Chest strap vs Built-in: Heart Rate Monitoring with fitness trackers

Heart rate monitors occupy a highly essential position in the spectrum of fitness goals of people. Most of the times, people are unaware of their heart rate status and overdo or underdo exercise. In both instances, not much benefit is derived. On the other hand, hooking up to heart rate monitors tracks heartbeats per minute, optimizing calorie burnout and making the fitness regime better. Apart from fitness workouts, heart monitors are also useful for fitness tracking in long distance endurance activity, recovery from injury or in medical conditions. The information and data provided is a close estimate of your activity and data may not be completely accurate as data shown can vary per device used or per person and may be dependent on their height, weight, age, build and activity level.

Chest straps vs Built-in: Heart Rate Monitoring with fitness trackers


Heart Rate monitoring fitness trackers offered by Fitbit, Garmin, Polar etc.  usually operate as Chest strap heart rate monitors and Wrist based strapless built-in heart rate monitors. Chest strap heart monitors are based on ECG technology or Electrocardiogram. The electric signals sent out by heart when it pumps blood throughout the body are measured by ECG. Chest strap monitors placed close to heart operate as ECG. Whereas wrist based built-in heart monitors utilize PPG or Photoplethysmogram. Light is used by PPG sensors to measure the rate of blood flow and hence the heart rate.

Chest strap vs Built-in heart rate monitoringThe essential differences between chest-strap and built-in heart monitors are comfort and accuracy. Since ECG devices are worn close to your heart, they are more accurate than PPGs; however, bulky monitors are needed to be worn around your chest that operate best in conjunction with water or sweat. PPG monitors are much more distinct and simpler to wear, but are slightly less accurate gauge of your heart rate.  The higher your heart rate, the less accurate the device, for heart rate monitors. Your activities also decide the heart rate monitor which is suitable for you.  A built-in heart rate monitor is the best option if you want to wear it all day long and is as easy to wear as a watch. If you want a more accurate device to wear only when working out, a chest-strap heart rate monitor is the better option. It is difficult to wear a chest strap all day but is much more accurate. Both chest strap and built-in heart monitors have accompanying apps for tracking your heart rate over time.

Let’s review in detail chest strap and built-in heart rate monitors and find out how technology can help us in our health and wellness:

Chest Strap heart monitor

As the name suggests, chest strap heart monitors have a transmitter or sensor attached to the chest and from there, the information is being sent to the wrist tracker. The information is stored amongst the devices and adjusted according to the height, body weight, BMI which you feed into the device. All the numbers then lead to the calculation of the success of the activity.

Chest strap Heart Rate Monitoring with fitness trackersThe sensor is attached with water or gel to the chest, which fixes it properly to the chest. In most cases, the devices remain intact well enough. With passage of time, sweat is utilized to keep the device fixed to the chest surface.  However, chest strap has to be adjusted to the most comfortable position for you. Quite often, there is a single way in which a device can be hooked to the chest. If it’s not comfortable for you, it probably isn’t going to work at all. You aren’t usually able to trade them out for another chest transmitter straps that works for you.  Particular attention is also paid to the material of the chest strap. Latest versions are made of washable, soft fabric which leads to no reaction on the skin and is comfortable for extended periods of time. Some of the previous brands were made of latex -based fabric or stretchy rubber material. Many people are allergic to latex which leads to a flare on the skin on contact. Similarly, rubber materials do not allow free passage of air through them which prevents sweat from evaporating through the clothing. This leads to irritation and itching underneath the rubber strap.

Chest strap monitors are of various types and useful for various functions. For instance, Wahoo Tickr X effectively tracks the effort in the workout; Polar H10 has advanced precision electrodes for better outcomes, My Zone can be used to track activity in different heart zones, Garmin HRM Tri is designed for triathletes; Suunto Smart Belt, Moov HR Burn and HR sweat and Scoshe Rhythm+ are also making strides in the industry.  The availability of multipurpose chest straps, with high accuracy makes them highly advantageous as heart rate monitors.


Built-in Heart Monitors

Built- in Heart monitors measure heartbeat by optically recording changes in the flow of blood. When placed on the top of wrist, they shine light through the skin onto the capillary veins just underneath the skin and detect the altering light reflections. Thus, reflection of light is utilized to pickup heart beat. The sensor must be worn on top of wrist, placed up from the wrist and strapped below without being comfortable. Factors such as skin type, body fat percentage or body hair do not lead to major variations in their performance. The size of the sensor is just adequate which enables it to operate with hair on the wrist with automatic adjustment of the light output to manage increased or decreased skin reflection.

Fitbit Surge - Heart rate monitor
Built-in heart rate monitoring – Light is used by PPG sensors to measure the rate of blood flow and hence the heart rate.

The most accurate results from the built-in heart rate monitor are obtained when you are warmed up. The huge number of heart rate measurements are within a 5% error of a chest strap electrocardiogram.  When built-in monitors are operated correctly at the time of athletic activity, heart rate is calculated using Heart rate algorithm. In this algorithm, data from motion and sensor readings are integrated to better calculate your heart rate when you are active or utilizing uninterrupted 24/7 heart rate monitoring. 24/7 heart rate information is only available in the daily view, day by day.

Built -in heart rate monitors include GPS watches and all-powerful smartwatches. Both of these devices have a plethora of features, including GPS, notifications, email, voice recognition, calendar updates and more. If you want to have it all and are not solely concerned with your heart rate, a smartwatch is the choice for you. However, if you’re an athlete wanting to train with the best heart rate technology, a dedicated device is more accurate, simpler to use and designed specifically to help you optimize your health. For instance, Polar A360, uniquely directs you through workouts, with a sleek design and handy touchscreen. Fitbit Charge HR has high overall accuracy, convenient app interface and number of helpful tracking features. Garmin Vivosmart HR because of the waterproof design, touchscreen interface and insightful app.


Heart rate monitors provide you with activity information which motivates you to adopt a more active lifestyle overall. The devices use sensors that track your movement and provide you with relevant information about your activity. You have the freedom to choose amongst the wide variety of options available at your disposal and manage your health and fitness accordingly.