Best Chest Strap Heart Rate Monitors?

Following the recent PM4 to PM5 upgrade of our indoor rowing machine, I’ve decided to go back to tracking my heart rate during workouts. I used to do this religiously, but ultimately fell out of the habit.

Way back in the day, when we first got our Concept2 Model E, I used the Suunto ANT chest strap that came with it. It worked okay, but not great, and I eventually stopped collecting heart rate data.

But when I upgraded to a PM5, I decided to give it another try. With the new monitor supporting both the ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart connection protocols, our options for heart rate monitoring really opened up.

Polar H7 Bluetooth HR Monitor

After doing a good bit of online research, I settled on the Polar H7 Heart Rate Sensor. This is a Bluetooth-capable chest strap that can communicate with the PM5, your smartphone, or a Bluetooth-compatible fitness watch.

After having used it for a few weeks, all I can say is that I’m in love. This thing is great. It pairs quickly with the PM5 and consistently reports your heart rate. In other words, it just works. And it does so very reliably.

Garmin ANT+ HR Monitors

If you’re looking for a Bluetooth-capable HR strap, I highly recommend the Polar H7 detailed above. But if you need ANT+ compatibility, you’ll have to look elsewhere…

For this, I recommend one of the Garmin chest straps. You have two main choices here, the newer soft strap design, known as the “Premium HRM,” and their older (but much cheaper!) HRM with an integrated design.

The Premium HRM is quite similar in performance to the Polar H7, and gets similar overall reviews. You can also (usually) get it for around $5-$10 cheaper than the H7, so that might influence your decision.

As for the “integrated” version, it costs about half as much as the soft strap and seems to work just as well. My son, who rows in college, actually owns this one and has been very, very happy with it. And no, he hasn’t complained about comfort issues, either.

So why did he go with a Garmin HRM instead of a Polar H7, like dear old dad? Mainly because he has a Garmin Vivoactive HR GPS fitness watch, which requires an ANT+ monitor. And since ANT+ straps are also compatible with Concept2 ergs, it was a no-brainer.

Note: It’s been suggested that Polar’s soft strap (the strap itself, not the transmitter, which snaps onto the strap) is actually better than Garmin’s strap. Moreover, they are cross-compatible. Thus, if you have a Garmin Premium HRM and the strap wears out, you might consider using the transmitter with a Polar replacement strap.

Anyway, to summarize your options…

Again, I decided to go with the Polar H7 due to the Bluetooth compatibility. On the ANT+ side, it’s tough to recommend against the cheaper Garmin HRM, as it’s functional and costs 1/2 as much as the “Premium” version.

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