To the unfamiliar, a chest strap heart rate monitor could appear to be many things: A piece of measuring tape left over after a tailoring session, for example, or possibly some kind of mysterious medical device. The truth is a little less exciting—and a lot more effective: It’s just a good tool to make the most of your sweat sessions, whether you’re still learning your way around the gym, coming back to your fitness routine after a hiatus, or training at an elite level. Unlike wrist sensors found on wearable devices (think Whoop and Fitbit), chest strap heart rate monitors are known for their accuracy. This is key when you’re using heart rate data to execute, analyze, and plan your workouts.
We looked at five of the most popular chest strap heart rate monitors on the market to help you figure out which one to buy. After conducting extensive research, consulting with multiple experts, and extensive hands-on testing (as in, more than 30 hours’ worth), including nearly 500 miles of road, gravel, and indoor cycling as well as a handful of HIIT workouts and strength sessions, our top pick was—drumroll, please!—the Garmin HRM-Dual. Earning high scores for comfort and user-friendliness, it features Garmin’s stellar reputation at a very reasonable price point.
Here’s the TL;DR on the best chest strap heart rate monitors:
The Best Chest Strap Heart Rate Monitor
- Accurate, consistent heart rate monitor that aligns with perceived effort
- Battery lasts up to 3.5 years
- 52-inch strap fits most
- Pairs easily with other devices over Bluetooth
- Can remove the sensor to put the strap in the washing machine
- Consistently accurate over long workouts
- None we could find
The Garmin HRM-Dual performed well right out of the gate. It paired quickly and easily with everything I tried—my Wahoo bike computer, the Strava app, and the Stages bike at my gym—and had no issues when I connected it to the latter two simultaneously while using my Bluetooth earbuds with my smartphone. It was accurate and comfortable, and scored bonus points for Garmin’s stellar reputation as a leader and trusted brand in the wearable technology space.
The Dual won all the points for user-friendliness. I have limited patience for long instruction manuals and complicated set-up processes. With the Dual, I didn’t have to deal with any of this. The hook and loop closure system made it easy to don and doff. Pairing it with my other devices couldn’t have been easier, too. Plus, it has a handy little (non-scratchy) tag that displays washing instructions. (Just snap the sensor off and throw it in the washing machine on cold after every seventh use.)
I couldn’t have asked for a more accurate or consistent product. Over many hours of use, it gave me heart rate readings that aligned with my perceived effort.
I wouldn’t describe any chest strap heart rate monitor as particularly comfortable. But like the others I tried, once I started my workout, I hardly noticed it was there. And although I didn’t have the opportunity to test this product over a long-term period, I’d expect it to perform well over time based on the product specs. According to the manufacturer, the battery lasts up to 3.5 years, assuming you use it for one hour per day.
Based on the Amazon reviews, I’m not the only one who would wholeheartedly recommend the Garmin Dual. With over 11 thousand reviews, it received an average rating of 4.5 stars.
In the spirit of total transparency, I have to report that in one two-plus hour bike ride, I experienced two five-minute periods where the Dual gave me inaccurate readings. I’m not subtracting points for these momentary glitches, given the fact that I put this product through more than six hours of testing. Plus, it certainly could have been a case of user error. The user manual suggests cleaning and drying the removable sensor after every use, which I did not do.
What Is a Chest Strap Heart Rate Monitor? (And Why Might You Want One?)
Chest strap heart rate monitors feature a long strip of elastic with a heart rate sensor. They also have a fastener attached that allows you to wrap it around the circumference of the chest. Its job is to analyze electrical signals from your heart to tell you how many times your heart beats per minute. Depending on the app you’re using and/or what type of exercise you’re doing, you’ll see that reading on your phone, your cyclometer, your laptop or tablet screen, or on your cardio machine’s console. You can connect your chest strap monitor directly to countless other technologies, including an Apple Watch, Garmin device, Peloton, and to apps like Strava. Heart rate data can be super valuable, no matter what your fitness goals are. “Anyone can benefit,” says Dr. Stacy Sims, exercise physiologist and author.
Once you know your maximum heart rate, you can determine your training zones and create an individualized plan to optimize every workout. How much time you spend in each zone during a given session depends on your goals, the purpose of that particular workout, and how you’re recovering. “It also allows the individual to see how the body is adapting,” Sims explains. For example, if your heart rate doesn’t drop quickly between hard efforts or it’s sluggish when you increase your effort, you might be fatigued and need to back off.
One of the heart rate monitors’ most important benefits is that they can prevent you from overtraining, says Sims. People often work out in a “gray zone”—not challenging enough to create physiological adaptations or easy enough to allow adequate recovery—which interferes with progress. With a heart rate monitor, you can check your connected watch (or phone, cyclometer, or cardio machine console) to stay in your intended zone.
Most of the chest strap heart rate monitors we tested were designed to be one-size-fits-all and can be adjusted to fit a wide range of sizes. The exception was the Polar H10, which comes in two sizes.
Is A Chest Strap Heart Rate Monitor Better Than a Wrist Monitor?
Almost everyone agrees that chest strap heart rate monitors are less comfortable and convenient than wrist sensors. But they make up for it in accuracy. “Chest straps are the gold standard, validated against the clinical ECG [electrocardiograph], sitting around 99% accurate,” says Sims.
Wrist sensors, which use an optical sensor that measures blood flow under the skin, have a wide margin of error—as high as Journal of Sports Sciences “Heart rate measures from the Apple Watch, Fitbit Charge HR 2, and electrocardiogram across different exercise intensities” View Source , according to a 2018 study. Even if you’re using it correctly (with a tight fit, above the knuckle on your wrist), factors including your skin tone, hair, and moles can interfere with accuracy, says Sims. Plus, wrist sensors, which rely on photoplethysmographic (PPG), or green light signaling, show more frequent inaccuracies for darker skinned people. A 2017 study that analyzed seven popular wearable devices that relied on wrist sensors, including the Apple Watch and the Fitbit Surge, found that NPJ Digital Medicine “Investigating sources of inaccuracy in wearable optical heart rate sensors” View Source were more common among users with darker skin across all the products they tested. As one of that study’s authors told Stat, many of the manufacturers did not emphasize diversity of test subjects in their product development process.
That said, if you’d prefer to wear something all day, a wrist-based monitor may be better. “There is no ideal sensor, just compromises or tradeoffs,” says Carl Valle, USATF level II coach and sports technologist. While chest strap models are reliably accurate during exercise, they weren’t designed to be worn all day. For many, the added step of putting it on and taking it off poses a barrier. Wrist sensors aren’t known for their accuracy, but they can help you analyze trends, especially in conjunction with other metrics.
Regardless of which type of heart rate monitor you choose, you’ll want to take other data points into account. “[Using several metrics] reveals or teases out an assessment between what the user is doing and the effort they are putting into the activity,” says Valle. That means looking at factors like rate of perceived exertion (RPE), wattage, and pace as well.
How Do You Find Your Target Heart Rate?
If you get a heart rate monitor, it will help you determine your proper heart rate zones, which are based on a Cleveland Clinic “Exercise Heart Rate Zones, Explained” View Source . You can Mayo Clinic “Exercise Intensity: How To Measure It” View Source by subtracting your age from 220—so, if you’re 35, that max is about 185 beats per minute. In workouts, you may aim to hit the low-intensity zone (50%-60% of your max heart rate), temperate zone (60%-70% of your max heart rate), or the aerobic zone (70%-80% of your max heart rate). Each zone has different benefits, depending on what your goals are—and some studio exercise classes, such as Orangetheory, build entire workouts around these zones. Either way, a chest strap heart rate monitor will help you understand exactly where you are.
How We Got Here
Meet Your Guinea Pig
I’m Pam Moore, a certified personal trainer, endurance athlete, and health and fitness journalist. I have bylines in outlets including The Washington Post, Time, The Guardian, Runner’s World, SELF, Outside, Bicycling, and Women’s Running.
My background includes over ten years of experience as an occupational therapist, and nearly 20 years of experience teaching indoor cycling classes. I’ve completed six marathons, crossed two Ironman triathlon finish lines, and climbed several of the highest paved roads in the United States on my road bike.
An endurance lover at heart, I’ve dabbled in other fitness pursuits. These include barre, Pilates, yoga, CrossFit, Zumba, Orangetheory, rock climbing, hiking, backpacking, and more. I’m not one to rely solely on data, but heart rate information has been an invaluable tool that’s guided my training since I bought my first heart rate monitor in 2003.
Our Testing Process
To find the best chest heart rate monitors, I spent several hours researching the product category to see what features various products offered, what people were saying about them, and which were most popular. I narrowed my selections down to my top five picks and shared them with the Ness Team with a brief explanation of what made each product stand out. The Nessie then purchased these options for testing.
My plan was to use each product for at least a week’s worth of workouts, including bike rides, HIIT training, and strength training. The bulk of my testing time was spent using each heart rate monitor with my Wahoo Bolt Element cycling computer. For my indoor cycling workouts, I paired each heart rate monitor with Strava and the Stages indoor bike console while my phone was simultaneously connected to Bluetooth headphones. For the strength and HIIT sessions, I paired each product with the Strava app.
The only product that didn’t go through the full testing process exception was the Polar H-10. Because I couldn’t get it to pair with my cycling computer, I only tested it with the Stages bike and Strava and did not take it through a full week’s worth of workouts.
All told, I spent more than 30 hours testing heart rate monitors over an eight-week period. For more intel on the best chest strap heart rate monitors, check out the test notes.
The Chest Strap Heart Rate Monitor Buying Guide
Who Should Buy Chest Strap Heart Rate Monitors?
Chest strap heart rate monitors can provide valuable data for all kinds of people, not just serious athletes. Whether you’re training at an elite level or simply trying to improve your fitness, chest strap heart rate monitors are a great tool for people engaging in endurance activities. These may include running, cycling, rowing, hiking, jogging, walking, and Nordic skiing. Swimmers can also benefit, provided the product is designed for underwater use. (Most heart rate monitors aren’t.) Swimmers should note that the wrist sensors are generally not effective underwater, regardless of whether the device is waterproof. Though all the products we tested were supposed to be waterproof, only the Polar H10 is designed for swimming.
Staying in the right heart rate zone can help you optimize your workouts, progress faster, and recover more quickly. They can also be an excellent tool for people who are going through cardiac rehabilitation with medical supervision. During cardiac physical therapy, data from your heart rate monitor will ensure that you’re exercising within your target range. Also, combining that data with RPE can also give important information your progress. For example, tolerating a certain heart rate zone more easily indicates improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness and endurance. Your healthcare practitioner may ask you to wear your heart rate monitor at home as well.
Which Features Matter Most When Buying Chest Strap Heart Rate Monitors?
- User-friendliness: You’ll want to consider how easy it is to take the HRM on and off and how quickly and easily it pairs with your other devices via Bluetooth. (Or ANT+, a type of wireless connection that uses the same frequency as Bluetooth and WiFi but transmits data more slowly and works within shorter ranges, usually five feet or less).
- Accuracy: Does the product capture an accurate representation of your heart rate? If you have a history of training with heart rate data, you probably have a sense of where your heart rate will fall based on your subjective effort level. If not, you can take your pulse manually at your neck or wrist to see how closely your count matches your device. You can also connect your heart rate monitor to multiple devices (i.e. Strava, the Apple HealthKit app, or the console on your gym’s cardio machine) to see if they’re consistent with one another.
- Consistency: A good heart rate monitor will consistently capture data without breaks or glitches throughout even the longest, sweatiest workouts.
- Comfort: A heart rate monitor can excel in every other area, but if it’s uncomfortable to the point where it’s distracting or annoying, chances are, you won’t wear it. This means that it should also be easy to adjust to fit your body just right. When the monitor is on, it should feel taut without being constricting—if you can’t fully expand your ribs to breathe, that’s a problem.
What’s The Best Chest Strap Heart Rate Monitor According to Reddit?
In one thread, users sing the praises of Garmin’s HRM-Pro and Tickr. In another, users tout the HRM Dual, just like us. One popular options that we haven’t gotten a chance to try yet includes the MyZone.
Other Chest Strap Heart Rate Monitors To Consider
Wahoo Fitness Tickr
- Sleek, slim-fitting chest strap that consistently delivers accurate measurements
- 38-inch strap fits most
- Pairs easily with other devices over Bluetooth
- Consistently accurate over long workouts
- Comfortable, featuring snap closure LED indicator shows a successful connection
- Sensor can detach from strap for easy machine washing
- None that we could find
If any chest strap heart rate monitor could ever earn the title of “sexiest,” it would be the Wahoo Tickr. Its sleek design includes an oblong shape and shiny surface. Like the Garmin Dual, pairing it with my devices was a breeze, it performed accurately and consistently over long periods, and was just as comfortable as any of the products I tested.
The first thing I noticed about the Tickr was its relatively thin profile and smooth surface. Unlike most of the other heart rate monitors I tried, which featured a hook and loop closure system, the Wahoo has a snap closure. This made donning and doffing a breeze.
The Tickr also features LED lights that blink to indicate a successful connection with any devices you’re pairing it with. While I found it a little awkward to crane my neck down to get a good look at the light, this could be a super useful feature, particularly for those times when you’re not sure if your device is recognizing the heart rate monitor. I could tell mine was working because an accurate heart rating reading would appear on my paired devices almost immediately. With the easy snap-on/snap-off design, you can simply unsnap the sensor from the chest strap to wash the strap.
Like the Garmin Dual, the Tickr gave one funky reading for about ten minutes during a long bike ride. The device said my heart rate was more than 30 beats per minute higher than my previously measured maximum heart rate. I still confidently recommend this product because this only happened for a short period of time during one workout out of many. Plus, several factors can interfere with chest strap heart rate monitor performance, including wind, synthetic workout apparel materials (which I always wear), and electrical interference from things like power lines.
Additionally, Journal of Sports Sciences “Heart rate measures from the Apple Watch, Fitbit Charge HR 2, and electrocardiogram across different exercise intensities” View Source shows that working out at higher intensities can also interfere with accuracy. (And I was definitely working hard when my Tickr showed the much-too-high readings.)
CooSpo Heart Rate Monitor
- A worthy budget heart rate monitor with a slightly clunky profile
- 52.8-inch strap fits most
- Connects quickly and consistently with other Bluetooth devices
- Consistently accurate over long workouts
- You can remove the sensor to put the strap through the wash
- The look was nondescript and the strap’s elastic felt a bit cheap
- The sensor had a thicker profile than the others I tested
- Doesn’t show up as “CooSpo” when pairing with other devices
Want to try training with heart rate data but on a tight budget? I’d wholeheartedly recommend the CooSpo. It does everything you need it to do at a fraction of its competitors’ prices.
Like the other products I tested, it connected smoothly to every other Bluetooth device I paired it with and consistently gave accurate readings (with zero glitchy behavior). I didn’t have problems figuring out how to use it, either. It would have been nice if it showed up in my devices as “CooSpo” (instead, it showed up as a series of numbers) but this wasn’t a huge deal.
While some users will appreciate the beeping sound it makes every time a successful connection is made, this wasn’t a selling point for me. I found it distracting and a little redundant, as I could tell I was connected because I got an almost instant, accurate reading as soon as I put it on.
With its nondescript look, bulkier sensor shape, and slightly lower quality elastic strap, the CooSpo isn’t going to win any design awards. But because it functions so well, and didn’t feel markedly different from the other products once I put it on, I’d confidently recommend it if you’re looking for a budget-friendly way to try heart rate training.
Garmin HRM Pro
- A sleek monitor for Garmin watch users—but not much use to everyone else
- 67-inch strap fits most
- Pairs with easily other devices over Bluetooth
- Slim, comfortable design
- Consistently accurate over long workouts
- Can only take advantage of all the features (including the running dynamics metrics) with a Garmin watch or other Garmin device
- Integrated design precludes throwing it in the washing machine
- The Garmin Connect app is not sufficient
The Garmin HRM-Pro has some very attractive features. It connected easily and quickly to every device I tried. Plus, with its sleek design and a slim profile, it got points for comfort and aesthetics. It was also consistently accurate over a variety of workouts.
However, without a Garmin watch, I couldn’t take advantage of all of its features. If you own a compatible Garmin watch, it might be worth the higher price tag. Otherwise, I’d save my money.
Chest Strap Heart Rate Monitors You Can Skip
- A much-beloved monitor that failed in connectivity
- Two sizes fit most
- Paired well with some Bluetooth devices
- Sleek design
- Wouldn’t pair with bike computer
I really wanted to like the Polar H-10. Its slim, shiny design was a definite plus. The elastic band felt softer than the others and had little anti-slip texturing on the inside. This gave it high scores for comfort. When it paired with my devices (the Strava app and the indoor bike console at my gym), it was accurate and consistent. That said, because of its inability to pair with my bike computer, I didn’t use it nearly as much as the others. (I used it for less than an hour, as compared to the six to eight hours I spent testing its competitors.)
But, again it wouldn’t pair with my cycling computer no matter what I tried. (And believe me, I tried everything.) That was a total deal-breaker for me. Given how easily every other monitor paired with the computer, I just can’t recommend the H-10. That said, other reviewers seem to love it.
- Chest strap heart rate monitor are more accurate than wrist strap monitors: “Variable Accuracy of Wearable Heart Rate Monitors during Aerobic Exercise” Med Sci Sports Exerc. (August 2017)
- Chest strap heart rate monitors have been validated against elecrocadiograph testing.
- “Accuracy of Wrist-Worn Heart Rate Monitors | Cardiology” American Medical Association Cardiology (January 2017)
- The margin of error for wrist sensor heart rate monitors can be as great as 15 percent. “Heart rate measures from the Apple Watch, Fitbit Charge HR 2, and electrocardiogram across different exercise intensities” Physical Activity, Health and Exercise (January 2019)
- Athletes may be better served by chest strap heart rate monitors than wrist sensor heart rate monitors. “Accuracy of commercially available heart rate monitors in athletes: a prospective study” Cardiovasc Diagn Ther. (August 2019)
- Electrical interference can interfere with heart rate monitor accuracy. “Investigating sources of inaccuracy in wearable optical heart rate sensors” NPJ Digit Med. (February 2020)
- Working out at higher intensities can also interfere with heart rate monitor accuracy. “Heart rate measures from the Apple Watch, Fitbit Charge HR 2, and electrocardiogram across different exercise intensities” Physical Activity, Health and Exercise (January 2019)
- Wrist sensor heart rate monitors are less accurate for wearers with darker skin. “Investigating sources of inaccuracy in wearable optical heart rate sensors” NPJ Digit Med. (February 2020)
- Wrist sensor heart rate monitors are less accurate for wearers with darker skin. “Limiting racial disparities and bias for wearable devices in health science research” (October 2020)
- Email interview with Dr. Stacy Sims, MSC, PhD, Exercise Physiologist, TEDx Speaker and Author, June 15th, 2022.
- Email interview with Carl Valle, USATF level II coach and sports technologist, June 16th, 2022.
- Email interview with Chris Gagliardi, American Council on Exercise certified trainer and Medical Exercise Specialist, June 15th, 2022.