If you’re looking for a heart rate monitor for heart rate training, the Garmin Heart Rate Monitor Regular Strap is the perfect running accessory to help you accurately measure your heart rate across all the zones. In this Garmin HRM review, I’ll review the design, comfort, accuracy and more to help you determine if this HRM chest strap or any heart monitor in general is worth purchasing for your next run.
Why I use and wear a Heart Rate Monitor
Before I go into my review of the Garmin HRM chest strap, I’ll share why I personally use a HR monitor. The primary reason is to keep me accountable during all my training runs and races. Specifically, the monitor tells me if I’m running my “recovery runs” or “easy runs” too fast or hard, it also lets me know if I’m training at the right intensity level during my tempo or VO2 max runs and finally during races it keeps me in check on how fast I should be running especially in the first half of the race.
I will say that sometimes I go off the HR monitor’s readings more than my own “feeling” which can make me rely on the heart rate monitor too much versus trusting how I feel instead. Regardless, HR training has really helped me improve my race times and train at the appropriate intensity levels. It has also helped guide my pacing which has mostly kept me injury-free.
Case Study #1 – Marathon: The Garmin HR monitor also helped me monitor my effort level I ran my last marathon which helped me avoid hitting the wall. It also resulted in me having enough energy to crush the last 3-5 miles of the race. This was definitely a unique experience since prior to wearing HR monitors during my races, I would generally go out slightly too fast without realizing it until it was too late (generally between miles 16-21). During this last marathon, I simply kept monitoring my HR to ensure I was within the HR range for marathon pace adjusting my pace when needed if I felt like I was being too aggressive. Around mile 18 or so, I started picking up the pace by about 10 seconds/mile and while my HR ticked up, I knew also from previous experience that I could manage that pace at that given HR range for another 5+ miles. By mile 24, it was time to put the HR monitor away and just go for it and it was an incredible feeling to cross that finish line with a nice burst. You can see my HR for the marathon throughout the race in the image below.
Case Study #2 – Half Marathon: I recently ran a half marathon and again used my trusty Garmin Heart Rate Monitor to monitor my HR ranges during the race. For the first 8 miles, I kept my HR below 180 (For my age, this was the upper end of Lactate Threshold), then for the final 5 miles, I picked up the pace, slowly at first and then aggressively towards the end when it was clear I still had some good fuel in the tank. While I think I’m definitely leaving a bit of energy still on the table by maintaining a HR range during races, I don’t think it was a lot and I’d rather continue to adjust my paces at my discretion during the race vs. having no choice in the matter and potentially blowing up in the race. I may experiment a bit more with my HR ranges in my next race. Either way, running by HR likely puts a floor on the downside of race performance, assuming everything else works out. In my opinion, this doesn’t cap the upside too much since you’re still attempting to hit your target pace but adjusting if you’re exerting too much effort.
Garmin Heart Rate Monitor Review
If you’re a serious runner looking to get scientific with heart rate zones and VO2 Max levels to optimize your training and improve your race times, the Garmin Heart Rate Monitor is the perfect running accessory to help you do just that.
Heart Rate Zones
The overall design of the regular chest strap is fairly simple and straightforward. Half of the overall two-foot length is a flexible piece of plastic containing the heart rate module and the other half is a soft fabric that you can adjust in length to connect the strap across your body. The plastic has little holes where you can hook the fabric to one end and connect it to the other end around your chest.
While you may think that wearing a heart rate monitor around your chest for over an hour would cause some sort of chafing, this is definitely not the case. The regular strap is actually very comfortable and I’ve been able to wear it with no issues even when running full marathon distances. I usually forget I’m wearing the monitor until I check my watch.
Weather also presented no issue, as the HRM chest strap was equally comfortable when running in the winter or on a hot humid day. I will say that on rainy days, there were some issues with keeping the heart rate monitor in place, but that was largely due to me being completely soaked on the run. On super humid days, the heart rate will move around slightly after you’re soaked in sweat, but it just requires a slight adjustment and you’re all set.
Most runners who track heart rate use either a wrist-based HR monitor a chest strap heart rate monitor. A common question is, how accurate is a heart rate monitor? In general, wrist-based heart rate monitors are pretty accurate for low-intensity exercises but become very inconsistent and spotty in higher-intensity exercises (i.e. tempo runs or speed workouts). While chest strap heart rate monitors, such as the Garmin, are very accurate given their proximity to the heart.
The Garmin chest strap monitor is able to accurately measure your heart rate across all intensity levels in real-time. Whether you’re doing recovery runs, aerobic runs, a lactate threshold run or a VO2 max training session, the Garmin HR monitor chest strap is able to accurately keep up and you can be confident in the readings.
The only hiccup I’ve seen with the chest strap is that during the drier parts of the running season (generally late Fall or Winter), the chest strap may show some spikes in your heart rate due to a “spotty connection.” Generally, in order to fix this spikiness, you’ll need to ensure the sensor pads in the chest strap are adequately “connected” using either water or some sort of electrode gel to ensure a solid connection.
I personally use Spectra 360’s electrode gel which has worked great in terms of keeping a good connection. You need to use it pretty liberally during the winter months. Using it daily, the gel lasts for about 3 months.
During the run, the heart rate monitor should “settle down” after there is enough sweat/gel to ensure an appropriate connection. I’ve sometimes pressed the monitor against my chest for a few seconds to help improve the connection.
Heart Rate Zones
When you use a heart rate monitor for heart rate training, it’s important to set up the appropriate heart rate training zones either based off your maximum heart rate or your heart rate reserve. The Garmin Heart Rate Monitor will work with most Garmin running watches and within Garmin Connect or the watch itself, you can customize these heart rate zones and while you’re running, depending on the watch you have, you can see which zone you’re in based off your heart rate settings.
When it comes to heart rate zones, Garmin watches uses 5 zones and you’ll see on your watch your heart rate and which zone you’re in to the first tenth of a decimal. So when you’re training in the “aerobic” zone, you’ll be in the 3.0 to 3.9 range generally, and 4.0+ would be considered the lactate threshold to VO2 max range. When you do recovery runs or easy runs, you should be in the 2.x range in terms of your recovery heart rate zone. The Garmin Heart Rate monitor is very accurate and will provide you real-time updates to your watch as you increase or decrease your pace.
The Garmin Heart Rate monitor uses a CR2032 3 volt battery and this battery can be easily removed by taking a flat head screwdriver or coin and unscrewing the latch that holds the battery. The battery life on this device per Garmin’s website is about 3 years assuming 1 hour per day. Based off my own personal training for several marathons doing about 35-45 miles a week, it lasted a little over a year before the battery needed to be replaced. I thought the battery life was reasonable given my usage of the chest strap.
This device is compatible with most if not all Garmin forerunner series models and the upper-end Garmin watches. For a full list of compatible devices, you can check out Garmin’s website.
The retail price for the Garmin Heart Rate monitor ranges from $50 to $90 depending on the model you get. In general, you can get a heart rate monitor for as low as $30 and you can pay a lot more for a model with more bells and whistles such as dual bluetooth/ANT+ connectivity, compatibility and versatility.