Wearables vs. Chest Straps: Which One is Better

This probably isn't the first time you're hearing the phrase 'heart rate training zone,' and it won't be the last, either.

According to the National Institute of Health, training in your target heart rate zone will help you reach your goals faster. But in order to train in your zone, you need gear that will be accurate and reliable. Recent studies have brought the different gadgets available into clearer focus, but the debate around chest straps, wearables and fingertip scanners rages on.

So which one is right for you? Here's a closer look at each.

More: Know Your Target Heart Rate Training Zone

The Options

Wearables slip on your wrist like a watch. A number of brands make these heart rate watches, including Polar, Garmin and Fitbit. They're a popular choice for many people because they're stylish and easy to use.

Chest straps wrap around your chest, and are made by companies like Polar and Soleus. These monitor heart rate using a technology similar to that of an EKG, and many consider them to be the most accurate on the market.

Fingertip scanners are the most recent addition to the heart rate monitor market. Some phones, like the Samsung Galaxy S5, allow you to check your heart rate by placing a fingertip on the camera sensor. This method can only be used to measure heart rate while at rest.

More: How to Calculate Your Target Heart Rate

The Science

It may be hard to believe, but heart rate monitoring devices that are worn on your wrist use light to get an accurate reading. According to the science and technology website Live Science, "the device shines a light into the blood vessels in your wrist, and then detects the changes in blood volume that occur each time your heart beats and pushes blood through your body. Sensors on the device detect how much light your blood vessels reflect back: Less reflected light means a higher blood volume."

Hospital heart rate monitors that clip onto your finger use a similar technology. While this method is relatively accurate at rest, it becomes tricky during movement when your muscles, tendons and capillaries can sometimes get in the way of the light measurement, causing inaccuracy in the reading.

Chest straps, on the other hand, measure the heart's electrical activity directly, making them close to 100 percent accurate both at rest and in motion. A potential downside, however, is that some people find them uncomfortable to wear.

More: Training to the Beats From Your Music

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About the Author

Jessica Sanders

Jessica Sanders is the former online editor for ReserveAmerica.com. After many years of camping and hiking in the Northeast, she's exploring what the West has to offer and sharing all of her knowledge with you. She's a s'mores master, campsite connoisseur, writer, runner and lover of all things outdoors. Follow her on Google+

Jessica Sanders is the former online editor for ReserveAmerica.com. After many years of camping and hiking in the Northeast, she's exploring what the West has to offer and sharing all of her knowledge with you. She's a s'mores master, campsite connoisseur, writer, runner and lover of all things outdoors. Follow her on Google+

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