HRM on Wrist Without Chest Strap?

Steve Freides

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Senior Certified Instructor
My son, in his mid-20's, is asking me for a recommendation for a watch to wear while running. He wants primarily to track distance, and thus it would need GPS, and speed. E.g., he wants to know when he's run 1 mile and how long it took.

Are there accurate HR reading available from a wrist-only unit, or does one need the chest strap?

Do wrist-only units have GPS functionality?

Anything else I should know?

This one looks promising at about $150:

Thanks in advance.



More than 5000 posts
As far as I know...
  • GPS functionality either comes in the electronics of the watch unit itself (or perhaps on some other device like a foot pod) It is not part of any chest strap (that I'm aware of)
  • I have only ever used a chest strap HR sensor. All personal anecdotes from people I actually know say that non-chest strap types are inaccurate in representing HR.
  • How inaccurate? I don't know. Unless one is seriously into performance based HR training or for needing to be accurate for medical reasons; the differences may not really matter.

  • I ride with a fellow who sports a wrist mounted GPS for monitoring his riding stats. When I compare my on-board computer to his on wrist computer the distances we ride are typically aligned within a few meters. What's interesting is that our elevation tracking is way off. Often times by over 100 meters. (Which is significant)

Steve Freides

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Staff member
Senior Certified Instructor
@Oscar, this is for my 26-year-old son, who wants his own gadget and not to share with me.

@offwidth, FWIW, several less expensive Polar watches come with a chest strap and that's how they work. The one I gave a link to come without a chest strap and supposedly without the need for one. Elevation - that's interesting.

I may also get a watch, because there are times when I'm, e.g., running, and would rather not have to have my phone in my pocket.



More than 5000 posts
Right! but the gps components reside in the watch portion, not the strap portion... that's all I was trying to say..
If your son isn't concerned about HR then as long as the watch has GPS functionality he will be okay.

So, I guess I was also trying to say that I believe the chest strap versions to be more accurate than any other type.

I have a cheap but good Polar with chest strap. I have had 3 over the years. They have all worked well until they died from either old age or abuse. (My choice of personal exit too by the way...:))

I have an ELEMNT c/w chest strap for cycling purposes.

Pete S

Double-Digit Post Count
I have both the M430 and the H10. The M430 uses GPS as well as HR and has all the bells and whistles. It uses the Polar Flow app which will also plot your route, elevation changes, etc. While a chest strap using electrocardiography can be more accurate than a wrist worn optical sensor, you can combine them. For quick jogs/rucks, the M430 is great. Put on the H10 when wanting greater fidelity first, then put on and start the M430 and the wrist monitor will defer to the H10 collector, displaying and recording H10 data.

When doing KB exercises I find that using the H10 is better as the threat of banging the wrist device with a KB is not there. So, I wear the H10 and place the H430 on a chair back so that I can see the results. Another tip is to hit the lap button after each set so that when looking on the Polar Flow results recording one can see the HR for each set recovery.

Bret S.

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Certified Instructor
Steve, the Polar OH1 I wear on the forearm, I find it accurate recording HR for my purposes, the H10 is also good but I don't like the chest strap so it's primarily a backup unit.
They both use the phone GPS for mile/location tracking but can be put on and then connected to the phone app, from there you can set the unit to record HR data in the unit and leave the phone at home. Later the data can be recovered to the phone app.
Haven't used the record feature cuz I like to check HR while running. Phone GPS sucks but it's good enough for my purposes.


More than 500 posts
I’ve yet to see anything to convince me that wrist mounting works for HRM. For everything else, it’s fine. Like @offwidth, I’ve used basic Polars until th blow up, I kill them, or I lose them.

As an off-road athlete who primarily trains Maffetone Method, I’m only concerned about current HR and total time. So I don’t know about GPS functionality, as I haven’t been impressed by its reliability on forested trails.
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