I finally purchased the Polar H10 chest heart rate strap after going through a cheaper Garmin, the WAHOO Tickr, and a knock-off brand. My reasoning for going with other straps was, well, they were cheaper and I didn’t want to spend much on a strap. There’s too many cool watches or electric bikes or kayaks to buy!
While the WAHOO Tickr has been a solid chest heart rate strap for me, and I will compare the features of both in a future article, the Polar H10 has a few advantages over it and other straps I’ve used. Mostly, the data seems very reliable. I don’t see any glitchy data in its’ readings.
A strong point of the Polar H10 is that the Bluetooth connection that it uses to connect with your phone or compatible smartwatch or fitness tracker tends to stay connected.
That was a complaint I had with the Garmin strap I was using and once in a while with the Wahoo TICKR. (View current price of the Wahoo TICKR on Amazon or read my review of it.) Once in a while the Bluetooth connection would drop. So far, I haven’t experienced that with the H10. It’s been very reliable connected with my iPhone XR. It will also connect with Android smartphones and any fitness tracker that supports Bluetooth heart rate monitors.
It will also pair with most gym equipment that supports Bluetooth heart rate straps. And if you have an Apple Watch, it will pair with it too.
View the current price and availability of the Polar H10 on Amazon
I also really like the mobile app Polar has created for their heart rate straps called Polar Beat. The data from the transmitter on the strap is sent by Bluetooth to the app and the data is displayed in a visually appealing fashion. The app is easy to use and can connect with Apple Health and other third-party apps.
The Polar H10 also has memory to store data from a single workout. Not all chest heart rate straps have this ability. Some have to remain connected by Bluetooth to your phone or smartwatch throughout your workout but that isn’t the case with the H10 which is nice if you want to go for a run and leave your phone behind.
Below is a video from Polar showing how this works.
Why Use a Chest Heart Rate Strap?
While optical heart rate sensors in our fitness trackers have improved greatly over the past couple of years, they still have their limitations. Optical heart rate sensors are usually very good for determining your resting heart rate and providing fairly accurate readings during certain activities like walking, biking, and running but they’re not so good for other activities.
The Best Optical Heart Rate Sensors
What is great about heart rate sensors on our Fitbits or other fitness trackers is that they are super convenient and comfortable to wear. They’re great for sleep tracking and getting a good picture of what your heart is doing throughout the day, assuming you’re using a fitness tracker that monitors your heart rate 24/7. The Apple Watch Series 4 can even test for Afib. So they have their strong points too.
The best optical heart rate sensors I’ve tested so far have been the Apple Watch Series 4 and the Nokia Steel HR (now called Withings). Yes the Steel HR is a hybrid watch but the heart rate sensor tested out fantastic for me. Read the review of the Apple Watch Series 4 or the Steel HR. The Garmin Fenix 5s also has been an extremely reliable fitness tracker in terms of its heart rate sensor and the Vivoactive 3 Music has kept up with the H10 during running tests on the treadmill.
However, what tests out great for me, may not test out great for you because optical heart rate sensors can be affected by skin tone or even hair. Also, the fit has to be right.
If the sensor isn’t placed just right on your wrist and stays put during your workouts, it will throw off the accuracy. It’s very important to use a watch strap that will keep your watch or fitness tracker in place and at the right tightness. You don’t want it too tight or too loose and sometimes the strap that comes with a fitness tracker can’t be adjusted to the right spot depending upon your wrist measurements.
Also, wrist measurements change as your body heats up during a workout. The strap may start out at the right spot but become too tight as your wrist enlarges. So, you want a good strap that is flexible.
Most of all, optical heart rate sensors are affected by any activity that has you flexing your wrist muscles. They simply aren’t accurate during such activities, like weight lifting, push ups, etc.
That’s where a chest heart rate strap comes in!
How do Chest Heart Rate Monitors and Optical Heart Rate Sensors Work?
Obviously, a chest heart rate strap is worn like a belt around your chest. Electrodes are built into the strap and the tight fit of the belt keeps the strap in place. It’s similar technology to an ECG test you may get in a hospital. Those use electrodes to monitor and read heart rate rhythm.
In a chest heart rate strap, electrodes collect electrical signals from your heart and these are sent to the transmitter which is the brains of the strap. These electrical signals are best transferred through water (or sweat) or some kind of conductive gel as used during an ECG.
Optical heart rate sensors use light to measure blood flow. They’re able to distinguish between oxygenated and deoxygenated blood. When your heart pumps blood with each beat that blood is oxygenated and the sensor can detect this by the different light waves that are reflected from oxygenated blood. Pretty cool!
Why Monitor Your Heart Rate During a Workout?
So why should you even care what your heart rate is during a workout? There’s three main reasons why I care about my heart rate during a workout.
The first reason is that I do have a heart condition that I need to monitor. I have an upper limit that I need to be careful not to go over for long periods of time. It used to take a long time for my heart rate to go back down after working out but since I’ve been working out for the past few years my heart health has improved greatly. My heart rate now comes down normally after a workout but I need to keep an eye on it.
This is especially important as you get older but even young athletes should keep an eye on their heart rate. Mine was really high when I was a kid and I remember having to sit out of gym class because of it.
The second reason is that knowing what my heart rate is motivates me to workout a little harder. It lets me gauge the intensity of my workout. When I’m on my treadmill I set up my phone before me with the screen displaying the Polar Beat app which shows me my heart rate and other data during the workout.
There are five heart rate zones. There’s a fat burning zone and a cardio improvement zone and I go back and forth between those two the most often.
The third reason I want to know my heart rate is because I’m a data nerd! I like to go through the data of my workout like a scientist. I don’t know why but that’s how I roll.
The last reason is because I review fitness trackers and I use chest heart rate straps to test the accuracy of optical heart rate sensors. Chest heart rate sensors are typically more accurate more of the time than optical sensors so they’re very useful in determining whether your fitness tracker’s heart rate sensor is trustworthy or not for different types of activities.
I’d really recommend that you get a chest heart strap if you’re relying on heart rate data from your fitness tracker. You want to make sure that it is giving your good information.
Pros and Cons of a Chest Heart Rate Strap
The pros of a chest heart rate strap are:
- they’re more accurate than optical sensors during certain activities
- they tend to stay in place
- they can be used with a smartphone so you don’t need a fitness tracker if you’re just wanting to monitor your heart rate
- they pair with some fantastic fitness trackers that can collect lots of information about your activity
The cons of a chest heart rate strap are:
- they can be uncomfortable to wear
- they only measure your heart rate while fitness trackers with optical sensors collect much more information (distance, speed, etc) in addition to your heart rate
- you might experience Bluetooth connectivity issues once in a while
Why Do I think the Polar H10 is a Good Choice?
So why is the Polar H10 better than everything else I’ve tried?
- it has stayed connected throughout my workouts
- the mobile app for the Polar H10 can turn your phone into a fitness tracker (you get distance from your phone’s GPS, if it’s an outdoor activity, plus your heart rate and calories burned estimate.)
- it can store data from a single workout session so you can leave your phone home or in a locker when working out
- it can be worn swimming
- the H10 allows for two Bluetooth connections so you can be using the H10 and use a second Bluetooth device while workout out like a bike computer, cadence sensor, gym equipment, etc. Many other chest HR straps don’t allow for other simultaneous Bluetooth connections
- the data seems very solid – no erratic results so far
- the Polar Beat app also has a resting heart rate fitness test to get a picture of what your fitness level is. This is just a simple 5-minute reading of your heart rate when you’re at rest.
- the Polar H10 also has additional electrodes that their cheaper straps do not have
- the strap stays in place and is made of durable material
Something that I would love for the Polar H10 or other chest heart rate sensors to have is a built-in GPS. It would also be great to store more than one workout at a time. This would be useful for circuit training.
Overall, the Polar H10 has been the best chest heart rate strap used so far. The WAHOO Tickr is also a good alternative. I’ve had good luck with it and I will be comparing the two.
I can’t speak of long-term durability just yet but if anything changes I will certainly update this review.
View the current price and availability of the Polar H10 on Amazon
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