Heart Rate Monitors Best Suited for the Pool
By Emily Conley, BS
For years, serious athletes and headstrong coaches have been searching for the methods of training that will elicit the greatest gains in both physical fitness and sport performance (Polansky). Yet, athletes are not the only ones seeking improvements in health; 71% of Americans claim that their health is what inhibits them from being happy (NY Post).
Many programs and principles have been proposed in the past with the hopes of determining the most simple, effective and safe exercise recommendations for individuals of all ages, fitness levels and disease statuses. In the mid-1980s, ‘intensity training’ (where objective exercise intensity is measured by heart rate) became one of these popular principles, first in the world of athletics. This trend quickly seeped into the fitness world and ultimately led to the development of personal wireless heart rate monitors used to track the heart’s response, or exercise intensity, during a training session (Mayo Clinic).
The ability to measure one’s heart rate during exercise proves to be vital in not only monitoring exercise intensity, but also improving the quality of one’s training session (Polansky & Poirier-Leroy). Recording the heart rate during exercise aids in maintaining accountability in training effort, ensuring that the heart rate stays inside the target zone and documenting progress throughout a training block (Poirier-Leroy).
Today, heart rate is still used as a means of measuring exercise intensity and physical fitness; the heart becomes more efficient (beats less) as cardiovascular fitness improves (Van Hare). After noting the benefits of monitoring one’s heart rate during exercise, it is no wonder that the fitness community has continued to propel itself forward through the advancement and expansion of affordable, wearable technology that is able to capture and record an exercising heart rate.
While many heart rate monitors are currently on the market, a new challenge presents itself when considering which of these are the best in accurately measuring the heart’s response during water-based exercise. Most fitness trackers in the forms of watches use optical sensors to measure heart rate, but these sensors are unable to accurately measure heart rate in the water (Poirier-Leroy).
According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, no wrist-worn heart rate monitor is able to mimic the accuracy of a chest-strap monitor on land, let alone in the water, with most wrist trackers declining in accuracy as exercise intensity increases. Therefore, if obtaining an accurate heart rate measure is more important than the bells and whistles included in other devices, a chest strap heart rate monitor is the way to go (Poirier-Leroy). Below are some of the best chest strap heart rate monitors for measuring your fitness in the water.
For The Swimmer Serious About Tracking Heart Rate: HRM-Swim™ by Garmin
The HRM-Swim™ by Garmin appears to rival every other heart rate monitor on the market. Specifically designed for swimmers, this heart rate monitor is perfect for those who consider swimming their main sport. The monitor itself is embedded into a non-slip chest strap which allows for comfortable and secure use even during open water swims. However, if pool swims are your specialty, no worries, the HRM-Swim™ is built to withstand corrosive pool chemicals as well. While the chest strap monitors heart rate during the given activity, it must be linked to another Garmin device in order for the collected data to be viewed. Although the battery of the HRM-Swim™ is designed to last for 18 months (assuming 3 hours per week of use), many users complain of the battery life of this model and state that the monitor no longer works once the battery is replaced. However, this particular monitor by Garmin is able to record up to 20 hours of heart rate data before it needs to be transferred to a compatible Garmin Device (this includes a mobile app). If you’re a swimmer who likes to track their heart rate often during training sessions, this might be a good option for you. This monitor retails for just under $100 on Garmin’s website.
For the Multi-Sport Athlete: HRM-Tri™ by Garmin
While the Garmin HRM-Swim™ is ideal for those who consider swimming their sole sport, others of you may be searching the market for a more diverse tracker that can be utilized in the water and on land. Lucky for you, Garmin has designed another chest strap heart rate monitor known as the HRM-Tri™. This monitor is specifically designed for those who participate in, you guessed it, triathlon events or training modes namely, swimming, cycling and running. However, since this monitor boasts an accurate measure of heart rate for three different types of exercise, the swimming component does take a step-back in comparison to the HRM-Swim™. The HRM-Tri™ is not specifically configured to measure heart rate during pool swims, nor is it designed to withstand corrosive pool chemicals. And once again, the heart rate data collected during the training session is only viewable via a compatible Garmin device. However, if you are truly looking for a multi-use device, the Garmin HRM-Tri™ may still be a good fit for you. This monitor retails on Garmin’s website for just under $130.
For the Multi-Sport Athlete Who Doesn’t Always Track Their Heart Rate: Polar H10 Heart Rate Monitor
This list wouldn’t be complete without the inclusion of what appears to be one of the best overall chest strap heart rate monitors on the market. In terms of design, the Polar H10 Heart Rate Monitor seems to be very similar to the HRM-Swim™ and HRM-Tri™ by Garmin, boasting a similar secure chest strap design. Yet, this particular chest strap heart rate monitor has a few unique features that make it an excellent buy for certain consumers. Although the Polar H10 is not specifically designed for swimmers, it appears to be one of the most accurate heart rate monitors in the water. This monitor is also able to accurately track your heart rate outside of the pool as well which may appeal to many of you who would consider yourself a multi-sport athlete. The Polar H10 is equipped with 400 hours of battery life and is able to be connected to any device via the Polar App. However, the monitor is only able to store enough data to record one training session at a time, meaning this device may not be ideal for the swimmer or athlete who likes to track their heart rate in every training session. The Polar H10 Heart Rate Monitor retails for just under $90 on Polar website.
Emily Conley, BS, graduated (May 2020) from West Virginia University in Exercise Physiology with an emphasis in Aquatic Therapy.