A heart rate monitor might seem like the kind of fitness gear reserved for elite athletes, but just about anyone can benefit from gauging effort with the small gadget during a workout.
Used before, during or after exercise to measure your heart's beats per minute (BPM), heart rate monitors can help you track your workouts, plan your rest and even better target your goals.
"Heart rate monitors are an excellent tool to keep in your arsenal, assuming they are accurate," says celebrity personal trainer Mohamed Elzomor, CPT. A reliable heart rate monitor can provide insights that allow you to create a more efficient training routine, because you'll be able to see what "zone" your current effort falls in, he says.
The target heart rate zone for a moderate workout is between 50 and 70 percent of your maximum heart rate, according to the American Heart Association. Vigorous exercise should land you between 70 and 85 percent of your maximum. (Target and maximum heart rates vary by age and other factors. Learn how to calculate yours here.)
Monitoring your heart rate may also be beneficial (and potentially absolutely necessary) if you're dealing with certain medical conditions. "If your doctor says not to get your heart rate past a certain point, take the advice seriously and monitor your workouts with care," Elzomor says.
How to Pick the Best Heart Rate Monitor
Heart rate monitors come in different styles; some are worn on the wrist while others are worn as a chest strap.
They also range in price from $70 or $80 to several hundreds. When choosing the best heart rate monitor for your needs, definitely consider it as an investment.
In addition to tracking your BPM, many heart rate monitors also have special features like heartbeat notifications and comprehensive reporting. You'll need to do a little research to determine how intuitive or in-depth you want the data collection and analysis portion of the product to be.
To help you sort through some of your options, here are seven trainer- and shopper-approved picks.
1. Polar H10 Heart Rate Monitor
Elzomor's favorite heart rate monitor brand is Polar, and he's particularly a fan of the chest strap. The H10 model is the most popular version, while a newer H9 model is more affordable.
You'll fasten the chest strap around your torso, attach the lightweight monitor and use Bluetooth to connect it to your phone or smartwatch. The chest strap ensures an accurate read, and the rubberized material on the inside of the strap keeps it secured in one spot through any type of workout.
The Polar heart rate monitor can be synced with various fitness apps, but there's a free branded app called Polar Beat available for iOS and Google Play. If you really want to have the full set-up, the Polar Ignite wrist watch, below, can connect to this chest strap.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $88.02
2. Polar Ignite Waterproof Fitness Watch
The Polar Ignite watch is available in six styles and the waterproof feature makes this one the top pick for tracking and viewing heart rate metrics while swimming. The watch is super lightweight and also includes GPS, sleep-tracking capabilities and more. Polar Ignite includes the Continuous Heart Rate feature, which activates to pinpoint and record the absolute lowest heart rate reading of the day, as well as the highest.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $224.57
3. Fitbit Charge 4
Featuring an understated design, the latest of the Fitbit collection features a week's worth of battery life, tried-and-true heart rate monitoring capabilities (including 24/7 monitoring), as well as useful features like exercise tracking for over 20 different types of activities.
You'll also get instant heart rate monitoring feedback: This Fitbit will alert you if you're in the fat-burning, cardio or peak heart rate zones, which can help you better optimize your workouts for your own personal goals in the moment.
For the most accurate heart rate tracking, wear your Fitbit one finger's width above your wrist bone when you're not exercising and two fingers' width above your wrist bone during a workout, according to the brand's website.
Buy it: Fitbit.com; Price: $169.95
4. G-SHOCK Move
The solar-powered G-SHOCK Move is the first of the G-SHOCK line to feature heart rate monitoring and a built-in GPS. Featuring temperature sensors and sensors for altitude, fans of outdoor workouts will definitely favor this monitor over others.
The heart rate monitor on the G-SHOCK is particularly interesting because the watch uses heart rate and speed to calculate a VO2 max value, which is a metric of your cardio capacity. Knowing that number can help you train to increase your stamina over time.
Buy it: Gshock.com; Price: $399.99
5. FitTrack Atria Smart Watch
This simple smartwatch boasts a seven-day battery life and will monitor your heart rate during sleep, rest and exercise. It also tracks and records breathing and sleep patterns to not only offer the opportunity to maximize workouts, but to help you develop healthier sleep patterns, as well.
Buy it: Getfittrack.com; Price: $99
6. Bose SoundSport Pulse Headphones
These sleek headphones blast your favorite workout music, let you take (important) calls during a run and, yes, even track your heart rate. The built-in heart rate sensor connects to the Bose Connect app, available for iOS and Google Play, so you can see your heart rate in real time and know when to level up your exercise routine.
Buy it: Bose.com; Price: $109.95