The Holter's most common use is for monitoring ECG heart activity (electrocardiography or ECG). Its extended recording period is sometimes useful for observing occasional cardiac arrhythmias which would be difficult to identify in a shorter period. For patients having more transient symptoms, a cardiac event monitor which can be worn for a month or more can be used

When used to study the heart, much like standard electrocardiography, the Holter monitor records electrical signals from the heart via a series of electrodes attached to the chest. Electrodes are placed over bones to minimize artifacts from muscular activity. The number and position of electrodes varies by model, but most Holter monitors employ between three and eight. These electrodes are connected to a small piece of equipment that is attached to the patient's belt or hung around the neck, keeping a log of the heart's electrical activity throughout the recording period. A 12 lead Holter system is also available when precise ECG signal information is required to analyse the exact nature and origin of the rhythm signal

Older devices used reel-to-reel tapes or a standard C90 or C120 audio cassette and ran at a 1.7 mm/s or 2 mm/s speed to record the data. Once a recording was made, it could be played back and analyzed at 60x speed so 24 hours of recording could be analyzed in 24 minutes. More modern units record an EDF-file onto digital flash memory devices. The data is uploaded into a computer which then automatically analyzes the input, counting ECG complexes, calculating summary statistics such as average heart rate, minimum and maximum heart rate, and finding candidate areas in the recording worthy of further study by the technician.