Running is superb cardiovascular exercise, and if you do it properly, it can improve your health and fitness noticeably.
If you’re just beginning your running journey, a heart rate monitor may not be high on the list of priorities. But once you gain a little bit of experience, exercising with one could be of more help than you realize.
Our top choice is the Garmin Forerunner 645. It’s a stylish and accurate heart rate monitor that offers some seriously nice additional features. You can use it by itself for some great insights, or purchase a chest strap to get into some really in-depth metrics.
Let’s check out our picks for the best heart rate monitors for runners.
Top 4 Best and Favorites
Garmin Forerunner 645
Best For Triathletes
Best For Triathletes
Garmin Forerunner 955
Top Battery Life
Top Battery Life
Best Standalone Arm Strap
Best Standalone Arm Strap
Scosche Rhythm+ Heart Rate Monitor Armband
1. Garmin Forerunner 645
As heart rate monitors go, this one is pretty great. Garmin is a big name in GPS technology, and this running watch offers premium features that will skyrocket your performance if used correctly.
Because it’s a watch, it calculates your heart rate using your wrist pulse. It’s not the most accurate method, but it’s both common and convenient. The 645’s music app lets you download up to 500 songs to your watch for easy listening on the go, while the HRM and GPS monitor your training. Your heart rate monitor will let you know if you’re peaking, overreaching, or training productively.
If you enjoy swimming or cycling in addition to running, Forerunner 645 tracks stroke count, pace, distance, and a variety of other numbers.
While these features are great for first-time HRM users, veterans wanting more detailed metrics will need to purchase a compatible chest strap or foot pod in order to make use of the most advanced metrics. These include stride length, vertical oscillation, balance, cadence, and ground contact time. You can buy the strap or Dynamic Pod in a bundle with the watch.
Between the helpful monitoring features, the ability to upgrade, and the sleek look of this HRM, it’s won our overall top spot for the best heart rate monitor for runners.
- Calculates wrist-based heart rate
- Offers a variety of other features in addition to heart rate
- We love the built-in payment system as a safety feature
- Up to 7 hours battery life
- It’s easy to accidentally order the non-music instead of the music version
- You’ll have to buy the Dynamics Pod, HRM-Run, or HRM-Tri monitor if you wish to make use of advanced dynamics
2. Garmin Forerunner 255
The Forerunner 255 is built on the same great tech as the 645. It’s also newer, but doesn’t pack all of the most advanced features. You still get all the most useful data, including wrist-based heart rate, pace, cadence, stride length, training load, and more. For most runners, that’s plenty of data to fine-tune your performance.
If you go all-in with the foot pod bundle, you can get down to serious data collection. Analyze your vertical oscillation, vertical ratio, ground contact time, and other nitty-gritty data points in your stride.
Using these, you can evaluate your performance and assess where you need to improve and how to get the best out of your training.
This HRM offers plenty of great benefits. You’ll have access to free training plans from Garmin Coach, an online fitness community, and the ability to sync your watch and your music.
It’s also seriously light – you won’t even feel the 5 ounces on your wrist. The battery lasts up to a year and is replaceable, so your Garmin Forerunner 255 should last you ages.
- You can get free adaptive training plans from Garmin
- The rechargeable battery is replaceable but should last up to a year
- Available in two sizes
- Various bundles available for advanced dynamics
- The battery life per charge isn’t great
Best Heart Rate Monitor For Triathletes
3. Garmin Forerunner 955
Triathletes will benefit the most from this HRM. While other Garmin options can handle multi-sport training and racing, this one is specifically designed for it. It’s a multi-sport watch with features for running, swimming, cycling, and it has some more hardcore features that others don’t.
You can customize this HRM watch to suit your needs, including setting custom metrics. The Elevate v3 heart rate monitor keeps an eye on how close you are to your max. Another great new feature, which if used in conjunction with the HRM should supercharge your running, is the pulse oximeter. This measures your blood O2 saturation.
The heart rate sensor is always on, tracking you even at rest. You may think this is useless for running performance, but it helps you understand your own body better and can give an indication of when you’re getting sick.
One of the best things about this watch for triathletes is that it is just as accurate in water as it is on land. It also features a triathlon mode, allowing you to track all three legs as well as your transition times.
Some may consider the lack of a touchscreen to be a downside, but it’s easy enough to do everything with the 5 side buttons. In GPS mode with music the battery can last up to 10 hours, and up to 2 weeks if used in the most energy-efficient mode.
- Designed for triathletes particularly
- Waterproof and accurate in water
- HRM during exercise and at rest
- Features a HRM and a pulse oximeter
- Pulse ox can drain battery life quickly
Best Battery Life
4. COROS APEX
If you’re looking for a heart rate monitor that offers superior features, tracks your fitness, and does it all without needing to be charged every day, the COROS Apex will suit you just fine.
The biggest selling point of this watch is its incredible battery life. Really, it’s made with serious ultra-runners and adventure athletes in mind. Customers make frequent mention of it, so it’s not just the company selling themselves.
According to the specs, the battery can last up to 24 days if used like a regular watch, 80 hours in UltraMax GPS mode, and an astounding 25 hours in full-on GPS mode. Whether you’re just lazy about charging, or are heading out for a 100-miler in the mountains, you’ll never need to worry about your battery dying while out on a run.
It packs some awesome features too. Aside from the wrist-based heart rate sensor, it also has a barometer (great for predicting weather before runs), a compass, an altimeter, and our favorite, a nutrition alert for when you need some fuel or hydration on a long run.
It’s even waterproof up to 328 feet, so you don’t need to worry about it getting wet while you’re out. The design is suitable for both men and women, and it comes in 2 sizes to fit everyone.
The one thing it gets a thumbs-down for is the lack of music functionality. But if you can do without tunes in your ears on the road, it’s a small price to pay for the battery life and great features you’ll get with this HRM.
- Available in 42mm or 46mm
- Compatible with a variety of third-party fitness apps
- Up to 25 hours of use in full GPS mode
- We like the nutrition alerts for long races
- No music functionality
- The screen may be too dim in bright light
Top Fitness Tracker Heart Rate Monitor
5. Fitbit Inspire 2
Not all heart rate monitors need to be feature-rich GPS watches.
If you’re keen to track more than just your heart rate but don’t need the whistles and bells,, the Fitbit Inspire 2 could be the one for you. It’s a full-on fitness tracker, not just HR, and you’ll get a well-rounded idea of what your body is doing and how to improve your fitness.
The HR sensor runs 24/7 for accurate and long-term checking. The only time it halts is when you’re in the pool. Swimming with the Fitbit isn’t a problem, as it’s waterproof up to 164 feet. But you won’t get your heart rate out of it.
Tracking is easy and comprehensive on this device. Keep an eye on heart rate, sleep cycles, sleep quality, calories burned, and steps. With daily use you’ll find your battery lasting up to 5 days.
The Fitbit is also a bit of a slimmer design than others, which some may prefer to the chunky ones.
- Slimmer design that others for extra comfort
- 24/7 heart rate monitoring
- Tracks a variety of metrics throughout the day
- Water resistant (up to 164 feet)
- The HR sensor stops working when swimming
6. Garmin Forerunner 35
The Garmin Forerunner 35 is our Best Value choice. It’s a perfectly adequate, constantly-running heart rate counter, with a few extra features that take it from being just another watch to a decent tracker.
If you want to measure your heart rate as a tool to improve your performance, this watch will do that. It will also measure your distance, speed, calories, and steps.
There’s no fancy additional metrics with this watch. It’s a heart rate monitor with some extra features, so it may not be quite enough for those advanced runners who want to take their training up a notch.
Something we really like is the ability to set intervals, although it’s limited in its customization. Runners looking to utilize interval training as a weight loss technique will find this useful.
You can’t beat the Garmin Forerunner 35 for its nice price and sturdy features.
- All-day wrist pulse monitoring
- GPS tracks other running metrics
- Affordable for its features
- Run/walk interval function
- May not suit more advanced runners looking to measure data
Top Basic Heart Rate Monitor
7. Polar FT4
The best heart rate monitors for runners don’t necessarily have to be fancy. This offering from Polar is a straightforward, to-the-point HRM that also measures calories and can connect to some gym equipment.
It comes with a chest strap, which you’ll need to wear if you want to record your heartbeat. The strap is soft and comfortable, and doesn’t chafe or cause overheating. But forget your chest strap and you’ll lose a day of data!
The FT4 is designed to be simple. There are no fancy metrics, so it’s best for runners who only want to keep an eye on heart rate, or beginners wanting to use their heart rate to maximize training.
A nice touch is the ability to keep measuring heart rate while in water (up to 98 feet). The battery should last up to a year on 30 minutes of exercise a day. It’s a little pricey for a basic device, but it will do the job well.
- Easy to use, no-fuss monitor
- Connects with certain compatible gym machines
- Battery is replaceable
- 5 different colored styles to choose from
- Only records HR if chest strap is worn
- It’s quite pricey for a basic device
Best Heart Rate Monitor for Women
8. Fitbit Versa 3
This stylish, feminine watch is packed with high-end features. It’s much more than just an HRM. Keep track of your HR all day, as well as calories burned, steps, distance, and hourly activity.
A feature we particularly like is Sleep Score. It makes note of the time you fall asleep, how long you’re in each sleep stage, your heart rate during the night, and restless periods throughout the night. This is useful for planning training runs or preparing for competitions.
The display is larger than the above Fitbit, which is great for at-a-glance use. All-day, everyday use should allow for a 6-day battery life, give or take.
There are some really useful additional features available, but most of these require paying subscriptions to work. They include Amazon Alexa, Spotify/Pandora/Deezer integration, and Fitbit Premium.
Some watches offer a free 90-day trial of Fitbit Premium. You’ll need to cancel this before the 90 days to avoid it being taken off your account if you don’t want to continue!
The Fitbit Versa comes in 5 pretty colors, and each purchase comes with a small and large strap so it should fit any woman.
- Feminine designs and colors
- Alexa built-in, for convenience
- Measure the quality of your sleep
- 6-day battery life on average
- The upsells can get costly (and you may not be able to use some features if you don’t spend money on them)
Best Suunto Heart Rate Monitor
9. Suunto 9
Suunto is renowned for manufacturing high-quality sports watches and devices. The Suunto 9 is a comprehensive device that not only looks stylish, but will cover all your fitness monitoring needs.
It’s less sporty-looking than most, and some may find it to be a little big for their wrist. But if you’re more interested in features than size, it offers plenty of good stuff for runners of all levels.
Up to 80 sports modes are built-in, so whatever your preference, there’ll be something for you. The watch also connects to a wide variety of third-party apps, so you can keep track of your stats no matter what you use.
Experienced runners may like the route planning, barometric altitude information, sunrise and sunset times, and storm warnings. Even with all these features, the battery should give you over 100 hours of use before needing a charge.
It’s a comprehensive, full-function heart rate monitor with a variety of extra features, so although the price tag is high, it’s worth a buy if it’s what you’re looking for.
- Multisport watch, great for triathletes but good for all runners
- Over 80 different sport modes
- 24/7 activity monitoring
- Up to 120 hours battery life
- No offline music capability
- It’s fairly pricey
Best Standalone Arm Strap
10. Scosche Rhythm+ Heart Rate Monitor Armband
If you don’t like wearing a watch, this monitor could work for you. Strap it around your upper forearm and it should pick up quite nicely on your heart rate.
The bonus with this product is that it connects to most fitness apps, so if you’re already using and enjoying one, you won’t have to learn a new one from scratch. As long as your device is Bluetooth Smart or ANT+ enabled, this will link up to it easily.
The neoprene armband is comfortable and breathable. When you buy, you’ll get two extra armbands – one small and one large. It’s sweat proof and waterproof, making it suitable for use in the heat and wet conditions.
It is important to note, though, that it’s not OrangeTheory compatible – customers have been caught out with this before, so if that’s your workout of choice, this may not be for you!
- Integrates with all ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart devices
- Breathable, lightweight, and easy to use
- We like that you can use your favorite app and not have to learn a new one
- Arm placement may be uncomfortable for some
- Can only be in water up to 3.2 feet
Best Rechargeable Standalone Arm Strap
11. Polar OH1+
This sleek little arm strap is hardly even noticeable when wearing it. Pair it with your device of choice – a smartphone, tablet, or watch. You don’t need to have your phone or watch on you while you’re exercising, either. The 200-hour memory means you can train without your device and save all your data.
The real beauty of this little HRM is its versatility. It comes on an armband, but it’s easy to take it off and utilize it in a variety of other ways. The purchase includes a goggle clip, so you can measure your heart rate while in the pool using the pulse in your temple.
This is also a great indication of its water resistance, which suggests that it’s sweat-proof too.
For such a small device, this HRM is unique and accurate, as well as being USB rechargeable for convenience.
- We love the flexibility of this HRM
- Easy to pair with your device of choice
- USB rechargeable
- Built-in memory for up to 200 hours
- It can be difficult to clean, especially if you sweat a lot
Best Standalone Chest Strap
12. Polar H10
Most of the heart rate monitors we’ve focused on have been in the form of a watch, but for those runners who may prefer a chest strap, this is our choice. It’s also well-priced, so if you do enjoy wearing your watch, it may still be worth having one of these for occasions where greater accuracy is desired – chest straps are considered more accurate than other types of HRMs.
This one is compatible with most devices, including a GoPro Hero 5 camera. No matter what device you have, this chest strap will pair with it.
The 1-session memory may not be enough for some runners, especially if you’re one who forgets to transfer data! Next time you exercise, your existing data will be overwritten.
This chest strap HRM is single-function, which is to measure your heart rate. There’s nothing fancy about it, but it’s accurate, and it’s what you do with that info that counts. As Polar says, make every beat count.
- 400 hours battery life
- Battery is replaceable
- Smart Coaching feature for fitness tracking
- Connectivity problems seem to be common
- 1-session memory
Whether you’re getting a heart rate monitor for the first time, or you’re upgrading, here are some of the most frequently asked questions about these devices.
What Are The Benefits Of a Heart Rate Monitor (HRM)?
An HRM isn’t just for interest’s sake. There’s a practical training purpose behind knowing how fast your heart is beating while you’re running.
Targeting workouts to specific heart rate zones is a proven way to get the best performance results. Knowing where your heart rate sits means you know when your effort is appropriate to the current workout. If not, you’ll be able to get an idea of how much more intense you need to go to get here.
Your HRM provides an accurate idea of how much effort you’re exerting while you’re exercising. Without a heart rate monitor, you’ll have to teach yourself to run by perceived effort. That’s not a bad skill to have, but it’s not as accurate as knowing your heart rate.
What Heart Rate Should You Run At?
This question is the stuff arguments are made of. There is a wide range of approaches to training and heart rate, and their devotees all swear that theirs is the One True Way. High-Intensity Interval Training wants you to get your heart rate way up in a short period of time through brief, intense bursts of activity. Maffetone Method runners swear by an opposite technique of building base fitness by never elevating your heart rate above a certain calculated aerobic threshold.
Most training programs are not so black-and-white. In fact, varying the intensity of training is a tried-and-true way to make sure you are getting a varied training program in. Training at 50 to 85% of your maximum capacity is the sweet spot for best results. But that means some days are very easy runs. Use your HRM to make sure you stay at a low heart rate. And other days are for hard interval training. Use your HRM to make sure you are pushing yourself hard enough.
The most popular way to calculate your max heart rate is to subtract your current age from 220. Remember, 50 to 85% of that number will be where your heart rate should be.
Work out your numbers and make sure you’re sticking to them when you work out. If your heart dips below, pick up the pace to get the most out of your exercise. And if you’re red-lining, back off.
What Heart Rate Zone Is Best for Weight Loss?
While between 50 and 85% is where you should be for effective exercise, there’s a theory that you can lose more weight by exercising in the “fat burning zone”. This theory suggests that you should keep your heart rate at 70 to 80% of your maximum throughout your exercise.
If your goal is to burn more fat, high intensity is the way to go. HIIT (high-intensity interval training) is a great way to give yourself a real cardio pump and burn more fat.
What Other Options to Transfer Heart Rate Data Are There?
Apart from Bluetooth or USB, there are a few ways to transfer your recorded data. Depending on which HRM you choose, it could come with any of the following:
- USB transfer
- ANT+: doesn’t require pairing, simply connect to the closest compatible ANT+ receiver
- 5 kHz GymLink: can connect to various gym machines