Ok, if you’re here looking for your standard review of the various Garmin heart rate monitors this isn’t for you. I will, however, give my 2 cents of an opinion for each one I’ve owned.
If you’re like most age group athletes who just don’t want to keep buying replacement equipment every time it stops working, this is for you.
I’ll give some basic info on each strap. Some pros and cons of the design and how to repair the failures I’ve experienced to extend the strap life. I’ve included various photos. Some are my own and to be honest I borrowed a bunch from the Google image search. They all looked so much better than mine.
I’ll also leave one very important bit of advice to save you some cash on straps and sensors right here. If it’s less than a year old email Garmin support directly and just tell them what’s wrong with it. They will replace it and in some cases send you the newest thing they have on the market. (Only happens this most recently, I suspect they are phasing out the original product) I say email because unless it’s a GPS unit the claim sheet will not list it and you will need to use the contact link under support and write them a message. So far their customer service has been great for any issues I’ve had.
The above photo shows your various options depending on how long ago you purchased your HR monitor. We’ll just go down the list oldest to newest.
The oldest model shown is the HRM 1. This sucker is all plastic except for the hand that does behind your back. This is the tank of heart rate monitors. It should last forever but the downside is all the edges are plastic and it can be a big uncomfortable after a long duration of wearing it.
I don’t actually have this model though I did have the polar version and from the looks of if they are all made at the same place. I don’t think there is a method of changing the battery. I believe it’s a one shot deal but should be about 2 years with an estimated 1 hr per day.
Next on the list is this bad boy or more commonly known as the HRM 2. the original premium strap.
It’s the second one from the top in this photo. This was the standard for years. It is the same as the HRM 3 with the only noticeable difference being the gray section of the strap.
The issue with the HRM 2 is that everything with the exception of those magic sensor pads is elastic. This is fine until the glue that holds the magic pads starts to break down and separate. (The pads don’t stretch)
Now the HRM 3 made the college try and added the gray section to the outer portion of the strap. This section does not stretch. I believe the intent was to keep the elastic from pulling away from the sensor pads. The failure in the design is that as you can see above it only covers 1 1/4 of the sensor pads. This still leaves one that will ultimately fail on you and will look like this lovely sample of photographic genius.
What you are seeing is the sensor pads flopping around separate from the strap. In theory, as long as the plastic coating on the pads is still in tact the strap should work just fine.
Next, you will need the very technical tool shown below, a rag and a very heavy flat object like that Chilton’s import car manual you’ve had on your bookshelf for the last 15 years.
It’s a very straight forward process.
Lay out the rag (This protects everything unless you’re interested in wearing your table stuck to your chest)
Apply a very thin layer of glue – Note: I was wondering if something like rubber cement would actually work better since it is stretchy. Then again use what you have. You are by the way cheating the planned failure mode of a product.
Fold the rag over and set the book on top being aware of the buttons. You may have to do one-half at a time.
Go to sleep, you needed a rest day anyway.
I did this in 2012 and was able to use that HR strap for most of another year. The second time it failed the sensors were torn. Meaning the glue was really doing the trick.
The next iteration and a very common strap if you purchased one since 2013 is what we will call the HRM 4. (It’s the one in the middle in the photo below)
The improvement here was the nonstretch sections run the length of the sensor. I used this strap from December 2015 to August 2016. The failure on this strap wasn’t due to the sensor pads pulling loose. It looks like that issue has been addressed.
On this strap the connection to the elastic to the nonstretchy (technical term) section. As it turns out this is just one end stuck in a sleeve and glued so the same failure problem in a different spot. This is the little black square section shown in the photo above.
Solution: (You guessed it) break out the super glue. When I get around to it which will most likely be when I need it I intend to put a few stitches in the strap where it’s glued to add a little reinforcement.
Now, remember how I mentioned warranty claims by contacting Garmin support. I only used this for about 8 months so I sent the email and was upgraded to the latest HRM Run strap. This is the one with the red pod.
This was great of Garmin since I was holding off upgrading until I could get some feedback on the strap life expectancy since the control pod does not come off and they are very expensive. As an age group triathlete, I have lots of things I want and this is like number 10.
So once I received the new HRM Run I gave it a thorough look over and gave it to my wife since she primarily runs and went and picked up the HRM tri (Blue pod). This is the same product but with a memory module that syncs with your Garmin watch to take measurements when the sensor is not able to transmit through water.
They made several improvements to the strap design. There are no plastic edges, the pod is slightly smaller than the strap width, the pod has a rubber bumper, the pads have a blue non-skid surface to hold in place.
Now the downside is that if the newest straps fail, you have to replace the entire thing. The replacement cost is $99-$130 (HRM run/HRM swim) which is an entire race entry. This is because the control pods don’t separate like on the older straps.
From what I can tell it will most likely fail in the same way as the HRM 4 and can be glued back in. If mine ever fails I’ll update this post. This is only one location on the HRM run/tri where the elastic portion is glued into the non-elastic section.
(Update – I have a new post on the HRM-Run and HRM-tri here)
The HRM Swim is the same product but has a wider strap and the non-skid surface covers the entire back side so that you can wear it swimming without a tri kit on.
You can see the HRM swim is a thicker strap and has a rubbery surface to hold it in place. Only a small portion of the strap has any stretch to it so they also provide a strap extender if needed.
From what I can tell it’s well made and only has two spots that I believe could be the future failure point. The elastic on it barely stretches so it may actually last an incredibly long time. Only time will tell.
My recommendation would be to get the latest HRM run if running is what you plan to stick with. If you are a triathlete or may consider being one go for the HRM tri. It’s a $30 difference and you have to remember that you can’t use it unless you’re wearing a top to keep the water from turning it into a hula hoop.
If you’re a serious swimmer and really need HR stats also get the HRM swim. The thing to note here is that you can’t use the data while swimming unless you get your watch and HRM swim above the water together but can see it after on Garmin connect so you may still need to use the two finger and stopwatch method.
After using the HRM swim for several months it does what it claims and for the most part, it stays in place as long as it’s adjusted so that it’s nice and tight. Even then it will occasionally work itself loose over time. This is from you stretching it to breathe. Once it does get loose you will feel it lift off your body on the wall pushes. I found that if I rotate it so that the blue pod is off center to my right side it has more of the nonslip to make contact along my right side and that helps it to stay in place. This is primarily for men since we often don’t wear a top in the pool. If you swim with a tri top or for women the standard HRM tri will work just fine for you and you don’t need the HRM swim.