Types of Heart Rate Monitors

Founder, Mr. Mamil

With various heart rate monitor options on the market, it can be overwhelming, especially for beginners. To make the best choice, it’s important to understand the different types of heart rate monitors available and their ideal use cases.

In this article, I’ll break down the different types of heart rate monitors; chest strap, wrist-based, arm-based, and integrated monitors; highlighting their features, benefits, and suitability for various cycling needs.

The table below summarizes the most common types of heart rate monitors. More explanation below.

TypeMeasurement methodAccuracyComfortConnectivity optionsPrice rangeExamples
Chest Strap MonitorsElectrical signalsHighGoodANT+, Bluetooth$$Polar H10
Garmin HRM-Dual
Wrist-Based MonitorsOptical sensorsModerateHighBluetooth$$-$$$Fitbit Charge 4
Apple Watch
Arm-Based MonitorsOptical sensorsGoodGoodANT+, Bluetooth$$Scosche Rhythm+
Polar Verity
Integrated Monitors in WatchesVaries (optical, ECG)VariesVariesVaries$$-$$$Apple Watch
Garmin Forerunner
Types of heart rate monitor comparison

Chest strap monitor

A chest strap monitor is worn around your chest and measures your heart rate by detecting electrical signals produced by your heart. 

Its electrodes pick up these signals and transmit them wirelessly to a connected device like a smartphone, watch, or bike computer. The chest strap monitor is known for its accuracy and is popular among athletes and fitness enthusiasts.

Key features of chest strap monitor

  • Accurate. Chest strap monitors offer high accuracy due to their direct contact with the heart’s electrical signals.
  • Reliable. Chest strap monitors provide consistent and reliable readings, making them a preferred choice among serious cyclists.
  • Secure fit. The chest straps are designed to stay in place during cycling, ensuring that your heart rate data remains accurate.

Pros of chest strap monitor

  • High accuracy
  • Reliable readings
  • Secure fit during cycling

Cons of chest strap monitor

  • Potential for chafing
  • Discomfort
  • Regular strap maintenance required

Popular chest strap monitor models

  • Polar H10. Renowned for its accuracy and comfort, the Polar H10 is compatible with various fitness apps and devices. It also features a user-replaceable battery.
  • Garmin HRM-Dual offers simultaneous ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity, ensuring compatibility with various devices. The comfortable and adjustable strap boasts up to 3.5 years of battery life.
  • Wahoo TICKR connects to smartphones, GPS watches, and bike computers. It features LED indicators for real-time heart rate data and has a comfortable, adjustable strap.

Wrist-based monitor

The wrist-based monitor, like a watch, is worn on your wrist and uses optical sensors to measure your heart rate. 

The sensors emit light penetrating your skin and reflecting off your blood vessels. As your heart beats, blood flows in your wrist changes, causing variations in the reflected light. The monitor measures these changes and calculates your heart rate, displaying it on a fitness tracker or smartwatch screen.

Key features of wrist-based monitor

  • Convenient. Wrist-based monitors are easy to wear, making them a popular choice for those who prefer a less intrusive option.
  • Integrated tracking features. Many wrist-based devices incorporate additional tracking features, such as GPS, sleep monitoring, and step counting.
  • Optical sensor technology. These monitors use optical sensors to detect heart rate through changes in blood flow in the wrist.

Pros of wrist-based monitor

  • Comfortable
  • Easy to wear
  • Often integrated with additional tracking features

Cons of wrist-based monitor

  • Generally less accurate than chest straps
  • Performance may be affected during high-intensity workouts

Popular wrist-based monitor models

  • Fitbit Charge 4 features built-in GPS for accurate distance tracking, 24/7 heart rate monitoring, and various exercise modes, including sleep tracking.
  • Garmin Forerunner 245. It is designed specifically for runners and cyclists and provides advanced training metrics, performance analytics, customizable data screens, and GPS tracking.
  • Apple Watch Series 6. With a high-quality, user-friendly interface, the Apple Watch Series 6 offers numerous health and fitness tracking features and is compatible with various third-party fitness apps.

Arm-based monitor

Like a wrist-based monitor, an arm-based monitor uses optical sensors to measure your heart rate. 

However, they are worn on your upper or lower arm instead of your wrist. This positioning can provide more accurate readings than wrist-based monitors since arm movements are less likely to interfere with the sensor.

Key features of an arm-based monitor

  • Optical sensor technology. Arm-based monitors employ optical sensors to measure heart rate through blood flow changes, similar to wrist-based monitors.
  • Placement. These devices can be positioned on the upper or lower arm, offering personal comfort and preference flexibility.
  • Adjustable fit. Arm-based monitors typically feature adjustable bands to accommodate various arm sizes and ensure a secure fit during workouts.

Pros of arm-based monitor

  • Less prone to interference from wrist movement
  • Potentially more accurate than wrist-based monitors

Cons of arm-based monitor

  • May be less comfortable or secure than wrist-based devices, depending on individual preferences
  • Limited range of models compared to wrist-based devices

Popular arm-based monitor models

  • Scosche Rhythm+ 2.0 utilizes PerformTek® biometric sensor technology for accurate readings and offers dual ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity. It also features a waterproof design and extended battery life.
  • Polar Verity Sense provides versatility with its detachable sensor pod and adjustable armband. When used in the pool, it offers swimming metrics and is compatible with numerous sports apps and devices via Bluetooth and ANT+ connectivity.
  • Wahoo TICKR FIT delivers accurate heart rate and calorie burn data and features both Bluetooth and ANT+ connectivity. Its adjustable band ensures a comfortable and secure fit.

Integrated monitors

An integrated monitor is built into other devices, such as a smartwatch.

It can use either optical sensors (like wrist-based monitors) or electrical sensors (like chest strap monitors) to measure your heart rate. The chest strap monitor is usually paired through ANT+ or Bluetooth.

The integrated monitor offers the convenience of tracking multiple performance metrics, like heart rate, speed, and distance, all in one device.

Key features of the integrated monitor

  • Multifunctional. Integrated monitors offer a variety of tracking features, such as heart rate monitoring, GPS, and performance metrics.
  • Convenience. Cyclists can enjoy the convenience of having multiple functionalities in one device, eliminating the need for separate heart rate monitors.
  • Compatibility. Many integrated monitors connect seamlessly with other devices and fitness apps, enabling cyclists to analyze and share their data easily.

Pros and cons of the integrated monitor

  • Convenient, multi-functional devices that eliminate the need for separate heart rate monitors
  • Integration with GPS and other performance metrics for comprehensive tracking

Cons of the integrated monitor

  • Potential for reduced accuracy and reliability compared to dedicated devices
  • Often more expensive than standalone heart rate monitors

Popular integrated heart rate monitors

  • Garmin Edge 530 offers advanced performance insights, including VO2 max, recovery time, and training load. It also features GPS navigation with a preloaded Garmin Cycle Map, providing incident detection and assistance.
  • Apple Watch Series 6. Measuring heart rate using an optical sensor and electrical heart sensor, the Apple Watch Series 6 integrates with the Apple Fitness+ platform and features GPS, altimeter, and fall detection.
Alex Lee at Mr.Mamil

Alex Lee is the founder and editor-at-large of Mr. Mamil. Coming from a professional engineering background, he breaks down technical cycling nuances into an easy-to-understand and digestible format here.

He has been riding road bikes actively for the past 12 years and started racing competitively in the senior category during the summer recently.