Consumer Reports is not currently testing Heart-rate monitors.

Heart-Rate Monitor Buying Guide

An intense workout might feel great, but working out harder isn’t necessarily better. To achieve your health and fitness goals, you need to find the heart-rate zone where your workout yields safe, efficient, and beneficial results.

But how do you measure “intensity?” This is where a heart-rate monitor comes in. It can help you reach your target heart rate without leaving your safety zone. We tested 11 heart-rate monitors – ranging in price from $29 to $200. To determine their precision, we compared them against measurements taken from a physician’s electrocardiograph. All had excellent accuracy. Use this guide to determine the top-rated model to fit your needs.


Pulse Points—Types of Monitors

Heart-rate monitors can be worn as a chest-strap or as a device on your wrist. Consider where you want to wear your monitor, and how many features you need. Be sure the model you select suits your workout routine. Some monitors are better suited to specific activities like cycling. Swimmers should check whether the model is waterproof or merely "splash proof.” Features include timers, a calorie counter, speed/distance calculators, multiple heart-rate zone readouts, and connectivity to your smartphone or computer. 

Photo of a chest strap heart-rate monitor.

Chest Strap Monitors

All of these models are worn with a chest strap and wristwatch device except for one model (which connects via Bluetooth to your iPhone). Your heart rate is continuously displayed on either the wristwatch or the iPhone.

Pros: They provide continuous heart-rate readings. They allow you to move freely, so they're good for pretty much any workout from basketball to Zumba. Some athletes preferred chest-strap models to the wrist-only models that you have to touch to take a reading.

Cons: You have to wet the chest strap, at least initially, to get a reading. One of the models sends your heart rate to your iPhone, which can be inconvenient for those who would rather not carry their phone while working out.

Photo of a touch-type wristwatch heart-rate monitor.

Touch-Type Wristwatch

These wrist-only models require you to either touch the device on its rim or press a button to get a reading. You place them in the same location as a traditional watch.

Pros: Models do not require a chest strap.

Cons: Can be tough to use and distracting during certain workouts like running or cycling. You may have to wait several seconds to get a reading. You may have to wet the back of the watch with water, saliva, or conductive gel if you have trouble getting a reading.

Photo of a continuous-reading, wristwatch style heart-rate monitor.

Continuous-Reading Wristwatch

These newer devices give continuous readings without a chest strap. The wristwatch device must be placed snugly above your wrist bone (or where you'd normally wear a watch) to get an accurate reading.

Pros: They provide continuous heart-rate readings without a chest strap and work well for any type of workout. They can be read more easily than touch-watch models.

Cons: Pricier than chest-strap and touch-watch models. Some lacked basic features like a calorie counter.

Heart of the Matter – Staying in the Zone

There are three important target zones for exercise. The warm-up zone is when you are getting some movement and your pulse rate is slightly elevated but stays within 50 to 60 percent of its maximum. This is the recommended range for those who are just beginning to exercise, especially because there is a low risk of injury. Even in this zone, you can expect to reduce your body fat, blood pressure, and cholesterol. It also reduces the risk of degenerative diseases.

There are additional health payoffs when you increase your physical activity through higher intensity, greater frequency, and longer-duration exercise, according to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. That means you should engage weekly in at least 2½ hours of moderate-intensity physical activity.

Fat-Burning Zone
In this zone your heart is working at 60 to 70 percent of its maximum level. Compared to warm-up zone, you’ll be exerting yourself more. You’ll still get all of the benefits of the warm-up zone, yet you will burn more calories.

Cardio Zone
At this level, your heart rate is 70 to 80 percent of its maximum. You will strengthen your cardiovascular system and burn more calories than the previous two zones. But you’ll burn more muscle than in the other zones, which is also good for fat burning.

Testing Heart-Rate Monitors

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