Love monitoring your heart rate, but hate wearing the tight, uncomfortable transmitter chest strap? You're not alone, as the sudden rise of the strapless heart rate monitor indicates. Popular with walkers and gym rats but viewed skeptically by hard-core athletes for a perceived lack of accuracy and potential danger during cycling (you have to take one hand off the handlebar to get a reading), strapless monitors come in convenient wristwatch and finger-ring form. There's even a breakthrough design that incorporates a chest transmitter into a bra and shirt.
-- Roy M. Wallack
It's all in the wrist
Mio Motiva: Simple, attractive, feature-laden strapless sports watch heart rate monitor from the company that founded the category five years ago.
Likes: Very accurate. My side-by-side comparison with a conventional chest-strap model showed at most a three-beat differential. Simple to use -- just press and hold two buttons on the clock face with index and middle fingers; after five seconds, the watch beeps and displays heart rate. Easy-to-read numbers; backlight adds legibility. Includes time of day, percentage of maximum heart rate, timer, calories burned.
Dislikes: Typical strapless drawbacks: Using two hands and waiting five seconds is impractical for runners, bikers and all hard-core athletes.
Price: $70. (877) 566-4636; www.miowatch.com.
Around your finger
LifeSpan MyBeat Heart Rate Ring: Tiny ring, worn on index finger, that measures heart rate.
Likes: Small and inconspicuous. Simple two-button operation -- the left one controls a timer, and the right switches from time-of-day to heart rate when pushed. Cool novelty factor; cheap enough to give as gifts (to non-exercisers). Spare battery included.
Dislikes: Too slow and inaccurate to use for anything but ballpark estimates. Takes 20 seconds or more to get a reading. Compared with a conventional heart rate monitor, the ring over- or under-counted heart-rate readings by as much as 15 beats at high workout levels, and the numbers fluctuated a great deal.
Price: $29.99. (877) 654-3837; www.lifespanfitness.com.
Bare chest optional
Reebok Hybrid Plus: Only heart rate monitor sports watch that works with and without a chest strap.
Likes: Pleases everyone. The comfort of strapless for fitness walking and lower-stress activities, and the at-a-glance convenience of a hands-free, continual monitor readout for hard-core cycling, running, swimming, elliptical, aerobics and weight workouts. Packed with features: time-of-day, alarm clock, high and low heart rate zone settings, recovery timer, calorie counter.
Dislikes: No backlight for night running.
Price: $119. (888) 760-3059, Ext. 223; www.sportsbeatusa.com.
Shirt or bra monitor
NuMetrex HRM clothing: Bra and men's shirt with a built-in pocket for a snap-in transmitter, that provide chest-strap accuracy without a strap.
Likes: It works perfectly. Accurate and instant monitor readout. You do not notice the nearly weightless, 2-inch-long transmitter in the middle of your chest. In the men's tank top, the transmitter is kept tight and flush by an extra thick layer of fabric woven into the garment, which is very comfortable. The transmitter, standard with Polar WearLink models, works with any Polar heart rate monitor watch and can be purchased separately from NuMetrex ($39.95).
Dislikes: None. Great product.
Price: Sports bra, $49.95; men's cardio shirt, $58; (302) 351-5152; www.numetrex.com.
Irvine-based endurance cyclist and runner Roy M. Wallack is the coauthor of "Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100." Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org