Best external heart rate monitors for iPhone and Apple Watch 2022

Scosche Rhythm Plus 2 Apple Watch
(Image credit: Christine Romero-Chan / iMore)

Even though your Apple Watch comes with a heart rate monitor built-in, which is an excellent estimation, the best external heart rate monitors for iPhone and Apple Watch can ensure your fitness data is as accurate as possible. 

Your Apple Watch measures the pulse from your wrist, which is fine for estimation, but if you're an athlete or training for a big event like a marathon, these dedicated devices can provide more accurate data. The Apple Watch only has so much battery life, and these intense sessions can drain the battery faster than you'd like due to constant heart rate monitoring. 

Instead, you should consider an external device, like our all-rounder recommendation Scosche's Rhythm+ 2.0 Monitor Armband, especially if you can snap one up for Black Friday. Our preferred external heart rate monitors for Apple Watch and iPhone users can provide more detailed, more accurate fitness data for people who take their training seriously.

Scosche heart rate monitor

(Image credit: Schosche)

Scosche Rhythm+ 2.0 Heart Rate Monitor Armband

Best overall armband that monitors without fear of battery drain.

Reasons to buy

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Lightweight
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Breathable band
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Frequent heart-rate readings
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Water-resistant

Reasons to avoid

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Tight fit when lifting weights

We have tested the Scosche Rhythm+ Monitor Armband and can safely consider it the best heart rate monitor for Apple Watch. The device connects to an adjustable neoprene strap, and it is dustproof and IP68 waterproof, which means it can be submerged up to 1.5 meters for 30 minutes. While you can wear it anywhere on your arm, Scosche recommends the forearm. (I did my initial tests with it in that location, as well). The first generation Rhythm+ had a strong 8-hour battery life, but the new Rhythm+ 2.0 version can do around 24 hours of workout time before it needs a recharge, which is even more impressive.

Both the dark gray tracker and strap are slim and stylish, given that you'll likely be wearing them in a visible location on your arm. You can slip a shirt on over the Rhythm+ if you want to hide it, but it's a nice-looking tracker to leave it visible. It does look a little goofy when both the Apple Watch and tracker are on the same arm, but until we have magical nanobot implants, such is our connected device lifestyle.

In practice, it's significantly more comfortable than wearing a chest strap during heavy-duty workouts while being about as accurate. The Rhythm+ uses green and yellow oximeter sensors (described as "PerformTek biometric sensor technology") to get a more precise look at your heart rate and blood flow than just the Apple Watch's green sensors alone. Having more sensors also means that it updates much more frequently than the Apple Watch.

I wore the Rhythm+ 2.0 for about a week along with my Apple Watch, for my regular walks and elliptical workouts. It was fairly accurate and measured more frequently than my Apple Watch did, so it was only off by one or two points. The only real concern with the Rhythm+ 2.0 is that it can get a little tight if you do arm-related exercises since the neoprene strap does flex and stretch, but it only gives so much.

Unlike many other chest strap options, Scosche doesn't offer a dedicated app for viewing your recorded heart rate data. Instead, you can look at it in Apple's Activity or Health apps, or download a third-party option like Cardiogram. If you want to save some dough, the first generation Rhythm+ (opens in new tab) is also still available for slightly less — just be warned that it will only have eight hours of battery life versus the 24 hours of the latest version. The new Rhythm+ 2.0 also uses the same charging cradle as the Rhythm24, which we mention below.

If you're looking to get better heart monitoring without going full in on the chest strap, get this forearm monitoring instead.

TwelveSouth

(Image credit: TwelveSouth)

Twelve South ActionSleeve 2: 40mm or 44mm

Best upper armband for Apple Watch users

Reasons to buy

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Works with Apple Watch
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More accurate readings thanks to the positioning
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Affordable

Reasons to avoid

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Uncomfortable for bicep workouts

Pop the case off your Apple Watch, slip it into the armband and strap it to your upper bicep. This keeps the Watch's sensor securely to your skin, so you get a more consistent reading, especially if you're bending your wrist a lot while you exercise.

Your Apple Watch, sans band, fits into a mount with the backside exposed, so the Watch's sensors are unobstructed. The mount has a raised silicone border to protect the Watch from scratches (and keep it in place). If you're happy with the performance of your Apple Watch's heart rate sensor but don't want it wrapped around your wrist while you work out, get the ActionSleeve. It's the perfect alternative to the best external heart rate monitors for Apple Watch.

Twelve South recently updated the design of the Action Sleev (opens in new tab)e, but if you want to save some money, the first generation is still available on Amazon for about half the price of the new one. If you want to stick with the Apple Watch's heart rate monitor but want a little more accuracy, the ActionSleeve is perfect.

Polar H10

(Image credit: Polar)

Polar H10 Heart Rate Monitor Chest Strap

Best for accuracy, providing speedy fitness tracking

Reasons to buy

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Accurate readings
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Syncs with Health app
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Onboard storage

Reasons to avoid

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Chest strap style
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Bad app design

The H10 connects to your iPhone or Apple Watch using Bluetooth LE, though you'll want to use one of Polar's apps to get Polar's specific readings — I used Polar Beat. It's not my favorite app (and requires an in-app purchase if you want to see your heart rate/fat burn breakdown), but it does the trick. Your heart tracking will also log in to Apple's Health app after you connect it, allowing you to take your fitness data elsewhere. And if you're not near a connected device, the H10 has a small amount of onboard storage, allowing you to log a workout even without your devices present. 

Note: We've seen several users run into an issue where the H10 appears on the iPhone, but not the Apple Watch. To fix this, you'll want to pair the H10 to the Apple Watch first before connecting it to your iPhone — or disable Bluetooth on your iPhone from the Settings app before attempting to pair with Apple Watch.

Polar's H10 was by far the most accurate of the fitness trackers I tried, but it does come at the expense of having to wear a chest strap. During a run or weight training session, this shouldn't bother you, but full-contact sports might be a bit much. For me, anything strapped to my chest in roller derby is a potential bruising hazard — and I've seen enough cracked sternums to want to avoid that fate at all costs. 

So if you can get past the fact that this has to be worn around your chest, it can be considered another of the best external heart rate monitors for Apple Watch. This water-resistant chest strap is comfortable and offers electrode-based heart monitoring, so it's more accurate than others.

Scosche heart rate monitor

(Image credit: Schosche)

Scosche Rhythm24 - Waterproof Armband Heart Rate Monitor

Best heart rate monitor for those in it for the long haul

Reasons to buy

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Water-resistant
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Longest battery life
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Multiple workout modes
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Support for triathlon training

Reasons to avoid

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Expensive

The Rhythm24 has seven different monitor modes for different training options. You can set it for running, cycling, swimming, or just tracking your heart rate or heart rate variability for identifying stress and recovery during training. If you're training for a duathlon or triathlon, set one of the multi-modes, and it will track each of your different activities.

You can record your workout and save your training data to understand better where you need improvement. Like the Rhythm+, which is still the best external heart rate monitor for Apple Watch, it uses yellow and green optical sensors for better accuracy with all skin tones. 

I tested the Rhythm24 with daily running sessions alongside my Apple Watch. I found that the Rhythm24 was always more accurate, monitoring every heartbeat in real-time instead of updating with new information already behind by the time it synced.

The Rhythm24 uses the same type of armband used with the Rhythm+. I found it very comfortable during my runs but have not tried it with weight training exercises. It also has a battery status indicator, so you'll know if it's time to recharge. This heart rate monitor armband has 13 hours of continuous memory storage, so leave your phone behind when you're training.

Garmin HRM

(Image credit: Garmin)

Garmin HRM-Tri Heart Rate Monitor

The best heart rate monitor designed for triathletes

Reasons to buy

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Small and lightweight
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Comfortable to wear
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Long battery life
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Gives feedback on running form and dynamics
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Great for swimming

Reasons to avoid

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Requires CR2032 battery
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Not rechargeable

When you're training hard, you want an external heart rate monitor that won't get in the way. The Garmin HRM-Tri is one of the smallest and lightest heart rate monitor offerings from Garmin, and it will remain comfortable throughout your training.

The HRM-Tri is designed to best handle running, cycling, swimming, and many more intensive activities. The monitor uses a single CR2032 battery that can last up to 10 months if you just do an hour of training a day. The HRM-Tri even provides feedback on your running form and running dynamics thanks to the accelerometer that measures torso movement when running.

As you use the HRM-Tri, it can store up to 20 hours of heart rate data from your swims and training, and this data can be forwarded to other Garmin sports watches after your session. Or you can just send your data directly to the Garmin Connect app to view your swim metrics, heart rate graphs, pace, stroke, and more.

The Garmin HRM-Tri is a comfortable heart rate monitor perfect for training while running, cycling, or swimming.

Wahoo TICKR FIT

(Image credit: Wahoo)

Wahoo TICKR FIT Optical Heart Rate Monitor Armband

Champion cyclists use this heart rate monitor.

Reasons to buy

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Comfortable on the forearm
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Accurate readings
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Works with over 50 apps and many devices
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Up to 30 hours of battery life
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Affordable price tag

Reasons to avoid

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No data stored on the device itself

If you want to have the heart rate monitor, champions like Team INEOS, Ironman World Champion Jan Frodeno, Heather Jackson, and American Pro Mountain Biker Sonya Looney have, then check out the Wahoo TICKR FIT.

The TICKR FIT is an armband that works best on your forearm, and you can get personalized heart rate training for more efficient workouts. With TICKR FIT, you'll track and capture your heart rate in real-time and see your training zones and calories burned on your iPhone through over 50 compatible apps since it utilizes Bluetooth/ANT+. This means it will work with not only your iPhone but tablets, GPS watches, and bike computers by Wahoo, Polar, Garmin, Apple, and many more.

If you use the Wahoo Fitness app with the TICKR FIT, you can automatically upload that data into your preferred training platform of choice, like Strava. And while it seems geared more toward cycling, the TICKR FIT works well with any form of exercise. The TICKR FIT is quite accurate, comfortable, and stays in place as you exercise.

TICKR FIT is comfortable and secure. It works with over 50 apps and connects to most devices for a personalized experience.

Do I need an external heart rate monitor for my Apple Watch?

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Heart rate monitoring on the Apple Watch comes at the expense of battery life — the smartwatch's health sensors account for a large majority of battery drain. As such, Apple limits how often the sensor records data, even during workouts. At rest, you'll get heart rate data every 10 minutes. During workouts, you're likely to get recordings every 10 seconds to a minute.

The wrist-based monitor can also get tripped up if you tend to do many exercises involving wrist bending or quick movement. The oximeter works by measuring the movement of your blood using light. When you flex your wrist, you can momentarily change that circulation, leading to erroneous heart readings. If you've ever seen an Apple Watch reading of "65bpm" or lower or a gray number when you're in the middle of a high-intensity workout, that's likely what has happened. 

If you're worried about your Apple Watch's battery life during a lengthy workout (like a marathon, for instance), or you'd like more consistent and quick readings, consider an external heart rate monitor. These Bluetooth accessories often run off quick charges or watch batteries and offer faster readings from a location with better circulation (like the chest or upper arm). If you don't have an Apple Watch, you can use external monitors with your best iPhone to get valuable heart rate data.

We've tested several of these Bluetooth heart rate monitors to give you the best recommendation, and the Scosche Rhythm+ 2.0 Monitor Armband is the best external heart rate monitor for Apple Watch.

Which external heart rate monitor should I get?

The Scosche Rhythm+ 2.0 monitor armband is the best external heart rate monitor for Apple Watch because it's a reliable, accurate, and affordable monitor that's perfect for amateurs and fitness fanatics alike. Not only that, but it's also an eye-catching accessory that's bound to turn heads while you work up a sweat.

Plus, it's significantly more comfortable than wearing a chest strap during heavy-duty workouts while being just as accurate. The Rhythm+ uses green and yellow oximeter sensors (described as "PerformTek biometric sensor technology") to get a more precise look at your heart rate than the Apple Watch's green sensors alone and records data much more frequently. 

The first generation of the Rhythm+ has an eight-hour battery life, but Scosche went further and made the Rhythm+ 2.0 last three times as much, so you can get 24 hours of workouts before having to plug it back in. And another great thing about Rhythm+ is the fact that since Scosche doesn't have its own dedicated app, your data just syncs directly with Apple Health — no other app is really needed.