How do I Choose the Best Sports Heart Rate Monitor?

Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari
Some watches can give a heart rate reading.
Some watches can give a heart rate reading.

The best sports heart rate monitor will depend on the type of sport you intend to play, what you intend to use the heart rate monitor for, and what your budget is for purchasing the unit. Sports heart rate monitor models come in two basic varieties: wrist monitors, and monitors that use both a chest strap and wrist unit. The wrist unit and the chest strap communicate wirelessly to get an accurate heart rate reading throughout a workout, whereas a wrist unit on its own requires you to press your thumb and forefinger against sensors to get a heart rate reading.

The sports heart rate monitor should feature a display with large numbers and letters for easy reading during physical activity.
The sports heart rate monitor should feature a display with large numbers and letters for easy reading during physical activity.

Whichever sports heart rate monitor type you choose, you will need to make sure it is durable, water-resistant or waterproof, easy to read, and easy to navigate. Sweat is likely to build up on the skin during a workout, and many sports will require you to be exposed to rain or snow; the unit should be resistant to such moisture to prevent damage. For more active or contact sports, be sure to choose a monitor that will withstand light to moderate impacts. The sports heart rate monitor should feature a display with large numbers and letters for easy reading during physical activity, and the buttons on the wrist watch unit should be large enough for easy use but small enough to prevent normal wrist movement.

The chest strap should fit snugly around the torso, and it should be adjustable for comfort and stability. Many chest strap units feature an elastic strap attached to a plastic sensor unit; make sure the manufacturer offers replacement elastic straps, as these can wear out after time and may need replacing. The battery compartment on the sports heart rate monitor chest unit should be easy to access, and it should be placed in such a way that it does not cause discomfort while wearing the strap.

Cyclists may want to choose a sports heart rate monitor that mounts on the handlebars rather than on the wrist. This will prevent the rider from having to remove his or her hands from the handlebar during a ride to accurately read the display. Some wristwatch models come with a rubber mount that can be placed on the bars, and the wrist watch unit can be wrapped around the mount.

Be sure to check what features are offered by the monitor. Some monitors offer alarms that can be programmed to tell you when you have left your target heart rate zone. Others feature stop watches, burned calories counters, and even the ability to interface with a computer to track training progress.

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    • Some watches can give a heart rate reading.
      Some watches can give a heart rate reading.
    • The sports heart rate monitor should feature a display with large numbers and letters for easy reading during physical activity.
      The sports heart rate monitor should feature a display with large numbers and letters for easy reading during physical activity.