Polar FT60
Polar FT60

Best heart-rate monitor

The Polar FT60 is a nearly ideal training companion for those who are serious about their workouts. Much more than a simple heart-rate monitor, it can double as a virtual personal trainer that sets set up a dynamic workout programs based on a user's goals. Runners will also appreciate the available extras, including a GPS sensor (Est. $105) and foot pod (Est. $85). The warranty is long, and the battery is easily replaced.
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Suunto Quest Running Pack
Suunto Quest Running Pack

Full featured heart rate monitor

The Suunto Quest Running Pack is an easy-to-use heart-rate monitor with some handy extras. It includes a foot pad and computer uplink accessory, which are optional with many heart rate monitors. The Suunto Quest performs great on all fronts, reviewers say, and the unit is well built and rugged. It has a stopwatch feature for interval timing and displays a wide variety of information, including real-time heart rate, heart-rate zones, suggested recovery time and more. The backlit LCD is easy to read.

Timex Ironman Race Trainer
Timex Ironman Race Trainer

Heart-rate monitor for runners

The Ironman Race Trainer combines reliable, accurate heart-rate monitoring with great features, including a 50-lap chronograph for interval timing and a countdown timer for warm-ups and cool-downs. It can also save data from up to 10 workouts. If you purchase the optional USB Data Xchanger module (Est. $35) you can upload workout data to your computer or to a training enthusiasts' website, TrainingPeaks.com, where users can view, share and track overall workout progress, record food intake, map routes and download additional workouts.

Polar FT1
Polar FT1

Cheap heart-rate monitor

It might come up a little short in terms of fancy features, but if you need only a basic heart-rate monitor, the Polar FT1 is more than up to the task. Reviewers say the FT1 is well made and easy to use, and provides the same reliable, continuous heart-rate monitoring as pricier, higher-end choices. It's water-resistant to 30 meters, and owners love that it can be used when swimming -- just don't push any buttons when doing so. Users say it's comfortable and fits a wide variety of body types.
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Polar FT7
Polar FT7

Best value heart rate monitor

The Polar FT7 neatly splits the difference in terms of price and features between the cheap but bare-bones Polar FT1 (Est. $50) and the feature packed but pricier Polar FT60 (Est. $100). Compared to the FT1, you gain a more graphics-rich display and the ability to upload workout data to a PC or to Polar's fitness tracking website and online community, PolarPersonalTrainer.com (though an optional $35 adapter is required for that). However, the FT7 lacks the FT60's well-regarded virtual trainer features.

Polar H7
Polar H7

Bluetooth heart rate monitor

The Polar H7 is a top choice among wireless heart rate monitors. It's accurate, durable, and comes in an assortment of colors and sizes to fit the style and needs of almost anyone. It's also versatile, supporting a variety of Android and iOS apps (though not Windows), along with Polar's own Polar Beat app. The H7 communicates with mobile devices and with most wrist-worn workout computers as well as home and club exercise equipment that can accept wireless data.
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Scosche Rhythm+
Scosche Rhythm+

Arm band wireless heart rate monitor

For those who find chest strap-style heart monitors uncomfortable, the Scosche Rhythm+ is a top alternative. Worn on the forearm or upper arm, reviewers say it is more accurate than pulse sensors that take their measurements only at your wrist. It comes with two arm bands so that users of different dimensions can place it where it is most comfortable and effective. Like the Polar H7, the Scosche uses the latest Bluetooth protocols, but you'll need a newer mobile device. The Rhythm+ is also ANT+ compliant. Swimmers should note that the Rhythm+ is water resistant, but only to 1 meter.

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See a side-by-side comparison of key features, product specs, and prices.

Finding the best heart rate monitors

Regular aerobic exercise is an important part of a healthy fitness regimen. It strengthens the heart, improves circulation and burns body fat. In order to maximize cardiovascular activity, most experts say that you should monitor your heart rate to stay in your target zone -- high enough to get a reasonable workout, but not so high as to get your heart pumping dangerously fast.

The experts at the American Heart Association (AHA) say that the ideal target zone for most individuals is between 50 percent and 85 percent of their maximum heart rate -- which is 220 beats per minute, minus their age, on average. That's only a guideline, however, and the AHA notes that certain medications can lower a person's maximum heart rate, and hence the target zone. If taking such medicines, they suggest talking to a doctor to determine the appropriate target zone -- and that's generally good advice, too, for anyone just starting out on an exercise program.

Types of heart rate monitors

The traditional type of heart rate monitor consists of a chest strap and a wrist unit that resembles -- and often also doubles as -- a wristwatch. The chest strap includes a contact monitor that is placed at the solar plexus, just below the breast plate, and wirelessly transmits a pulse reading to the wrist unit.

The simplest of these heart-rate monitors read and display the user's heart rate. More advanced units can calculate calories expended during the workout and keep records to show a progression. Some heart-rate monitors come packed with additional features and some models can upload workout results to a website, which can add a social component to your routine. Advanced monitors may have smart training or "virtual trainer" capabilities, setting your workout for you based on your personal information and goals.

You can also buy a wireless heart rate sensor on its own. These are designed to communicate with a smartphone or tablet via a heart-rate monitor app, or to sync with a computer built into compatible exercise equipment such as a treadmill, exercise bike, elliptical trainer and more. We cover all three of those types of stationary exercise equipment in separate reports.).

User reviews and expert opinion indicate that measuring your heart rate with a contact chest-strap sensor is the most accurate technique, but some heart rate monitors work differently. Some are worn on the arm or the wrist and use optical sensors to measure your pulse and, hence, your heart rate. Reviews for accuracy are mixed. The Scosche RHYTHM+ (Est. $80) scores well enough with experts and users for us to say that it is worth considering. The wireless Scosche heart rate monitor is worn on the forearm and syncs with a number of smartphone and tablet fitness apps to display heart rate, calories burned, distance, speed, pace and more.

Others, however, and especially heart rate monitors that are incorporated into the type of fitness trackers that are worn on the wrist, struggle when it comes to accuracy. CNET tests five such devices and finds that most suffer from inconsistent or inaccurate readings when benchmarked against a medical EKG machine. Two of the devices were off by more than 55 percent when measuring heart rate after running on a treadmill. So, if accurate heart rate tracking is your primary goal, you may want to consider a dedicated heart rate monitor. However activity trackers are still a great tool for counting steps, calories burned and more -- if you'd like to do that as well, head on over to our separate report on fitness trackers to see our recommendations for those.

Finding the best heart-rate monitors

For this report, we looked at top performing heart rate monitors (units that include the chest strap sensor and a wrist-worn display) as well as wireless heart rate sensors that send their data to a smartphone or to a computer on a compatible piece of exercise equipment. We consider performance, of course, as well as ease of use and reliability. We analyzed expert reviews, including feedback from sites run by or that tailor to runners, bikers and other athletes. We also looked at thousands of user reports posted at retail sites, including Amazon.com. The end result is our recommendations for the Best Reviewed heart rate monitors, as well as some other choices that are worth considering.

Elsewhere in This Report:

Best Heart-Rate Monitors: Whether you want a simple heart-rate monitor to make sure your heart stays in the right zone while exercising, or a sophisticated device that can double as a personal trainer, these are the top choices.

Wireless Heart Rate Monitors: These wireless heart rate sensors are compatible with most smartphones and tablets, and can work with a variety of fitness apps. Some can even send data to the computers built into exercise gear. Chest strap and arm band heart rate sensors are discussed.

Buying Guide: Not sure which is the right heart-rate monitor for you? Editors discuss the key features to look for to help you find the perfect heart-rate monitor for your budget and your needs.

Our Sources: These are the user, enthusiast, and expert reviews we consulted to find the most-recommended heart-rate monitors. Sites are ranked by their expertise and helpfulness.

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