Update: Motivation for the question

The motivation for the present question is to determine whether it is possible for a cyclist 1- to measure the heart rate without touching the crown, which would require holding the handlebar with just one hand for a few seconds, 2- to connect the Series 5 to a head unit—thus avoiding to look at the watch at all, and only glancing at the head unit, as well as 3- curiosity about how the Series 5 can measure the heart rate through electric sensors, given the understanding that there must be two electric sensors, quite far apart.

End Update

Cyclists and runners may want to keep track of their fitness level by confirming that their heart-rate remained below a certain threshold for a given activity. For that use case it's helpful to monitor the heart rate after a workout. But they may also want to ensure during a workout that they cross a heart rate threshold and remain there for some time.

A heart rate sensor that attaches through a chest band is a reliable solution, but it's far from being an unobtrusive one.

A good alternative, one that's much easier to tolerate, may be a wrist watch such as the Apple Watch Series 5.

Does the Apple Watch Series 5 have electric sensors instead of, or in addition to, optical heart-rate sensors?

The reason it matters is that electric sensors require the cyclist or the runner to stop and touch the crown with a finger from the alternate hand. (This produces an ECG, not just a heart rate, but the latter can obviously be derived from the former.) For continuous monitoring, IIUC, an optical sensor is still required.

  • All sensors on the watch are electric. I answered based on my data quality. Let me know in comments if I missed a main point. Go ahead and ask your second question as a stand alone one. The answer won’t be the same for both.
    – bmike
    Commented Jun 3, 2020 at 17:00

1 Answer 1


I get far better readings from my watch during running and cycling than I did with either Garmin or Wahoo chest sensors. However, since 2017 I’ve not even tried a chest sensor, so perhaps they have improved faster than the Apple Watch sensor has.

The watch is less likely to slip for me with the Velcro band than the elastomer band, but even the elastomer band is more accurate than I need for 6 hour cycling workouts on bumpy gravel roads in windy conditions. It also does more - so I’d rather skip the chest band entirely for convenience and comfort. I did love the chest bands since the early 90’s due to them being the best I could get for exercise data collection.

All three vendors I list are superlative in my experience, as is Suunto, if you need excellent data on your heart rate while exercising. The watch sensors are more than adequate for me so I wanted to chime in with my experience.

  • Great.. so you're saying that you can glance during a workout at a Series 5 watch and know your current heart rate. I'm curious how that works, since electric sensors require two connections at two locations quite far apart. But aside from the inner workings, could you address whether a cyclist would need to lift one hand off of the handlebar to inspect the heart rate, or whether this information can be sent wirelessly to a head unit from Garmin, Wahoo, Lezyne, ..?
    – Sam7919
    Commented Jun 3, 2020 at 17:24
  • Yes. I can tell in workout as well as post workout. It’s amazing quality and quantity of data.
    – bmike
    Commented Jun 3, 2020 at 17:29

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