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VERIFIED CONTENTAuthor: Maciej Szukała

The running heart rate monitor is an extremely versatile tool that will help you build a sports form and help you focus your effort so that it brings measurable results. This device can certainly make you train smarter as long as you can use it. Read on for how to choose a running watch that you will enjoy.

The heart rate monitorcan be seen on virtually every runner's wrist. In the last few years, running has become extremely popular. More and more people take part in the royal marathon distance, and ultra running is no longer a discipline for the chosen ones. Check what to look for when choosing the right heart rate monitor for you.

How do I choose a heart rate monitor?

At first glance, most models of companies specializing in the production of electronics for athletes look almost the same, and the differences seem to be cosmetic. Upon closer examination, however, it turns out that "the devil is in the details", and what is most important is hidden in the housing.

When looking for a watch, start with the basics - buy one or two simple models first. Check if running with your watch suits you at all. Only with time, when you learn to use the basic functions, consider replacing the device with a more expensive one.

High-end multisport watches are advanced training computers, the interface of which - especially for beginner athletes - will not seem intuitive.

Below you will find some practical tips to help you choose your dream heart rate monitor.

Note the weight of the watch and the display

How much a sports watch weighs is of great importance when traveling long distances. Remember that you must bring all the equipment you take with you to training or competition with you to the finish line. As a result, each additional gram of load means greater and faster fatigue.

The weight of a watch is largely determined by its size. You will find mostly unisex heart rate monitors on sale, but some of them are also "X" or "S" sizes. Adjust the strap and the size of the case to your wrist so that you feel comfortable during activity.

Larger dimensions of the watch also mean a more efficient battery. Heavy heart rate monitors adaptedfor field trips, they can withstand up to several hundred hours in training mode without the need to recharge the battery. In turn, light and small fitness smartwatches will discharge after several hours.

The display of a sports watch must above all be legible. Surely you've seen that the screens of heart rate monitors from companies such as Garmin, Polar or Suunto do not look like a mobile phone. However, the manufacturers maintain a perfect contrast, and the rays of the sun or the falling rain do not make it difficult to read the content of the display.

When assessing the display, also pay attention to how much data will fit on it, as well as how many training targets the watch supports at once. The more fields with parameters are visible at once, the more valuable feedback you get while you run.

Waterproof and housing

Another feature of the watch that you should take into account is the water resistance class and the material of the case. The water resistance of heart rate monitors is determined in atmospheres (ATM), where 1 ATM=10 meters deep.

For occasional training in the rain, you can even choose a device with a water resistance class of 3ATM. However, if you train at any time of the year and regardless of the weather, we strongly recommend choosing a watch resistant to submersion up to 50 or even 100 meters (5ATM and 10ATM, respectively). The latter will also work well for triathletes and swimrunners.

The material from which the watch case was made will translate into the resistance of the device to mechanical damage. In practice, you will encounter:

  • stainless steel,
  • polymer reinforced,
  • titanium (also with PVD coating),
  • aviation aluminum.

Of course, the stronger the case, the less susceptible to scratching the watch, but also more expensive. For people running in the city, we recommend a heart rate monitor in a polymer housing. Running in the forest or in the mountains is a much greater risk of falling or accidentally hitting a stone or tree, so more durable components will work better.

Also pay attention to the layer that protects the display. Ordinary mineral glasses are the weakest. Gorilla Glass and Asahi DragonTrail are much better. In the best models, you will find sapphire glass. It is one of the most durable materials on Earth, on the Mohs hardness scale it is 9 out of 10 and second only to diamond.

If you expect training in really demanding conditions (e.g. ultra running, OCR, orienteering) choose the housing with the military durability certificate MIL-STD-810G. It guarantees increased resistance to shocks, dust or water vapor.


Options related to recording physical exertion are a topic that arouses great emotions among runners. What should be on your watch?

  • Ability to choose the target discipline - modern heart rate monitors support from a dozen to over a hundred different forms of activity. This makes it much easier to keep your training diary in order. Individual types of training may also record slightly different parameters.
  • Automatic segment marking - with this function, the watch will automatically mark segments of a specific length (e.g. 1 km). This way you can easily track your heart rate, pace or cadence on a given segment of the route.
  • Personalized running training or support for your own plans - in some heart rate monitors you will find generators of running training plans that automatically arrange training units taking into account your form. This is an attractive alternative to a regular training diary.
  • Measurement of physiological parameters - manufacturers of sports electronics are trying to outdo each other in their efforts to ensure that their equipment measures as many indicators as possible. Most often it will be heart rate, pace, cadence, number of calories burned, VO2 max or the sum of ascents and descents.
  • In more advanced models you will find, among others Oximeter for measuring blood saturation and measuring the dynamics of running. Skillful analysis of this data will allow you to train smarter and achieve results faster.
  • Stopwatch - an ordinary stopwatch is often underestimated by runners, and it is thanks to it that time is most often measured during sprints or running games. It is important that you have easy access to it during training (e.g. it can be part of one of the watch faces).

More and more heart rate monitor models also offer sleep analysis based on changes in heart rate and HRV sinus rhythm. It is a useful tool that allows you to assess the quality of your regeneration and adapt your plan to it.

Do you need post-workout exercise analysis?

Many athletes who are just starting their adventure with physical activity wonder if they need all these indicators, numbers and tables at all. The answer to this question is complex.

Access to ready-made data collected by the heart rate monitor allows you to better target your training. Thanks to them you will know:

  • at what pace do you run,
  • in which training zones you spend the most time,
  • what is your average training heart rate,
  • How much do you load your body with training.

Although you can do without this knowledge, it gives the basis for changing your training plan, adding or subtracting specific accentsrunning gear and mileage change. You know that you do not make changes "by feeling", but based on the measured reactions of your body.

It is worth emphasizing, however, that each (even the most expensive) heart rate monitor is only an electronic device that works on the basis of a set of algorithms. In practice, this means that the measurements may be affected by a slight error and the results should not be taken with blind faith, ignoring the signals given by the body.

In simple terms, a running watch works like a compass that shows the approximate direction your fitness is going.

You should also not forget that every runner is running his head, and the heart rate monitor should not obscure the joy of the activity itself. Otherwise there is a high risk of motivation burnout.

How to find your way in the field with a heart rate monitor?

Navigation has become a permanent feature of running watches. Most of them already have a GNSS module that works with several (or all) of the networks:

  • GPS (optional also A-GPS),
  • QZSS,

With the help of navigation, you will not only measure the distance traveled, but most of all you will create a trace of the route, which can then be recreated. Depending on the watch model, you will also come across additional functions.

This could be a track route guidance to a starting point, finding alternative return routes, or identifying popular nearby cross-country trails that are being used by other people.

The best running smartwatches also work with interactive topographic maps. They will successfully replace classic cartography and are much more precise than navigation in a mobile phone.

A good choice for trail and mountain runners

If you plan to start running in the mountains, your watch should have several features that will make it easier for you to navigate in difficult terrain.

First of all, pay attention to the ABC sensors. This is an abbreviation of three modules:

  • Altimeter,
  • barometer
  • and the compass.

They will help you in determining your location, directions of the world, and also the altitude above the sea level, when you do not have a map with you. If necessary, based on the analyzed weather data, they will also generate a storm warning.

Another option useful for trail runners is the altitude profile of the uploaded route. You will not only see your current altitude, but also the length and gradient percentage of the nearest slope. This is a great option for people who have athey train in highly undulating terrain and need to wisely distribute their strength over the entire route.

OHR sensor or chest belt?

When using the heart rate monitor, you can choose between two methods of measuring your heart rate: a classic belt worn over the chest with the sensor, photoplethysmography or using the OHR sensor.

Although both methods have their supporters and opponents, it is worth noting that despite the several years of work on improving the OHR precision, the sensor still does not match the chest measurement. Heart rate measured from the wrist changes abruptly, it works with a delay and is susceptible to many external factors (e.g. skin tone, hairiness, sunscreen).

Unfortunately, the accuracy of this method leaves much to be desired also when running in high heart rate zones. While jogging at low speed you won't notice the difference, it can be gross when you run fast.

In turn, the sensor mounted on the cage is a cool gadget that you take with you to training, but its measurements are very accurate. Depending on the make and model, connection will be via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

Features that will make your life easier during training

Pulse monitors for runners more and more often combine the functions of a training computer and a smartwatch for everyday use. How else can you diversify your cross-country trips?

More and more sports watches allow you to play music. You can use some models as MP3 players and simply copy your favorite playlist to their memory. Others may work with external music providers (eg Amazon Music, Deezer). All you need to do is pair your wireless headphones with a heart rate monitor and you're ready to go!

Another useful solution is the NFC (Near Field Communication) module. This solution allows you to pay with a watch just like you do with a contactless payment card. You can add your card details in the application and additionally secure the transfer with a PIN.

The last issue is the training browsing platform designed by the manufacturer. Before you choose your running heart rate monitor, check if the app suits you. It should be used as a training journal, where:

  • you will see the history of your activities,
  • save your records,
  • you will change the watch settings,
  • you will judge your fitness (by changing VO2 max load rates, etc.).

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