Heart Rate Monitors

Monday, 29 December 2008 | Tags: , , ,

Keeping tabs on your body's reaction to physical activity can help you maximize your workout and also help you be sure you're not overdoing it. Since people often incorrectly estimate how hard they're working, a heart rate monitor provides an objective measure of exertion and are available with a variety of features. We find out more about these helpful exercise gadgets.

The Basics

  • Most heart rate monitors can accurately measure your pulse within 1 beat per minute of variance.

  • Simple models measure only in beats per minute (BPM) while more complicated models can measure everything from calories burned, laps run, and even GPS coordinates.

  • Specialized models have features designed with specific sports in mind, including running, cycling, triathlons, soccer, and hockey.

  • Models are designed to be worn with a chest strap, a wrist strap, or a combination of both. Fit and comfort level are very important with any model.

    • Chest strap transmitters must fit snugly in order for the reading to be accurate. For women, some sports bras have been designed with a hem to hold a strap.

    • The wrist unit must also feel comfortable. Look for a big, bold display and big buttons that are easy to see and push when you’re on the move.

  • Fancy features and programming tools are not a necessity for most people, so consider what information you want. Extra features can significantly alter the bottom line cost.

  • If you don’t mind spending a bit more to get other features beyond just a monitor, look for:

    • Time/date

    • Alarm

    • Stopwatch

  • If you are swimming or doing water sports a waterproof model is an obvious choice.

  • A seamless model improves water resistance and can protect from sweat or rain, but you cannot replace the battery yourself on seamless models.

Other Considerations

  • Some expensive high-end models are designed to act as digital coaches. You can even download information from them to your computer and analyze data to design custom workout plans.

  • Some receivers come with headphones so you don’t have to look down. They can be subject to electrical interference, however.


We tested a couple of lower priced models that give heart rate read outs, as well as the time, target zone alarms, and timers. We tested (note: models below are from pre-2008):

 Polar A3: $149

 Nike Triax 15: $170

 Timex 82551: $170

 Timex 53501: $360

 Polar S710: $429

 Times (wrist only): $65


  • Mio (wrist only): $170


 (Prices listed above are approximate and in Canadian dollars)

 Accuracy Test

We strapped on each monitor, started exercising, and measured the output of each compared to an EKG machine:

  • The chest strap models were definitely the most accurate, only off by a beat in either direction at most.

  • The wrist models were hard to read without stopping our exercise entirely. They also weren’t always accurate.


We liked the Polar S710, which was easy to read and had huge characters. Also, the Timex 82551, which had good backlight and useful features.



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