Are elliptical heart rate monitors accurate?

Heart rate monitors on elliptical machines that use pulse sensors on the handlebars or grips provide a convenient way to track your heart rate during workouts. These sensors detect your pulse through the skin of your hands, so elliptical heart rate accuracy is generally fairly reliable. However, it’s important to note that they may not always provide an exact measurement, but they do offer a good estimate of your heart rate while exercising.

How the Pulse Sensors on Elliptical Trainers Work

Pulse sensors on exercise machines, including ellipticals, function by detecting your heart rate through the skin of your hands. Typically, these sensors are located on the handlebars or grips of the machine. They consist of metallic areas that interpret small electrical signals passing through your skin. These signals are then amplified, allowing the sensors to estimate the number of times your heart beats per minute. When you grasp the handlebars with your bare hands, the sensors begin to monitor your heart rate. While they do not provide real-time continuous monitoring, they offer a practical and straightforward way to gauge your heart rate during workouts.

are elliptical heart rate monitors accurate? girl on elliptical

What Are Pulse Sensors?

Pulse sensors, also known as heart rate sensors, are components found on exercise machines designed to measure your pulse by making contact with your skin. These sensors are often silvery metallic areas situated on the support bars or moving arm bars of exercise equipment, such as ellipticals. Some machines feature a single, large sensor on each side, while others have two closely spaced sensors on each side. The primary function of these sensors is to detect small electrical signals passing through your skin. By amplifying these signals, they can calculate the estimated number of heartbeats per minute. Pulse sensors are instrumental in helping users monitor their heart rate and exercise intensity, contributing to a safer and more effective workout experience.

How to Use Pulse Sensors

Using pulse sensors on exercise machines is a straightforward process. To utilize them, all you need to do is grasp the handlebars or grips of the machine with your bare hands. Ensure that your skin makes direct contact with the metallic sensor areas. Once in contact, the sensors will begin detecting your heart rate. Keep in mind that, in most cases, these sensors provide intermittent readings, so you may need to pause briefly to get an accurate reading. While they are relatively user-friendly and do not require specialized training, it’s essential to be aware of their limitations and the factors that can affect their accuracy, such as the condition of your hands and the presence of lotions or jewelry that may interfere with the sensor’s signals.

row of ellipticals

Alternative Methods of Tracking Heart Rate and Their Accuracy

  1. Chest-band Devices:
    • Accuracy: Chest-band devices are among the most accurate heart rate monitors, especially when used correctly. They measure your heart rate directly, providing high accuracy regardless of your activity level.
    • Usage: These devices employ electrical detection and typically require moisture for optimal performance, making them an excellent choice for various physical activities.
  2. Wrist- or Forearm-Worn Wearables:
    • Accuracy: These wearables are quite accurate during rest and low-intensity activities, such as walking. However, they can yield inaccurate readings during high-intensity exercises like using an elliptical with arm levers.
    • Usage: They use optical detection through light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to measure heart rate and are comfortable for most users.
  3. Smart Rings:
    • Accuracy: Smart rings are relatively new, and while they are highly accurate during rest, further research is needed to confirm their accuracy during exercise and other activities.
    • Usage: These devices employ optical detection and are worn on a finger, functioning as both heart rate monitors and fashion accessories.
  4. Pulse Oximeters:
    • Accuracy: Typically used in medical settings, pulse oximeters are not suitable for exercise monitoring outside a clinical environment.
    • Usage: They use optical detection and are primarily designed to measure pulse rate and blood oxygen levels.
  5. Smartphones:
    • Accuracy: Smartphone apps that use optical detection by touching the camera lens tend to be more accurate than those scanning your face. However, they are still prone to errors.
    • Usage: These apps leverage the smartphone’s camera and flash to measure heart rate and are convenient for quick, on-the-go measurements.
  6. Chest-Strap Monitors (Not Included on Exercise Machines):
    • Accuracy: Chest-strap monitors provide continuous and highly accurate heart rate readings. They are an excellent choice for those seeking precise measurements but may not be comfortable during workouts.
  7. Smartwatches and Fitness Trackers:
    • Accuracy: These devices use photoplethysmography (PPG) to measure heart rate and offer moderate accuracy. However, accuracy can be affected by factors like wearing position, skin tone, hair, and more.
    • Usage: Smartwatches and fitness trackers are convenient for everyday use and can provide real-time heart rate monitoring, although they may not offer point-to-point accuracy comparable to chest straps.

So are elliptical heart rate monitors accurate at tracking maximum heart rate in a workout?

Elliptical machine heart rate monitors, utilizing pulse sensors, offer convenient estimates of your heart rate during workouts. While generally reliable, they may not provide pinpoint accuracy. These sensors work by detecting your pulse through the skin of your hands, amplifying electrical signals, and estimating your heart rate, with readings provided intermittently as you grip the handlebars.

Alternative heart rate monitoring methods vary in accuracy. Chest-band devices, highly precise, suit a wide range of activities. Wrist or forearm-worn wearables yield good accuracy at rest and moderate intensity but may falter during vigorous exercise. Smart rings, a new option, show promise at rest. Pulse oximeters are suited for clinical settings, and smartphone apps, while convenient, may have slight inaccuracies. Chest-strap monitors offer high accuracy but may be less comfortable, and smartwatches and fitness trackers provide moderate accuracy for everyday use. Your choice should align with your specific needs and exercise comfort

+ posts

An ex-triathlete, fitness coach and writer with a Masters in Sports Physiology. Fitness is my passion and I've had my fair share of home fitness equipment tried and tested!