With the rise of new technology, tracking everything from steps to macronutrients to kegels has practically become a national pastime. It makes sense — more people are working out from home and relying on virtual tools to get the same blood-pumping results they once achieved at the gym or studio. Nothing has superseded in-person classes quite like Peloton, which now boasts over 4.4 million members in its virtual fitness community. There are endless Peloton accessories designed to optimize your rides and runs, but if your goal is to improve your cardiovascular health, the real MVP is the heart rate monitor.
The American Heart Association recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (about 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate) or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (about 70 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate). While you can totally go off feel (think: your rate of perceived exertion), a heart rate monitor can make it easier to hit these targets consistently. (Related: How to Find — and Train In — Your Personal Heart Rate Zones)
"Heart rate tracking during exercise is useful for learning your body's response to different types of exercise and tracking changes in your fitness level," says Richard S. Isaacson, M.D., a neurologist and member of the Peloton Health and Wellness Advisory Council. "For example, if your goal is to participate in a high-intensity interval training workout, you can use heart rate to ensure that your all-out and recovery intervals are within a suitable range."
Tracking your heart rate over a longer period of time can also help you understand if you're making positive strides in your cardiovascular routine, adds Dr. Isaacson. When you become more fit, your heart takes fewer beats to perform the same exercises. For example, after several months of regular Peloton rides, you might be seeing lower HR numbers for a moderate ride than when you first started. (Also read: What Your resting Heart Rate Can Tell You About Your Health)
With so many heart rate sensors on the market, finding the right one can feel as overwhelming as deciding what to watch on Netflix. Chest straps, which use an electrical pulse to read your heart rate, were once the only truly accurate option. But experts say this is no longer the case.
"Heart rate monitoring technology has improved significantly in recent years," says Nicole Weinberg, M.D., a cardiology specialist with the Pacific Heart Institute. "Now with new technology, arm monitors like the Apple Watch can not only detect accurate heart rates but also alert users if they're experiencing an arrhythmia."
Watches and armbands use a light-based optical technology called photoplethysmography (PPG), which measures the amount of light scattered by blood flow. As your heart beats, your blood circulation changes — high blood volume causes less light to return to the optical sensor, whereas low volume increases the amount of returning light. If it sounds complicated, just think about the last time you ever shined a flashlight against your skin. To the naked human eye, your skin looks red, but a light-based sensor will actually pick up on the subtle variations of redness caused by your heartbeat. Today, most wearable use at least two alternating LEDs with varying light wavelengths in order to accommodate differences in skin tone and thickness.
Any heart rate monitor with ANT+ connectivity can work with Peloton — within a few seconds of connecting the monitor to your treadmill or bike, your heart rate and current zone will be displayed in real-time on the touchscreen, allowing you to track your effort level. In your Peloton profile, you can click on the class and see a graph of your highs and lows in terms of output, which can be directly correlated with your heart rate (i.e. higher output means a higher heart rate). Fitness trackers and Apple devices like iPhone and Apple Watch can also connect to heart rate monitors via Bluetooth, so you can also track your data in the app of your choice.
While the official Peloton heart rate monitor will set you back $49, there's a slew of sophisticated alternatives that you can use for any other workout you do, as well. To save you the hassle of reading thousands of reviews, we've rounded up the best heart rate monitors for Peloton. Keep scrolling to find one that ticks all your boxes.
Widely recognized as one of the most accurate heart rate monitors on the market, the Polar H10 is a gold standard for athletes and physicians and is often used as a benchmark in studies comparing new heart rate monitors. With over 400 hours of battery life, you don't have to worry about charging this baby before your workouts. And unlike the H9 model (more on that one below), it has built-in storage, so you can run or ride without your phone.
With over 6,000 five-star ratings on Amazon, the Polar H10 is still one of the most popular heart rate monitors out there. Less of a plug-and-play option, it's recommended to dampen the sensor with a bit of moisture before usage. Similar to other electrode-based medical-grade heart rate monitors, the moisture helps conduct electricity for more accurate readings. But this step isn't always necessary — the sweat from your workout will basically do the same thing. With ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity, it's compatible with Peloton and other apps and equipment, so you'll be able to monitor your heart rate in real-time.
"My Peloton screen found the heart rate monitor immediately and in 10 or 15 seconds I was paired up and had my heart rate open in a little box on the top left of Peloton screen," says one customer. "Was fantastic to have this information for my workout. Total game changer for informed smart exercise."
This chest strap doesn't just measure your pulse; it will also tell you how many reps you completed while strength training and records advanced metrics like cycling and running cadence, ground contact time, and vertical oscillation (how much you bob up and down when you run). These measurements can help you improve your form and progress, especially if you also like to run outside. With built-in memory and several integrations, this monitor will store data on its own but can also connect to up to three Bluetooth devices at once and ANT+ fitness equipment. This means that you can connect the chest strap heart rate monitor to your Peloton, your phone, and fitness tracker or smartwatch to see your results during and after your workout in multiple places. It has a helpful LED light that lets you know you're connected (something that many traditional chest straps lack).
"The chest strap is better than the other I've used. The sensors up front are recessed into the monitor, which make it a seamless fit across the body," says one customer. "There is an anti-slip material on the inside front of the strap where it meets the chest, and the strap stays securely in place whether I'm doing long slow runs or fast interval bursts."
If you're looking for a reliable heart rate monitor that won't break the bank, the Polar H9 could be your best bet. With over 1,500 5-star reviews on Amazon, the new cost-effective alternative to the Polar H10 offers equally accurate readings without all the bells and whistles. In terms of features, the only major difference between the two models is that the H9 doesn't have any onboard memory, so it's best to pair it with a device like your phone, fitness tracker, or Peloton (via the ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity) if you want to store data from your previous training sessions or see your real-time results on a screen during your workout. If you plan to exercise without your phone or Peloton, you'll be able to upload your stats directly to the app of your choice after your workout. Polar has its own apps (Polar Flow and Polar Beat) but you can use third-party apps, too. The H9 uses what Polar calls a "soft strap," made from stretchy and lightweight fabric, which reviewers note is "super comfortable." Plus, it's waterproof up to 98 feet, so it will hold up to both swims and sweaty workouts. (Peep these waterproof headphones, too.)
One reviewer said, "I originally looked at the H10 but it was way outside our budget since I was mostly just getting this for the Peloton. It works perfectly. Synchs to the Peloton with no trouble and also to my phone and watch."
Sleek and secure, this armband is a go-to for those who find chest straps too restrictive. But beyond comfort and aesthetics, it also packs a few smart features that make it worth the splurge. Along with Bluetooth and ANT+ integrations, it's also compatible with over 50 apps including Wahoo Fitness, Zwift, Peloton, and Nike Run Club, so even when you're not using this heart rate monitor on a Peloton, you'll be able to see your real-time results displayed in an app on your phone. The battery lasts up to 30 hours and is rechargeable, so you'll never have to worry about replacing a coin cell battery.
"This thing is awesome," says one reviewer. "It doesn't move around when riding, and you barely notice it is there. The on-off button is a blessing because most HR monitors have auto-on/off."
Skin tone and hair density can impact the accuracy of some optical heart rate monitors. The Scosche Rhythm aims to solve this problem with a Valencell PerformTek optical sensor that uses green and yellow LED lights, which the company says is better at handling a wider array of skin tones. With the built-in Bluetooth SMART and ANT+ you can stream your fitness data in real-time via any of the compatible apps or fitness equipment like Peloton. Plus, you can work out up to 100 feet away from your phone.
Scosche announced a second iteration of this armband, the Rhythm 2.0, at CES 2021, which will be available in the spring. The latest update claims to have improved its skin tone compatibility, but the Rhythm still earns stellar reviews.
"Working great with my Peloton bike so far," wrote one reviewer. "Pairs up easily and looks to be very accurate. Much much better than the chest strap I was using before that would record a reading half the time. A lot more comfortable to wear too.
Lightweight and versatile, the Polar OH1 is a lifesaver for triathletes who want to go from bike to pavement to pool — all without missing a beat. This armband has its own onboard memory, so you can record a workout and leave your phone behind. Or, if you want to monitor your heart rate in real-time with Peloton, a smartwatch, or an app on your phone, you can connect it directly through the ANT+ or Bluetooth integration. The nearly weightless black strap stretches to about a 24-inch circumference and works on either the upper or lower arm, so it works for all sizes. With a ton of accessories, including a "goggle clip" that can attach to your swim goggles or eyewear to measure your temporal pulse, the Polar OH1 offers more flexibility than most heart rate monitors.
"I bought this because it was an armband and uses more lights for better accuracy," says one reviewer. "I wear underwire sports bras when I work out, and heart rate monitors in the form of chest straps are awful. They have to be under the underwire to be near the right place, and that makes it harder to breathe."
If you're looking for ease, convenience, and a better understanding of your overall health, the Garmin Forerunner could be the fitness tracker for you. This watch-style monitor includes a pulse oximeter sensor and the brand's latest Elevate heart rate sensor to deliver super accurate readings. Unlike most chest straps and armbands that need to be connected to apps and devices, your heart rate is displayed in real-time on the watch's screen (or can be connected to equipment and apps). It's a rare smartwatch that can connect directly to your Peloton, but it also has a slew of other features that you can use off the bike. From 24/7 heart-rate monitoring and stress tracking to sleep monitoring and even storing and playing up to 500 songs, it's like having a personal health coach on your wrist. (Here's why one fitness writer is obsessed with a similar model, the Garmin ForeRunner 645 Music.)
"What can't this watch do? Tracks all of my workouts with unlimited stats, charts, and graphs (pace and speed, splits, heart rate, elevation, map, cadence, training effect)" says one reviewer. "The watch is very customizable, and I find myself constantly looking at it randomly to see my heart rate and daily steps."