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What are the pros and cons of different methods for measuring heart rate?

Polar uses two different methods for measuring heart rate: optical heart rate measurement and a heart rate sensor with a chest strap.

The optical heart rate measurement is based on photoplethysmography (PPG), whereas the heart rate sensor with a chest strap measures the electrical activity of your heart (ECG).

Both methods have their pros and cons. Regardless of which one you choose to use, make sure you wear the device correctly to get accurate results.

Wrist-based optical heart rate measurement (A360, A370, M200, M430, M600, Vantage M, Vantage V)

Pros:

  • A convenient all-in one solution.
  • You can quickly check your heart rate or start a training session without having to put on a separate chest strap.

Cons:

  • Not necessarily accurate in sports where you move your hands vigorously or flex the muscles and tendons near your wrist.
  • Limited ability to accurately measure heart rate through dark or tattoed skin.
  • More likely to be worn incorrectly, either not tight enough or too tight.

Arm-based optical heart rate measurement (Polar OH1)

Pros:

  • You can wear the Polar OH1 sensor on your forearm or upper arm. In some situations, it’s better to track your heart rate from the arm rather than your wrist because some movements or exercises put a strain on your wrist and tendons (such as pull-ups) which in turn can affect the quality of the optical heart rate signal. These physiological constrains can be solved by taking advantage of the versatility of the Polar OH1 sensor placement.
  • The Polar OH1 has an internal memory in it, so you can use it as an independent training device for example in sports like swimming where the signal can’t broadcast to your watch. You can store your heart rate data in the sensor’s internal memory and easily sync the data with the Polar Flow or Beat app afterwards.
  • Ideal for swimming when used with the swimming goggle strap clip (included in the Polar OH1+ product package) that you can wear against your temple to measure your heart rate accurately while swimming.

     

Cons:

  • Not necessarily accurate in sports where you move your hands vigorously or flex the muscles and tendons near the sensor.
  • Limited ability to accurately measure heart rate through dark or tattooed skin.
  • More likely to be worn incorrectly than a heart rate sensor with a chest strap.

Polar H10 heart rate sensor with a chest strap

Pros:

  • Very reliable in various sports.
  • Based on reliable and accurate Polar technology for heart rate measurement.
  • Connectivity via Bluetooth Smart with various other devices and software, like mobile apps and other training devices.

Cons:

  • Have to remember to carry the starp with you and wear it in addition to the wrist unit.
  • Some experience it uncomfortable around the chest.
  • Requires regular washing to keep the textile strap functional (washing also gradually wears it down, and you'll have replace it with a new one).

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