Training Technology: Top Heart-Rate Monitoring Methods

March 24, 2015

  • by
  • Peter Reese

“Perceived exertion” is one of the most frequently used methods to monitor training levels across athletic disciplines.  Though a low-cost (free) and accessible option, using a perceived exertion scale (which ranks athletes on their ability to string together sentences) is also subjective and inconsistent. Active Junky’s experimented with three readily available (and accurate) heart-rate monitoring methods to evaluate the pros and cons of each. 

Chest Strap Monitors:

Garmin premium heart rate strap Garmin Soft Strap Premium Heart Rate Monitor

Chest Strap Monitors are among the most reliable from an accuracy and repeatability standpoint.  Professional cyclists rely upon them to relay critical data to their cycling computers and coaches.  The elastic structure holds the proper position – though not always comfortably so.  Once in position, impact and abrasion are minimized.  Unlike wrist monitors, this technology requires a main brain to capture the wireless data for display.  Maintenance is minimal and pre-workout prep takes less than 30 seconds.

Pros:  Inexpensive, reliable, useful for multiple activities, battery life good, keeps hearing available

Cons:  Bothersome constriction, skin abrasion, requires separate fitness computer

Best For: Multi-sport athletes in high-output environments

In-Ear Monitors:

Jabra pulse hphones Jabra Pulse Wireless Headphones

In-Ear Monitors have become more accessible to amateur and aspiring athletes.  Capable of relaying data back to the athlete with audio cues, these systems double as music systems and smartphone headsets in many cases.  Active Junky’s experience with in-ear monitors over the past six months remains largely positive, recognizing the challenges of a) fitting and b) in-motion security. Vibration and head movement can compromise the connection unless the earpiece is custom fit for the athlete. Recharging (speed and battery life) is improving to strike a balance between light weight and long-distance functionality.

Pros:  Multiple functions with one device, light weight, reasonable appearance

Cons:  Quirky fitting, wires can snag, one-user device, power levels need watching

Best For: Indoor training, cycling and smooth-striding road runners

On-Wrist Monitors:

Suunto quest hrm Suunto Quest Heart Rate Monitor

On-wrist monitors are more than watches; they incorporate data processing and display as integrated training tools.  Ranging from systems focused simply on training zones (established by each athlete) to heart-rate tracking and GPS devices, on-wrist systems continue to evolve; more functions in a small footprint are the result.  Testers found the number and variety of options overwhelming until they decided what functions and features mattered (sound advice for shoppers).  Newer options tailor the displays for cyclists, recognizing that the position of the display and the ability to fight glare are critical. 

Pros:  Affordable, consistent, durable, functions variable by sport and discipline, battery life strong in basic models, no separate components needed

Cons:  Accuracy questionable on cheaper models and with GPS functions, subject to impact and abrasion, multiple features can be distracting

Best For: Cycling, running, inconspicuous everyday use

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