Chest Strap vs Armband

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The chest strap heart-rate monitor has been the go-to choice of athletes for years. While both armband and chest strap monitors do the same thing, they achieve their purposes in different ways, helping guide you and make your workouts more effective.

If you’re on the hunt for a new heart rate monitor, but aren’t sure which style to choose, then you’ve come to the right place. We’ll break down the differences between armband and chest strap heart monitors.

Read on for the full scoop.

The Different Principles of Heart Rate Detection

Each time your heart beats, it sends an electric signal throughout your body. Chest strap monitors detect this signal using electrode sensors, which are found on both sides of the strap.

When you wear one of these monitors, the electrode sensors read the changes in your cardiac pace. It then transmits this information to the heart rate monitor, after which you’re able to receive a reading of your BPM or Beats Per Minute. It’s this accuracy and efficiency that make chest strap monitors so popular amongst athletes.

Optical heart rate monitors – also called armband monitors – are different in that they measure the light absorbance of the blood vessels in your arms. Essentially, they read your pulse rather than your cardiac pacing current.

The sensors on heart band monitors usually come equipped with infrared beams to measure your pulse. They’re simple and don’t need a chest strap to function, making them the more convenient choice overall. But, since they use a fairly weak signal, they’re far more susceptible to interference and are thus more likely to provide inaccurate readings.

Your Sport Matters

The sport or athletic activity you perform will have a role to play in which heart rate monitor is best for you.

For cycling, running, and other standard dynamic exercises, heart rate armbands are perfectly fine for monitoring your BPM and will provide you with data that is accurate enough to get a good reading. They’re also far more comfortable and convenient to wear for extended periods.

But, if accuracy is your main goal, and you aren’t concerned with comfort all that much, we strongly suggest investing in a chest strap monitor instead. They provide far more accurate BPM readings and are generally better suited to more dedicated athletes.

Training topless and using chest heart rate monitor.

Why Monitor Heart Rate?

When you exercise while wearing one of these specialized monitors, you’ll be able to get information on more than just your BPM. Exercising requires energy, and when you are able to get a reading of the rate of your heartbeat, you’re also able to understand the type of energy source that your body is using.

You burn more calories when your pulse quickens. But, you also burn more carbs than fats as your pulse quickens, since your body is generally unable to burn fat quickly enough to support rigorous exercise.

So, if you use a heart monitor while working out, you’ll be able to fine-tune your energy exertion to match your heart rate the best, allowing you to burn body fat at peak efficiency.

Heart Rate Zones

With a heart monitor, you’re able to determine the heart rate zone you are activating while you’re exercising. To start, you’ll need your peak heart rate, which can be calculated by subtracting your age from 220.

So, for instance, if you are 30, your maximum heart rate will be 190. (220 – 30 = 190)

Once you have this metric figured out, you’ll be able to determine which heart zone works best for you when it comes to burning fat.

When your body is operating at 50% to 60% of its max heart rate, you will be using 85% of your fat as calorie-burning fuel. At 60% to 70%, this value decreases to 65% of your fat used to burn calories. Finally, between 70% and 80%, you are only using 45% of your body’s fat as fuel to shed calories.

Knowing this allows you to customize your workouts to ensure that you stay in an optimal fat-burning range.

About Accuracy

The accuracy of a heart rate monitor generally depends on the detection method it uses, as well as your activity while you’re wearing the device. Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Armband heart rate monitors – These are highly accurate when you’re resting or walking. They also work well for cycling and running, but when you begin using your arms as part of your workout, they can become inaccurate.
  • Chest strap monitors – Since they operate through electrical detection, chest band monitors tend to be the most accurate, especially when correctly used. This is because they monitor your heart rate rather than your pulse, giving them the advantage of more accurate readings regardless of the type of exercise you are performing.
  • Smart rings – These monitors are newer on the market, so not many are commercially available just yet. However, research has shown that smart rings are highly accurate when you are resting, though more testing is needed to see how accurate they are when exercising.
  • Smartphones – There are some smartphone apps that would have you touch the lens of your camera as part of your measurement. While they can be accurate, they are highly susceptible to errors because neither your phone nor its camera was designed to measure heart rates.

Depending on the type of exercise you do, you won’t need the most accurate heart rate monitor in the world. If you’re working out in the gym to lose weight, then you could probably get away with using an armband – it’s convenient and won’t get in your way.

However, if you’re more of a professional, enthusiastic athlete, then getting a chest strap monitor will help you get the most accurate readings possible. And finally, if you don’t really work out, then you can get away with something simple, like a smart ring.

Final Thoughts

Deciding between a chest strap and an armband comes down to many different factors, the main ones being the sport you play, the information you want and need, and the accuracy you require. Knowing the above information will help you decide which option is best for you, your needs, and your budget.

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