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More and more people are using heart rate monitors as a tool to progress faster without burning out or getting injured. You see a lot of runners and cyclists in spin class or out on the roads sporting chest straps with their watches on the handle bars or wrists. There are a lot of great models out there. Some of them can be downloaded on to your computer to give a read out of your last work out.
This is great, but the problem is most people don’t know what their maximum heart rate is. Max HR is the highest heart rate value you can achieve in an all-out effort to the point of exhaustion. Obviously, it’s rarely the goal of any workout to take you to a point of all-out exhaustion, but using percentages of your individual Max HR to determine the appropriate intensity for a given workout (or series of workouts) can help create more efficient and effective fitness routines.
Knowing your Max HR has its merits. But the best method for determining Max HR remains a hotly debated topic. For quite some time now, the best known Max HR-estimating formula has been “220 minus your age.” While this formula does happen to prove accurate (or close to accurate) for some people, for others it turns out to be off base.
Exercise physiologists have long questioned and researched this method’s reliability, and today there is a general consensus among informed fitness experts that Max HR cannot reliably be deduced using such a simple formula. The main problem is that Max HR is not influenced so much by age as by genetics. In fact, most people of similar age do not have the exact same Max HR, according to Sally Edwards, spokesperson for Danskin Triathlon and CEO of Heart Zones Training.
I conducted a field test on the track with a group of runners a couple of years ago. We followed a testing protocol from Precision Heart Rate Training. Prior to the test I calcuated the estimated HR Max using the “220-Age Formula”. There were 8 runners in the group. All except for one runner tested higher than their age predicted maximum heart rate. For example, A 45 year old woman reached 195 beats per minute, running the last 100 meters on the track. Her age predicted max was 175.
I attended a workshop through Heart Zones Training in 2004. I wanted to be able to use heart zones with myself and my clients.
Some Facts About Heart Rate:
- Max HR does not decline with age, for those who maintain fitness.
- Max HR is genetically determined.
- Max HR is the anchor point for developing training zones.
- Max HR is sports specific.
- Max HR doesn’t reflect your current level of fitness.
- Max HR cannot be increased by training.
- Max HR is affected by drugs and medications.
- Max HR’s that are high do not predict better athletic performance.
- Max HR’s that are low do not predict worse athletic performance.
- Max HR results may vary from day to day, measurement is test day sensitive.
- Max HR testing requires the person to be fully rested.
- Max HR doesn’t change if you are fit.
During the workshop we tested Max HR by using a cycling test. I conducted another running test about a week later, to make sure I was rested. Since Max HR is sports specific, I had different maxes for cycling than running. The testing protocol uses perceived rate of exertion. The test starts at an easy level, with the heart rate around 100 BPM, then progresses every 2 minutes until it’s very, very difficult. This sub-max test that takes the person up to about 85% of their max. The results are adjusted, depending on how high the heart rate rises before the person being tested reaches their perception of very, very difficult. For example, I reached my limit at 160 BPM. 30 beats were added to give me a Max HR of 190 on the bike. I rarely see a heart rate higher than about 172 on my bike. My running Max HR is closer to 200. I often see a heart rate 184 when I am racing.
The different Max HR’s give me a starting point to determine my own personal target training zones. I have since tested many clients and found interesting results. Some people spend too much time working in anaerobic zones, which can cause burn out and injury. Others are not working hard enough to get the results they want. Knowing Max HR has helped them progress towards their fitness goals at a faster rate.
Sally Edwards, Heart Zones Training
Sally Edwards & Sally Reed, Heart Zones Cycling
Edmund R. Burke, PHD, Precision Heart Rate Training