Maximum Heart Rate

Update (22nd February 2011) – This post has now been updated with Maximum Heart Rate – Part 2.

In order to train effectively for my 3,471 km ‘Tour de France or bust’ adventure in September, I’ve decided to use elements of the 5 level training programme as described in

I now need to work out my maximum heart rate, in order to work out each of the 5 levels of training intensity.

There are a number of formulae for working out your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR). The most basic formulae is MHR = 220 – Age. There are other more complicated formulae such as:

  • MHR = 208 – (0.7 × Age)
  • MHR = 206.3 – (0.711 × Age)
  • MHR = 217 – (0.85 × Age)
  • MHR = 206.9 – (0.67 × age)
  • MHR = 202 – (0.55 × age)

The problem with using these formulae is that they assume that everyone is the same, which we are most definitely not. The other thing is that they don’t take into account the sport you are taking part in, as your MHR is sport specific. Therefore, your actual MHR will differ depending on whether you cycle, swim or run.

My MHR in recent training rides has been up to 185 BPM. Therefore, my actual MHR could be as high as 190 BPM or even 195 BPM but according to the above formulae, my estimated MHR (Age=48) is calculated at anything between 171 BPM and 176 BPM. That’s a discrepancy of up to 20 BPM.

The only way of working out your MHR is to take a Maximum Heart Rate Test. To do this, you need a heart rate monitor and a bike on a Turbo Trainer. After a 10 to 15 minutes warm-up, ride as hard as possible for the next ten minutes. Ride the last minute flat out (maximum effort), and sprint the last 20 to 30 seconds. It should now be possible to read the MHR on the Heart Rate Monitor. It’s advisable to repeat this test two or three more times, with a couple of days between each test, to establish your true maximum.

I’ve actually measured my MHR as 193 BHM. This means that, using my MHR, I can now calculate the 5 training intensities as follows:

Level Type % of MHR BPM
Recovery Recovery 50%-70% 97-135 BPM
Level 1 Stamina 70%-75% 135-145 BPM
Level 2 Extensive endurance 75%-80% 145-154 BPM
Level 3 Intensive endurance 80%-85% 154-164 BPM
Level 4 Racing pace/Power 85%-92% 164-178 BPM
Level 5 Lactate tolerance/Power 92%-100% 178-193 BPM

Now, rather than just go out and do the miles, I can decide on the intensity of training before going out on a training ride.

4 thoughts on “Maximum Heart Rate

  1. I also train by heart rate but I measure my anaerobic threshold and peg my zones based on that number. One advantage to using anaerobic threshold is that, unlike your maximum hr, it will change as you get more fit and you adjust your workouts to your new target.

    Have fun!

  2. Hm…
    % of max pulse gives only a rough starting point.
    Resting pulse should be considered too, at least that’s how I know.

    My knowledge is that 100% is your max pulse, while 0% is the resting pulse.
    Sleeping can hardly be called 30% intensity.
    However, these bpm ranges in your table seem fine, with ‘my method’ the intensity percentages would differ, but the bpm figures would be around the same.
    Still, with no resting pulse in the equation, it’s a bit like the 220-age formula. 😉

    >How do you work out your Anaerobic threshold in the first place though?
    Lactate measuring. A longish session on a trainer at a specialist. Resistance is continously increased while blood samples are taken from your ear.

    • Interesting. I hadn’t actually considered resting heart rate but your reasoning does make sense.
      Re Anaerobic threshold, unfortunately Lactate measuring isn’t exactly a do it yourself technique. I suppose that If I was competing at such a high level, I would more than likely look into this more scientific method of training.
      Thanks for the advice anyway.

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