Wrist Tracker or Chest Strap – Which Fitness Tracker is the Best?
Updated: Apr 18
The effectiveness of fitness trackers has been debated non-stop but to be honest, if they motivate you to work out and can improve your performance while doing it then they are totally worth using.
There is something to be said though about how the heart rate data can be used to estimate energy expenditure, which can be a huge help for those working on weight loss/body transformation goals. It is also crucial information for those tracking heart rate for medical reasons (ie. post-operative training) or high athletic performance training.
A Fitness Tracker Showdown
There are two basic designs: chest strap and watch or band-style tracker.
A study conducted by the American College of Cardiology tested each to determine which was more effective. Fifty people volunteered for the study, roughly half men and half women. Participants were fitted with an EKG, a chest monitor (strap), and an armband (Scosche Rhythm+) then given two other devices tested: the Apple Watch, TomTom Spark Cardio, Garmin Forerunner 235, and Fitbit Blaze. The volunteers were then put through their paces in a moderate, mild, and vigorous workout.
Throughout, the heart rate data from the EKG, chest strap, armband, and the various wristwatch trackers were recorded. As the volunteers ran, cycled, and trained on the elliptical, the researchers monitored the performance of the various fitness trackers to determine which was the most accurate (results closest to the EKG).
The chest strap proved the most accurate of the heartrate-measuring devices, with a 99.6% accuracy. The wrist-worn devices, however, proved to be far less accurate. The highest accuracy was 92%, but some devices scored as low as 67%. The errors ranged anywhere from 15 to 34 BPMs, depending on the intensity of the activity. The Apple watch proved the most accurate of all the wrist-worn devices, regardless of the type of exercise. The higher the intensity, the less accurate the rest of the devices become.
TIPS FOR MAKING YOUR FITNESS TRACKER MORE ACCURATE
· Make sure to enter your personal information (age, gender, height, and weight) into your fitness tracker. This information will be used to give you a more accurate estimation of the number of steps you take, distance traveled, and calories burned.
· Be consistent with the placement of your tracker. Whether you wear it on your hip or wrist, make sure to have it on the same side every time you use it.
CALIBRATE YOUR DEVICE. ALTHOUGH THIS IS STEP IS CONSIDERED OPTIONAL FOR MANY DEVICES, TAKING THE TIME TO CALIBRATE YOUR FITNESS TRACKER CAN SIGNIFICANTLY IMPROVE ITS ACCURACY.
· Calibrate your device. Although this is step is considered optional for many devices, taking the time to calibrate your fitness tracker can significantly improve its accuracy.
· If you use a heart-rate monitor during your workouts, pay attention to the days you take a pre-workout or any other supplement with caffeine. For some individuals, this will cause a drastic increase in heart rate which may affect monitor readings.
I have both – MyZone Chest Strap and Fitbit Charge – and have given advice to personal training clients and team training/group fitness participants regarding monitoring heart rate.
I like them both but personally it depends on what you are training for and where you derive your motivation.
Chest strap motivation for me is while I’m wearing it. At my gym there are screens where I can see my stats as I’m working out. As an instructor I have coached my clients/participants to try to get into the “yellow” or “red” zones to push their workouts. Afterwards it’s great to post workouts others.
Now that I spend more time at a desk for my day job my wrist tracker has become a huge part of my life. It gets put on every day (my husband doesn’t take his off, tracking his sleep right now😊), and reminds me get up and move, take a drink etc. During activity it tracks heart rate but I’m looking to get in the “steps” but not just daily function steps but exercise steps. I love HIIT training and I find tracking steps super motivating with the wrist tracker. I try to move faster, get in more steps. Like with the chest strap I can post my day/workout.
My wrist tracker is super convenient because I wear daily like a watch; my chest strap not so much. Many a workout I’ve missed recording because I forgot my strap☹. I’m like, “just throw the whole workout away LOL”, or “did I even workout because I didn’t have my strap?” Hahaha I laugh yet it is slightly demotivating. Yes I could get my act together and not forget my strap but hey baby steps people – remembering to bring two of the same shoes or my headphones are my primary goals usually lol.
I like that I can change up the band on my Fitbit so again I'm less likely to forget it as I use it as my daily watch as well. I got a 5 pack of bands off of Amazon and haven't looked back since:).
Both myZone and Fitbit have a online community that can used for motivation – contests, levels, challenges etc. – which is great! As a trainer and coach, I often have clients and participants post their workouts in a challenge group online or I create a challenge group in the tracker community of choice and then I can see their workouts right there.
In terms of heart rate accuracy, by pure nature of where it is placed the chest strap wins hands down. Can’t get any more accurate than the monitor right at your heart lol but the wrist tracker takes pulse and blood flow in a downward trajectory so although it can be used for heart rate, depending on how the arm is being held can show a decrease of a few bpm in comparison to the chest strap. It’s still pretty close to one’s heart rate though. If you can get a tracker that can be worn on the forearm or upper arm that gets a bit more accurate as this is where a blood pressure cuff would sit.
So another debate where the answer is to the question is BOTH! Depending on what you want to track, both are great complements to any exercise or training program.
Still not sure which one would work best for your particular training program? Feel free to contact me and I'd be happy to answer any questions you may have:).
Interested in a fitness/wellness consultation or have some questions about nutrition and your current fitness program? Join any of my groups online (Facebook) and/or pick up my book, How to be Fit for Life - Eight Proven Steps to Reaching Your Fitness Goals, Getting Results, and Living the Fitness Life for more help with your fitness journey. And please feel free to contact me and I'd be happy to answer any questions you may have:).