy. You can connect your Polar H10 to two devices simultaneously—your app and fitness equipment (ANT+ compatible) or whatever combination works best for your needs.
The battery is said to last up to 400 hours, but the downside is that you can only check the battery life in the Polar Beat app while the heart rate monitor is on.
One particularly cool feature of this model is the Orthostatic test function. When you pair the chest strap with a compatible Polar sports watch, you can take an orthostatic test that records your heart rate variability and provides helpful information about your body’s recovery.
The chest monitor itself is very comfortable with a soft textile strap. Inside the chest monitor are high-quality electrodes that are the secret to the accurate measurements. If you’re a swimmer, you’re in luck. This chest-worn heart rate monitor works underwater, too.
It comes in a variety of colors including black, gray, orange and turquoise.
Polar products are reliable, high quality and highly underrated. This model is wrist-worn, waterproof and has integrated GPS capabilities. The battery life is up to 17 hours in training mode and up to 5 days in watch mode. It comes in two colors, but that’s all it offers aesthetically. The Polar Ignite looks like a sports watch.
As with all Polar products, you get access to the Polar Flow app. If you’re not familiar with many workouts, this feature provides you with different types of exercises to do.
This watch doesn’t hold back on optimization features. The Nightly Recharge is an overnight recovery measurement that can assist with your training program, letting you know whether your body is ready to go or if you need an easier day. The Sleep Plus Stages technology tracks your sleep and shows you how long you spend in each stage. The watch also includes a Serene feature that walks you through breathing exercises to help you relax.
Overall, this watch is a powerhouse that will either enhance your life or overwhelm you.
Prices are accurate and items are in stock at the time of publishing.
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