How to Calculate Your Maximum Heart Rate (You May Be Doing It Wrong)

If you’re someone using heart rate as a way to get the most out of your workout, we have some bad news: the number you’re relying on, which is your maximum heart rate, is probably inaccurate.

This number serves as the basis for all those heart rate zones and percentages that should tell you how hard you are working, and you may even have some kind of gadget to help you track it. Many people and many devices use a formula (usually 220 minus your age) to determine it, but as it turns out, there are problems with this formula and even with alternative equations that have been proposed to replace it. Here’s what you need to know.

Why use this method?

Before we move on, what is the appeal of this teaching method? According to a March 2019 article in Runner’s World magazine , the idea is to train your aerobic system without overloading your skeletal and muscular systems. As Erin Carr, a certified personal trainer and co-founder of Union Running in Massachusetts, told the magazine :

“[It’s] another way to be successful in running. It doesn’t have to be “no pain, no gain” or “try my best,” and it allows for continual improvement over time. “

Another part of the appeal, according to Joel French, Ph.D., senior director of science, fitness and wellness at Orangetheory Fitness (interviewed for the same article in Runner’s World), is that it’s accessible and accessible through the new wave. medical devices. We will now take a look at where this maximum heart rate value comes from, how accurate it is, and how to determine your actual maximum heart rate.

If you rise above your maximum

It is a myth that you cannot exceed your maximum heart rate; it is just an assumption that people make because it is called the “maximum.” In truth, this number should be your maximum possible heart rate, but there are problems with this idea too. As a cardiologist told the New York Times :

More than 40 percent of patients have heart rates that exceed 100 percent of the predicted maximum, he said. “This suggests that it was not their maximum heart rate,” said Dr. Lauer.

This article tells the story of an Olympic rower who flew out of the water in the first 90 seconds of the test. I also have a higher than normal maximum, which means my attempt to use the heart rate monitor failed miserably: it gave a warning whenever I reached my “maximum” and there was no way to change that number above 199. (My age is that moment predicted a maximum of 192.) Damn it, squeaked throughout my training.

By the way, if you know that your maximum is very different from the formula, this will be important information to give your doctor if you ever need to take a stress test , as they base the test stopping criteria on the percentage of that, according to them, is your maximum heart rate.

More precise formulas

It is not necessary to turn every workout into a math lesson, but there are some more accurate formulas, at least for some people.

The main caveat: even if you choose the best formula for yourself (and I know that it is not necessarily clear which one), the number you get will have a rather large error: it can be 10-20 strokes.

Are the formulas worth it at this level of uncertainty? For a physician calibrating a stress test, this is better than nothing. For athletes, they are probably not reliable enough to guide your training.

The Runner’s world tends to be fond of numbers, actually demolishing their target heart rate calculator in 2013, as they write, “It has recently been proven that an inaccurate measurement of your heart rate must beat during aerobic exercise.”

If you want to be really accurate (and don’t mind working hard)

There is an easy way to find out your actual maximum heart rate: do a lot of exercise and see how high the indicator goes. Here are the protocols to get your heart working to its fullest.

A standard disclaimer goes here: if you have a medical condition in which exercise could be dangerous (or if you’re unsure), check with your doctor before attempting any of these.

  • Run as fast as you can stand for three minutes. Rest for three minutes, then repeat the hard run again and note the highest value on the second trial .
  • Another simple running test: Run a mile at a pace (hard but not killer), then lap 5 faster, and lap 6 as fast as you can, with maximum acceleration towards the end. The largest number you see is your max .
  • Some runners also recognize 5K runs. If you are running that distance (about 3 miles) with every ounce of effort you put in, your highest value at the end of the run should be your maximum.

You will get the most accurate (highest) results if you come to workout fresh (so do not schedule the test the day after a hard workout) and be sure to do a long warm-up, even if it starts. lightweight, forces you to work at moderate intensity as test preparation.

Your maximum heart rate for running may differ from your maximum heart rate for other sports, such as cycling and, most famously, swimming . Your heart has to work harder to pump blood when you are upright, not horizontal. If you determine your maximum heart rate with a running test and then use it to guide your pool workouts, you will be chasing numbers that you can’t really reach in the pool.

If you’re not ready for these tests, you may be wondering: does it really matter if I know my maximum heart rate? In truth, you don’t need to train with heart rate , and if you have a training program that assumes you do, you can still translate zones and percentages into effort descriptions that you recognize by touch.

Heart rate numbers are only as good as the workouts they direct you to, so whether or not you should use heart rate percentages for your workouts depends on whether those math workouts help you get faster, stronger, and healthier. If you work best without numbers, that’s okay; if you are using numbers, make sure they are accurate.

This story was originally published on February 4, 2015, and was updated on September 13, 19 to provide more complete and current information.


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