Heart Rate Monitors: A Buyer’s Guide

If you’re in the market to buy your first heart rate monitor, then you’re probably confused by all the options out there. There are many different manufacturers of heart rate monitors, and within each manufacturer a range of different products. Which monitor is right for you, and what kind of things are available are some of the points we’ll discuss in this heart rate monitor buyer’s guide.

Why Do I Need a Heart Rate Monitor?

If you’re not monitoring your heart rate when you’re training, then you have no idea whether or not you’re training at the correct intensity to improve your fitness or lose weight. Your heart rate is one of the main factors in determining your training intensity, and to lose weight effectively you need to be training in the correct heart rate zone, so the ability to monitor your heart rate is one of the first steps in effectively increasing your fitness or losing weight.

How Much Will I Need to Spend On A Heart Rate Monitor?

The price of heart rate monitors varies substantially depending on the brand and the particular model. You can pay as little as £15 or as much as £400 for a fully loaded heart rate monitor with built in GPS tracking. How much you need to spend will depend entirely on your fitness goals, and the answer will become clear when we go into more detail about what kind of features you get at the various price ranges.

Very Basic Heart Rate Monitors: £15 to £50 Price Range

You won’t get much at this price range, but some of the things you’ll find are:

  • Real-time display of heart rate
  • Average heart rate after workout
  • Timer/Stopwatch
  • Workout time and current time

The very entry level heart rate monitors are extremely limited and really only give you a reading of your current heart rate, with some of them reporting a summary of your workout with your average heart rate. A heart rate monitor at this price range is still better than nothing, but if you can afford one over £50, you should avoid the very cheap ones.

In our view, the top heart rate monitors at this price point include the following:

Polar FT1
Polar FT2
Suunto M1
Garmin FR60 – note this watch can also cost more than £50 depending on the add ons bought with it.

Basic Models Heart Rate Monitors: £50-£120 Price Range

This is where heart rate monitors start to become useful and you’ll find more features at this price range such as:

  • Support for heart rate zones with alerts when you fall outside the zones
  • Real-time display of heart rate, calories burned, and workout time.
  • Post workout summary with information like average heart rate, calories burned, peak heart rate and min heart rate.
  • Lap and interval timers

Heart rate monitors in this price range are good for beginners who want a simple watch with a wide range of functionality to help them get fit and lose weight. You’ll find everything you need to monitor your heart rate and stay in the correct heart rate zones.

Some watches in this range will provide you with coaching advice, like the Suunto M range .If you’d like a heart rate monitor that can give you guidance on how often to train, how long to train for, and how long to rest for then the Suunto M series will be a good buy. If you’re more interested in having a watch with the most heart rate features, as well as full control over your heart rate zones, then the entry level Timex watches, the Timex Fitness Trainer, and the Timex Road Trainer will be the best fit for you.

In our view, the top heart rate monitors at this price point include the following:

Polar FT4
Polar FT7
Polar FT40
Polar FT60
Garmin FR70
Suunto M4
Timex Iron Man Fitness Trainer
Timex Iron Man Road Trainer

Intermediate Heart Rate Monitors: £120-£200 Price Range

At this price range you’ll start to find features for tracking your speed, distance and running pace, as well as some advanced post-workout analysis features, and the ability to upload your workouts online for maintaining a history of your training with the ability to perform advanced analysis on your training logs.

Being able to track your speed, distance and running pace is fantastic if you’re primarily a runner, since knowing these things allows you to accurately track your progress and will make your workouts much more enjoyable by having the extra feedback.

You’ll find all the standard heart rate monitoring features that you’d find in a basic heart rate monitor at this price range, with some more options to determine your training intensity and the effect your training is having on your fitness level.

If you train more than twice a week or you’re a runner, then you’ll benefit greatly from a heart rate monitor with both GPS support, and the ability to upload your workout data to the computer. All the heart rate monitors at this price range have their own online training system that allows you to upload your workout log online to perform post-workout analysis. With the online training systems some common features you’ll find are:

  • Plot your route on a map
  • View graphs and charts of various training metrics
  • Plan out your workout in a diary
  • Download workouts
  • Check your heart rate at various points along the route you took on the map

All the online training systems have active communities and you’ll be able to get feedback on your training, join in discussions with other users and learn more about fitness. It’s the online training systems that really set the heart rate monitors at this price range apart and add a new depth to your training. If you can afford a heart rate monitor at this price range, even if you’re not a serious athlete, it’s recommended you get one for the huge benefit being part of an online community will provide.

In our view, the top heart rate monitors at this price point include the following:

Polar FT80
Garmin Forerunner 210
Garmin Forerunner 410

Advanced Heart Rate Monitors & GPS Watches: Upwards of £200 Price Range

The heart rate monitors at this range are more like personal training computers than just heart rate monitors. You’ll find almost every feature that you can fit into a watch at this price. You’ll have a range of advanced options including:

  • Fitness tests
  • Triathlete watches that’ll work in the water for swimming
  • Options for custom workouts
  • Advanced timers for interval training and lap training
  • More sophisticated logging, with every conceivable metric being logged for post-workout analysis

Heart rate monitors above £200 are generally aimed at advanced athletes who are either very serious about their fitness or training for a race and need to track every bit of information no matter how small, and create highly custom workouts to meet specific fitness goals.

If you’ve got the money to spend on a heart rate monitor/sports watch at this price level, then you should definitely invest in one even if you’re not a serious athlete, since the extra functionality will enable you to get fit and lose weight extremely quickly.

In our view, the top heart rate monitors at this price point include the following:

Garmin Forerunner 610
Polar RS300X
Suunto M5

Final Thoughts on Heart Rate Monitors

Investing in a heart rate monitor will allow you to get the most out of your workouts by tracking all the essential training metrics and will help make sure you’re training in the correct zone to get the results you want. The advanced heart rate monitors are definitely worth the money if you can afford them as they add so much to your workouts, but even a basic heart rate monitor will benefit you if you currently have no heart rate monitor at all.

There are a lot of different manufacturers and they all have their pros and cons. For the basic heart rate monitor we recommend either the Timex or Suunto depending on your particular goals, but for intermediate and above all the heart rate monitors that we review on the site have something that makes them great, so we’ll leave it up to you to read through the individual reviews to decide which features are the most appealing to you.