Since I joined Garmin in 2014, I’ve been fortunate enough to use their top of the range sports products to track my training and racing. Lately this has included the Forerunner 235 running watch which measures heart rate at your pulse by using Garmin’s Elevate heart rate Technology.
Having had time to use and evaluate using both a Heart Rate strap and an optical heart rate sensor, I can honestly say both work very well and choosing between them will depend on your needs.
If you are serious about data the Heart Rate strap is the way to go. The strap tracks closer to the source (heart) to give you near absolute accuracy. Optical heart rate sensors read your blood flow further from the source (on our wrist) and are therefore slightly less accurate. Because of this training with a Heart Rate strap can yield more metrics than training with wrist based heart rate.
If comfort and convenience is at the top of your list, then an optical heart rate sensor will work best for you. It fits comfortably on your wrist and doesn’t move around nor chafe like certain heart rate straps can sometimes do. A heart rate strap also has to sit fairly snug around your chest which can feel restrictive and psychologically affect your breathing.
A few other miscellaneous advantages of the optical heart rate sensor are that you don’t have to worry about misplacing or forgetting the strap before a session. You also don’t have to deal with paring issues such as configuring your training unit to sync with the heart rate strap and you don’t have to worry about a smelly strap.
Most of these inconveniences can easily be overcome as a heart rate strap can be properly adjusted to fit comfortably and washing or rinsing it after use will yield a clean and sanitary strap without much hassle. Paring a Garmin HR strap with a Garmin device is so easy it is not even worth mentioning as a shortcoming
As accuracy is important to track my training, I prefer a Heart Rate strap (paired with my Edge 1000) while riding or racing my bike.
For running and specific gym work the optical heart rate sensor (Forerunner 235) works best for me.
Having the best of both worlds is obviously the way to go, so spoil yourself!