Accuracy of optical heart rate measurement and distance measurement of a fitness tracker and their consequential use in sports

  • Mario BudigEmail author
  • Volker Höltke
  • Michael Keiner
Brief Communication



The possibilities of continuously monitoring everyday training have become more varied and precise. Fitness trackers are common devices used for collecting training data. The aim of this study was to validate the optical heart rate (HR) and global positioning system (GPS) distance measurements under real conditions.


In total, 30 moderate endurance-trained adults (15 males/15 females) completed a running test battery, 3 km of walking and running and 1.6 km of interval running, with optical HR measurement. The distance measurement test battery consisted of swimming for 500 and 1000 m, biking for 4.3 and for 36.7 km, stadium running for 3 km, walking and running for 1.6-km intervals, and off-road running for 3 and for 7.1 km. The criterion measurements consisted of HR measurement via chest strap and distance measurement via map in a 400‑m stadium and 50‑m pool. The differences between the measured HR/GPS distance data and the criterion measurement were calculated using several statistical methods.


The t-test analysis of HR measurements showed significant differences during the 1.6 km of interval running (p < 0.049) over seven phases and at resting HR (RestHR; p < 0.021). The false discovery rate (FDR) calculation showed similar results (p < 0.047; p < 0.026; effect sizes interval running d > 0.67; RestHR d > 1.12). The t-test analysis of distance showed significant differences in biking (p = 0.000) and running test results (p < 0.002). The effect sizes were d < −0.47 and d > 0.72, respectively. The median absolute percentage error (MAPE) was <2.75% for biking and running and <4.50% for swimming.


This study showed significant inaccuracies in optical HR measurements during rapidly changing HRs in real field testing for the first time. The GPS measurements also showed significant differences, but MAPEs were negligible. Therefore, optical HR measurement should be used on a limited basis, while distance/speed control can be used without restrictions.


Fitness tracker Accuracy Distance measurement Optical heart rate measurement Garmin Vivoactive HR 

Die Genauigkeit der optischen Herzfrequenz- und Entfernungsmessung eines Fitness-Trackers und die daraus folgende Nutzung im sportlichen Training



Die Möglichkeiten der kontinuierlichen Überwachung des alltäglichen Trainings sind vielfältiger und präziser geworden. Fitness-Tracker sind verbreitete Geräte zur Gewinnung von Trainingsdaten. Ziel der vorliegenden Studie war es, die optische Pulsmessung und die Entfernungsmessung mittels GPS („global positioning system“) unter realen Bedingungen zu validieren.


Insgesamt absolvierten 30 mittelmäßig ausdauertrainierte Erwachsene (15 Männer/15 Frauen) eine Batterie von Lauftests, 3 km Gehen und Laufen sowie 1,6 km Lauf-Intervalltraining, mit optischer Pulsmessung. Die Testbatterie für die Entfernungsmessung bestand aus Schwimmen über 500 und 1000 m, Radfahren über 4,3 und 36,7 km, Rundenlaufen im Stadion über 3 km, Gehen und Laufen über 1,6-km-Intervalle sowie Geländelauf über 3 und 7,1 km. Die Referenzmessungen bestanden aus einer Pulsmessung mittels Brustgurt und einer Entfernungsmessung mittels Karte in einem 400-m-Stadion und einem 50-m-Pool. Die Unterschiede zwischen den ermittelten Puls‑/GPS-Entfernungsdaten und der Referenzmessung wurden unter Verwendung verschiedener statistischer Methoden berechnet.


Die t-Test-Analyse der Pulsmessung ergab signifikante Unterschiede während des 1,6 km Lauf-Intervalltrainings (p < 0,049) in 7 Phasen und in Ruhe (RestHR; p < 0,021). Die Berechnung der Falscherkennungsrate („false discovery rate“, FDR) wies ähnliche Ergebnisse auf (p < 0,047; p < 0,026; Effektgrößen für Lauf-Intervalltraining: d > 0,67; RestHR: d > 1,12). Die t-Test-Analyse der Entfernung zeigte signifikante Unterschiede bei den Testergebnissen für Radfahren (p = 0,000) und Laufen (p < 0,002). Die Effektgrößen betrugen d < −0,47 bzw. d > 0,72. Der mittlere absolute prozentuale Fehler (MAPE) lag bei <2,75% für Radfahren und Laufen sowie bei <4,50% für Schwimmen.


In der vorliegenden Studie zeigten sich signifikante Ungenauigkeiten bei der optischen Pulsmessung im erstmals durchgeführten realen Feldversuch bei einem sich schnell ändernden Puls. Auch die GPS-Messung ergab signifikante Unterschiede, aber die MAPE-Werte waren vernachlässigbar. Daher sollte die optische Pulsmessung nur begrenzt eingesetzt werden, während die Entfernungs‑/Geschwindigkeitsprüfung ohne Einschränkungen eingesetzt werden kann.


Fitness-Tracker Genauigkeit Distanzmessung Optische Herzfrequenzmessung Garmin-Vivoactive-HR-Multisportuhr 


Compliance with ethical guidelines

Conflict of interest

M. Budig, V. Höltke, and M. Keiner declare that they have no competing interests.

The tests were conducted from October 2017 to January 2018 in accordance with the guidelines of the Declaration of Helsinki. Approval for this study was obtained from the institutional review board and ethics committee of the University of Health & Sport, Resolution Code: 10/2018.92002800.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Deutschland, ein Teil von Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Sports ScienceGerman University of Health & Sport, DHGSBerlinGermany

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