Garmin Heart Rates Spikes, Dropouts, Soft Straps, Static and Wet or Hard Straps

Heart rate and power
Heart rate and power (Photo credit: samwebster)

What! A heart rate of 280bpm, that can’t be right can it? Oh hang on a minute now there’s no reading at all.

Most of you have been there with Garmin HR straps. It’s annoying when the readings are wrong especially if you train by heart rate.

There are various solutions out there. Some of them are sound others not.

Firstly there could be a fault with your STRAP and/or your heart rate SENSOR / POD. I think that is unlikely in most cases.

Secondly if you have ever used a Garmin HARD strap you will probably have never found any problems. So, IMHO, that shows that the problem probably does not lie with the watch. If, like me, you may have bought a POLAR soft strap to which the GARMIN POD fits you will probably found the same level of HR spikes and dropouts in similar circumstances. Therefore this suggests to me that there is nothing inherently uniquely wrong with Garmin’s design.

It’s just that soft straps for some reason are more prone to the sort fo behaviour we are talking about. Why? If you look at the reverse of the strap you will see that the smooth ‘rubber’ contact area may be smaller on a soft strap.

Yesterday I had a turbo session indoors. Nothing too hard but a bit sweaty nevertheless. Immediately afterwards I went for a slow run in the freezing cold. Within 5 minutes I had incorrect HR readings. I had stopped sweating and some of the sweat already there had dried out. This to me VERY strongly suggests that the problem is related to the contact between the body/chest and the strap.

In really cold or really dry weather you may well find you are more prone to spikes. This could be because both hot and cold weather can have less humidity (humidity might be a factor). Or it could also be the case that when really cold you might not sweat much or when really hot and you are not trying much the sweat very quickly evaporates.

Either way a wet strap helps.

So if you lick your strap before any exercise you will probably find an improvement.

Furthermore if you thoroughly wet the strap, you may find yet more improvement.

Garmin recommend that you use medical grade gel. Let’s face it few of us will ever do this. But if you have let me know if that fixes the problem.

Well 30 minutes after posting the article I got this from Cy Gearing on FB:

Cy Gearing :: I use the garmin soft strap and use a gel from amazon. I don’t sweat a great deal so had issues, but been using the gel for 3 months now without dropouts. It cost the vast sum of £3.05 for 2 x100ml bottles and you need so little that I’m sure they will last at least a year!

So this I think backs up my assertion that it is a contact problem rather than static or faulty devices. Although Cy has obviously found that gel makes a significant improvement (well if 100% counts as significant!). Amazon here we come!

However static might be a cause. You need two different materials for static to happen. This could be different shorts and shirt. Or it could be the soft strap and your shirt rubbing together. It might also be linked to static from body hair. I’m not convinced about this explanation but it is possible. I still have problems when ‘topless’ on my turbo. Static absolutely CANNOT be the cause in that scenario. Although it might be a contributory factor in other scenarios.

Summary: I started off by saying you could have a faulty unit. Most likely the best approach is to thoroughly wet your strap and ensure it is snugly fitted in the right position. Or use a hard strap!

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2 thoughts on “Garmin Heart Rates Spikes, Dropouts, Soft Straps, Static and Wet or Hard Straps

  1. I think that my Garmin went a bit nuts today at a Half Marathon. It did seem to settle down after the first mile or so – I think possibly it got confused with picking up multiple signals from various others also with Garmin devices. I certainly wasn’t achieving heart rates of 200!!! I don’t think!!!

    1. those heart rate spikes are obviosuly wrong readings. they are probably due to a bad contact between your strap and your chest. try fully wetting the strap first and making it a bit tighter and/or use medical/physio gel to aid electrical contact with your body. it could be a dodgy unit. if you use sporttracks you can edit the HR data track to lower spikes.

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