Garmin has (finally) announced and started shipping the HRM-PRO chest strap, bringing Bluetooth to their higher-end heart rate strap that also transmits advanced running metrics and has memory onboard for watch-less activities. This, of course, follows the HRM-DUAL strap that was announced last January, which brought dual ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart compatibility. However, that strap lacked the features of the HRM-TRI/HRM-RUN series, which included Garmin’s Running Dynamics data as well as the ability to capture workouts when you didn’t wear a watch. Now, all that stuff is together in one, albeit expensive, strap.
I’ve been using the new $129 strap for a bit now, across numerous sports, including swimming, to see how it handles. I’ve also tested it out sans-watch to understand how it differs from seemingly similar options offered by Polar and Wahoo. And as you’ll see, the differences are important, depending on how you plan to use it. This is essentially the pinnacle of straps for Garmin users but has far less applicability for users outside the Garmin ecosystem.
Finally, because this is ultimately just a strap – Ill try and keep this review a bit more straightforward and condensed. I’ll probably fail at that, but hey…I’ll try. Oh, and as usual I’ll send this media loaner back in a pile of gear to them shortly, and if you found this review useful you can hit up the links at the end of the post which help support the site. With that, onto the review!
This section is comparably easy in light of doing watch reviews, but essentially the HRM-PRO is a blend of the HRM-TRI and the HRM-DUAL into one, with one bit of data offloading spiciness on the side. It’s really as simple as that. Here are all the things it has in a simple bulleted list:
– Concurrent Bluetooth & ANT+ Connectivity (with two Bluetooth connections, and unlimited ANT+ connections)
– Running Dynamics transmission
– Offline workout support for swimming (or really any other sport) for a Garmin watch
– Capturing of Intensity, Steps, Calories, and Heart rate sans-watch
– You’ll see battery status of the strap within your Garmin Connect workout summary data (right side on website for each activity)
– [Update] Garmin has also added Cross Country (XC) Skiing Power Support as of October 2020, only available in the HRM-PRO
And that’s it. But, let’s dive slightly into those last two bullets, because those are actually what makes this strap appealing for Garmin users (and inversely, useless features for non-Garmin users).
Offline workout data support for Garmin watches: This first piece is the same as with the original HRM-TRI or HRM-SWIM straps, whereby if you go into the water, it’ll capture your heart rate data to offload back to the watch once you exit the water. That was back in the day when watches either didn’t have optical HR sensors, or they didn’t work while swimming. These days watches do have them (though, accuracy in the water varies a lot), but the strap gets you more accurate data. Unfortunately, digital transmission from HR strap to watch underwater doesn’t work, so this is all about store and forward, saving the true data for later on, rather than mid-workout. Of course, the strap is always broadcasting, it’s just that your watch can’t hear it. This is also useful for non-swimming activities where you can’t wear a watch but want a workout file; such as soccer, martial arts, etc… Note that technically speaking this feature uses the ANT+ standards and theoretically could work with any watch/device that supports it. But practically speaking nobody has ever done so. Thus no, it won’t work with your Suunto/Polar/Apple/etc watch to download data.
Offline daily activity data support without watch: This piece is new here, and is mainly for people that can’t wear a watch during the workout (martial arts, some cross-fit, other sports, etc…). What this does is essentially account for your daily activity metrics. So this includes steps, intensity minutes, calories, and heart rate. This makes it seamless between the other 23 hours of the day you wear the watch, with the 1 hour you can’t. So on your Garmin ‘My Day’ dashboard, it looks like one seamless day, even though you didn’t wear the watch for a chunk of it. Also, it’s crazy fast on how it catches-up/displays. Faster than the time it took me to come out of the water and grab a screenshot from my phone on the dock. More on that in a minute. Note this feature does *NOT* create workout files that sync to Strava or such (as some other straps do). More on that too in a minute.
So ultimately, the HRM-PRO is really as its name suggests – it’s Garmin’s top-end strap for Garmin users. There’s ZERO reason to buy this strap over Garmin’s HRM-DUAL strap if you don’t have a Garmin watch. Inversely, if you do have a Garmin watch, I’d have a pretty tough time recommending the older HRM-TRI strap these days, even though that is reasonably priced whereas this is crazy priced. But hey, I guess that’s the price of admission to data.
Ok, with that quick overview out of the way, let’s get into the box and the usage details.
What’s in the box:
Uhh…look, I get it, we’re just talking a strap in a box. But also, look, if I didn’t write about the strap in a box, then someone would be upset about it. So, here’s the strap in a box:
Actually, the strap in a box also comes with a little paper cartoon book that illustrates how to use it.
And most interesting of all, was this little tidbit I caught – which is that the strap is partially licensed from Suunto. Or more specifically, the patent around sensor arrangement. The strap isn’t made by Suunto, just one particular aspect of the sensor arrangement is something that Suunto has a patent on from 2006, and Garmin has to license it from them.
Turns out though, they also licensed this way back on the HRM-TRI as well:
Then I thought to myself: I wonder if they licensed this on the HRM-DUAL too? Turns out..nope. However, they instead licensed something else from Suunto for that strap, the connector pod piece:
See, this strap in a box section was interesting and useful after all. In fact, there’s other nuggets in the manual too. I mean, nobody reads it, but in this rare scenario I actually opened it up and learned something from it. But that’d ruin the surprise for the next section. So…let’s move on.
The strap is made of the same fabric that the HRM-TRI is made of, which I’ve found pretty comfortable (and I don’t think I’ve seen any complaints on that strap). You can change the size of the strap by tweaking the little clasp thingy. Garmin states the minimum chest size for this strap is 23.5” (60cm), and the maximum is 42” (106cm). However, you can also buy an extender which takes it to 56” (142cm).
Here’s what the inside sensor portion looks like, which you can see is identical to that of the HRM-TRI (blue pod):
Some portion of that arrangement is the piece that’s licensed from Suunto, to completely spoil a full chunk of this review – realistically I haven’t seen any change (negative or positive) in accuracy from the HRM-DUAL there. It works just fine. It’s still a little bit warm this time of year to get those nice crispy cool late fall days though where the air is drier, which can lead to standard chest strap accuracy issues in the first few minutes of a workout before you get enough sweat going. But there are plenty of solutions for that anyway (wetting the strap, licking it, applying contact gel, etc…).
The battery for the HRM-PRO is claimed at 1 year (with 1hr/day usage). It uses a standard issue CR2032 coin cell battery. You’ll access that by pulling the yellow part off, which gets you here:
And then using a small screwdriver to remove the four screws. Inside there’s an o-ring you’ll want to take care not to damage, and then the coin cell battery:
The unit claims water resistance of 5ATM, and an operating temp range of 14°F-122°F (-10°C to 50°C), which begs the question: Who is running around outside without a shirt (but with a chest strap) at 14°F/-10°C. And then I remembered the team working on this is largely in Alberta…which is Canada. And now it all makes sense.
Next, within the comic book cartoon manual they included there’s a picture of a triathlon and a pool. I asked my toddler daughter to explain it to me, and it appears they’re telling you that after each pool swim you should wash it in soapy water, and after seven loops of the lake. Whereas after any normal swim you should rinse it off in regular water. After she explained the cartoon to me, she asked me to read one of her favorite books on a similar topic.
For the most part, you likely won’t use the HRM-PRO in the pool much. While it’ll work just fine for the ladies under a one-piece suit, historically the HRM-TRI style straps don’t work as well in the pool because they won’t stay on your chest. That’s what the much wider/stickier HRM-SWIM strap is for (pool usage). The main issue is specifically when you push off the way (turns or flips), the water pressure is significantly greater, and I’ve never been able to keep any strap there for more than a few laps (except the HRM-SWIM). Again, if you’ve got some sort of top on covering it, there’s no pressure and it’s not an issue.
Whereas for openwater swimming it’s no problem at all – and in fact I’ve used it on a number of openwater swims, as we’ll talk about.
But first, let’s pair it up to your phone. This part is new in the Garmin world, and it’s the first Garmin strap to actually pair to Garmin Connect Mobile (their smartphone app). Sure, the HRM-DUAL could pair to apps for displaying HR, but not actually Garmin’s own app.
Once paired, there really isn’t much to tweak in the settings (devices area) aside from your bio information, as basically everything it does is in the background.
You can however update the firmware here:
It’ll also do this via your Garmin devices too (it quietly downloads updates on behalf of Garmin sensors, including the HRM-PRO):
Now, at this juncture I’m going to assume you know how to put a chest strap on. So we’ll skip to the usage bits related to the non-watch portions. In other words, tracking the intensity minutes, activity status, etc… For this, the idea being you’ve taken off your Garmin watch to do some sport you can’t wear a watch in. Then, you do said sport. Behind the scenes once you put on the Garmin strap it’s frequently offloading that data to Garmin Connect, so it’s available almost instantly – including your steps.
Check out the below screenshot. What’s impossible to tell here without me telling you, is that this spike in heart rate was while I was doing a workout (obviously), but most notably is data from a strap – not a Garmin watch. The watch was disconnected to my phone at this point. It did all this from just the strap, notably filling in the HR data for that workout, as well as updating my steps too:
But the same works in other non-workout ways too. For example, as I’m writing this I’ve got my Garmin watch on the charger. But I’m being a dork and wearing the HRM-PRO so that I don’t miss out on any steps to and from the coffee machine or those extra calories burned.
All that goes to your Garmin Connect account automatically.
But here’s the one downside: Let’s say you’re playing basketball or some other sport sans-watch. You do the workout and you want to save that file somehow. Perhaps upload it as an indoor activity with a photo to Strava. You can’t do that here (unless you’ve got a Garmin watch and started the activity on that watch). Meaning, unlike the Wahoo TICKR X, or the Polar H10, there’s no bookended workout files created here. Technically speaking there is under the covers, but functionally speaking Garmin isn’t exposing that unless there’s a Garmin watch paired with it.
Adding one more ‘speaking’ type here, practically speaking that probably doesn’t matter to 99% of the people out there. After all, if you’re buying this strap it’s because you’re in the Garmin ecosystem and likely with a Garmin watch (versus a bike computer). So in that scenario, you could have easily just started an indoor cardio workout on your watch and left it on the sidelines in your bag. After saving the workout, it’d then sync the HR/steps/etc data to the watch/phone, and the world would be right again. You’d have an upload in Strava from the watch, and all your daily metrics accounted for in Garmin Connect.
Still, that doesn’t mean I can’t dream. For me and my testing, I love the ability to have the TICKR X simply track my workouts and then splice out a .FIT file using the nifty app time splicer they have. But that’s more of a DCR problem/issue than a common one.
Lastly on the basics side, the strap is dual ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart compatible, so that means that you can pair it to an unlimited number of ANT+ devices, and then two concurrent Bluetooth Smart devices. So let’s say you’re inside on Zwift or TrainerRoad (running on an iPad), then that’ll pair via Bluetooth Smart, while you can still also then pair it up to your watch via ANT+. Here it is on Zwift:
And now a non-Garmin watch, the Polar Grit X using Bluetooth Smart:
Oh, and as for activity storage, the HRM-PRO can store 18 hours of activity before needing to offload. So, with all that set, let’s dig into the watch connectivity pieces.
Garmin Watch Connectivity:
The part that most people here reading about are probably interested in though is Garmin watch integration. There’s essentially three levels/components of direct watch integration:
1) Simple heart rate connectivity
2) Data offloading integration (e.g. for swimming/etc…)
3) Running Dynamics support
Technically speaking, any manufacturer could integrate these, but only Garmin has selected to do so. For example, Running Dynamics has their own ANT+ standard (and has for years), but only Garmin watches support it. Wahoo does broadcast Running Dynamics though on their latest TICKR X straps, so those are compatible with Garmin watches however.
In any event, all three of these require you pair the chest strap to your Garmin watch, so we’ll do that here. For the purpose of this post’s photos I’m using the FR945 because it’s sitting next to my laptop. But I’ve actually mostly been using it watch-wise with the Fenix 6 series. But any ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart unit can pair up for the basic heart-rate pieces. On a Garmin device, you’ll want to pair it as an ANT+ sensor (which, it’ll do automatically for you):
Once that’s done, everything else actually kinda happens magically for you. For example, most Garmin watches will automatically show the Running Dynamics pages when a capable Running Dynamics sensor is paired. These are what those pages look like:
Those metrics will update constantly throughout the run, just like any other metric. In addition, this strap works with Garmin’s Running Power Data Fields, assuming your watch is compatible.
Afterwards, you’ll find all these metrics displayed on Garmin Connect (and Garmin Connect Mobile). Here’s a quick glance at them from one of my track runs (paired to Fenix 6). Respiration rate comes from the chest strap too:
And then here’s another set from my run a few minutes ago (paired to FR745), note here that respiration rate isn’t on the FR745 (an interesting tidbit I didn’t notice till now):
Whether or not you find value in the Running Dynamics metrics is up to you. Personally, I don’t find much value there at this point. Years later, and I’m still not super clear what to do with the data. My coach finds some value in a handful of the metrics in terms of seeing some impacts of fatigue in a longer run.
Note that the definition of Running Dynamics metrics in this case is specifically Stride Length, Vertical Ratio, Ground Contact Time, Ground Contact Time Balance, and Vertical Oscillation. Note that the Vertical Oscillation/Ratio chart has a toggle, as does the Ground Contact Time/Balance chart.
While the strap also includes the cadence data, that actually comes from your watch anyway (or a footpod, if you have one of those). So while Garmin sometimes groups that under the Running Dynamics banner in marketing blurbs over the years, that’s not actually the case and is recorded already on every Garmin wearable.
Next, switching gears away from running, over to swimming, which is the secondary main reason someone might pick up the HRM-PRO. Previously, for triathletes, you probably picked up the HRM-TRI, which covered you for swim/bike/run. The HRM-PRO effectively replaces that, but now gives you Bluetooth support for using it with apps like Zwift or TrainerRoad.
With swimming, the HRM-PRO is ideal for openwater swimming, but less optimal for pool swims for most males. That’s because in the pool the chest strap will often get pushed down when doing a flip/open turn off the wall (especially a flip turn), eventually ending up on your waist. For ladies, wearing a one-piece suit, it’s not an issue, as the suit blocks the water pressure from pushing the strap down.
Thus, all my testing was in openwater, where there’s no flip turns:
In this case, you’ll put on the strap just like normal and crack open the swimming sport. You’ll want to ensure that the watch sees the strap before you go in the water, so it knows its friend is out there somewhere. I think technically it’ll still find it afterwards even if it doesn’t connect before you get into the water, but I’m always paranoid about it.
Once in, simply swim as normal. While the strap is constantly broadcasting, your watch isn’t hearing it. Digital signals only go about an inch (a few centimeters) underwater, so from your chest to your wrist is way to far. That’s different than the older analog straps that Polar used to make that can transmit analog signals. But Polar stopped making any modern watches that support that.
So during the swim your watch will show the heart rate from the optical sensor (assuming you have a more recent watch, else, it’ll just show nothing if on an older watch since that doesn’t have an optical HR sensor that works in the water). However, once you stop the watch and start to save the activity it’ll go off and find its friend, HRM-PRO:
Then it’ll start downloading the heart rate file from the strap:
This usually takes 5-10 seconds. Note that if it doesn’t see the strap, it’ll actually re-confirm with you, which is useful if you’re still in the water since the watch can’t find the strap if your strap is underwater.
Once that’s done, the watch effectively replaces (technically it appends) the heart rate data in the swim file with the HR data from the HRM-PRO. To you though, it’s all totally seamless and just looks like normal HR data on Garmin Connect:
Now, while I talked about swimming here, this same thing applies to really any sport. You can start an activity with the HRM-PRO in range, and then head out to do your thing (for example, soccer/football), and then come back to the sidelines and it’ll download it all again. It knows to do that.
Ultimately, all of this offloading and running dynamics functionality is exactly the same as it was on the HRM-TRI, the only difference here is that this strap also has Bluetooth as well as the daily metric offloading too for non-watch workouts.
Accuracy Comparison Data:
For the most part, chest straps are a pretty well defined thing these days, where failures are rarely in the actual capturing of data, and usually more tied to transmission or connectivity pieces. Meaning, when I see failures with chest straps, it’s not often accuracy per se, but the layer of software that gets that data to your watch.
There are exceptions to that, notably in cooler weather when the skin is drier and contact is trickier. That’s why most companies (including Garmin), recommend you wet your strap prior to starting. Usually once you get into the workout then sweat takes over. Of course, on really hot days you can actually go the opposite direction, and have sweat pooling, where basically there’s so much sweat straps have issues there too. For better or worse, I don’t often have those sorts of weather days in the Netherlands.
Ok, so in my testing, I simply use the strap throughout my usual workouts. Those workouts include a wide variety of intensities and conditions, making them great for accuracy testing. I’ve got steady runs, interval workouts on both bike and running, as well as tempo runs and rides, and so on.
For each test, I’m wearing additional devices, usually 3-4 in total, which capture data from other sensors. This sometimes included a second strap, usually the Wahoo TICKR X 2020), as well as usually two optical sensor watches on the wrists. Note that the numbers you see in the upper right corner are *not* the averages, but rather just the exact point my mouse is sitting over. Note all this data is analyzed using the DCR Analyzer, details here.
First, let’s start and see how it handles steady-state running. This is a 9-mile long run from a few weeks ago, just cruising along at a relatively easy pace. In this case we’ve got the HRM-PRO as my chest strap, the COROS Pace 2 on one wrist with optical, the FR745 on the other wrist as optical HR, and then a Whoop strap on my bicep connected to the Polar Grit X. Here’s that data set:
As you can see – or rather, perhaps don’t see, the HRM-PRO ramps up nicely as one would expect, and actually the FR745 does a really good job of tracking that too. After the initial slow-ramp offset of the COROS Pace 2 optical HR, it’s pretty much the same. The Whoop strap is…well…the Whoop strap, bouncing all over the place. There was frankly zero issues in that run that were out of range or norm for the HRM-PRO…so, we’ll move onto the next workout.
We find ourselves now on the track. This is a track workout focused mostly on 800’s, but with some sprint 200’s in at the end. Here’s that workout with the Garmin HRM-PRO chest strap, the FR745, and then the COROS Pace 2 on the other wrist:
In this case, again, we see it pretty much perfect (even from the optical HR sensor of the FR745). It’s also a good example though to see the slight nuanced differences between a chest strap and an optical HR sensor. As is often the case with intervals and optical HR sensors, you see a very tiny bit of lag on recovery compared to chest straps. You see, the HRM-PRO is just a couple seconds ahead of the optical HR sensors. Again, a super-tiny amount here that you’d never notice in-person if you didn’t have a secondary reference source.
Whereas if we look at these 30-second/200m intervals, you’ll see there’s more lag from the optical side of the house compared to the chest strap, albeit not always. The first one shows lag of maybe 10-15 seconds on the FR745 compared to the HRM-PRO. However the 2nd/3rd/4th intervals are very close on the uptake to the HRM-PRO, but a bit more laggy on the recovery.
Next, let’s switch gears and look at an indoor workout on Zwift. In this set we’ve got the FR745 optical sensor, the HRM-PRO chest strap, and the Wahoo TICKR X 2020 chest strap. Here’ that data set:
In the first couple of seconds you see the TICKR-X spike briefly. I suspect that might actually just be something with adjusting it more than anything else, given it happened in the first few seconds and went away. Otherwise, the HRM-PRO and Wahoo TICKR X are basically identical.
After that point it’s pretty darn boring – all the units are identical across the board until the very end. It’s here I do a bit of a 900w+ sprint and my HR spikes accordingly. We see the lag from the FR745 optical sensor, whereas the other units are all pretty much in agreement, with the HRM-PRO being slightly faster than the TICKR X by a second or two.
Finally, here’s an outdoor ride with the FR745, Garmin HRM-DUAL, TICKR X, and COROS Pace 2, this is a mostly steady-state ride, save a few stops for canal bridges or stop-lights. It’s also in the rain at times, as well as on bumpy roads at times. Here’s that data:
So…yeah. Ok, the brown bits are the COROS Pace 2. Let’s remove those below so that it’s a bit easier to see what’s going on. The HRM-PRO & TICKR-X basically mirror each other the entire time. A few tiny differences when I come to a stop where the two slightly differed on the bottom-end, but it’s super-duper close.
Another zoomed in view shows how nearly indistinguishable the TICKR X and HRM-PRO are. Note, the last few seconds where those are straight lines of the TICKR X, is simply because the TICKR X got paused there.
Every workout in the last 3 or so weeks I’ve done has been with the HRM-PRO, and all of them are all the same here. No unexpected spikes or dropouts or anything else funky. Pretty much what I’ve come to expect from either the HRM-DUAL or HRM-TRI, just carried over into a yellow pod instead. Of course, going into later fall and winter, I’d probably expect some minor errors like all chest straps in drier conditions, but that’s always been the case and usually solvable by applying more moisture in any of the previously mentioned ways.
(Note: All of the charts in these accuracy portions were created using the DCR Analyzer tool. It allows you to compare power meters/trainers, heart rate, cadence, speed/pace, GPS tracks and plenty more. You can use it as well for your own gadget comparisons, more details here.)
I’m sure I’ll see a lot of questions here between these three models:
– Garmin HRM-PRO
– Polar H10
– Wahoo TICKR X 2020
Now, let’s briefly look at the differences, but first, I’ll just give you the TLDR: If you’re a triathlete, the only real option here is the Garmin HRM-PRO. Garmin has you in a pickle, because while the TICKR-X supports offline workouts, Wahoo hasn’t implemented the data offloading via ANT+ (they use their own internal app offloading process via Bluetooth Smart).
If you aren’t in the Garmin ecosystem but still want data offloading, then frankly I’d strongly recommend either the Polar H10 or Wahoo TICKR X, with an edge to the TICKR X simply because their offloading, splicing, and sync to partners option is so much better than Polar’s. Polar’s strap is probably a bit more comfortable though for some people. But again, that just depends on what you want.
If you need Running Dynamics for Garmin products, then the Wahoo TICKR X 2020 will work here. However, be warned that Garmin has *NOT* allowed that to be a source for their Garmin Running Power data field. So it won’t work there for that one piece. If you don’t care about running power (or Garmin’s running power more specifically), then that’s not really a deterrent.
And again, for swimmers, the only option you have with a Garmin watch is the HRM-PRO (or the older HRM-TRI/HRM-SWIM). It simply won’t download from the Wahoo or Polar straps post-swim. Inversely, if you’ve got a Suunto or Polar, they can’t download from this watch either.
Finally, if you don’t care about all the data offloading at all and just need basic ANT+/Bluetooth smart connectivity, then save your bananas and go for a less expensive strap such as the HRM-DUAL, Wahoo TICKR, or Polar H9. I’ve used all of them consistently and all are solid (similar) and great options.
The HRM-PRO is effectively the new HRM-TRI, and actually at the same price as that strap – just now with more features and functions that appeal to a slightly wider audience than just triathletes. It’s designed to fill the gap for people that can’t wear a watch during their sport, or where the accuracy of wrist-based optical HR sensor data is more challenging. Getting the Running Dynamics bits comes with the territory, but of course Garmin has other offerings if you want just that piece (the RD-POD). Of course, that does beg the question of where the slightly less expensive HRM-RUN goes from here, since that’s still not Bluetooth enabled.
That said, this is really just a strap for Garmin users. There’s absolutely zero reason to buy this strap if you’re on Suunto, Polar, or an Apple Watch. Seriously, there’s zero reason whatsoever. Save $50 and get any of the basic heart rate strap options – since that’s the only capability those watches can leverage from this strap. I talked about those in the previous section.
But if you’re a Garmin user and looking for those added features, Garmin delivers that in one package now. It’s totally seamless – and the ‘just works’ factor is super high. They’ve taken the pieces from their various products (HRM-TRI & HRM-DUAL) and simply squished them together, along with the newness of being able to contribute to your daily metrics. And that’s something nobody else has.
With that – thanks for reading!
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