Maximum Heart Rate (MHR)

Most training plans are built around knowledge of one's maximum heart rate (MHR). Unlike your resting heart rate (RHR), your MHR never changes. The focus of this entry is on your MHR and how to determine that number. Be sure to visit my page on heart rate training for more information.

Mathematical Formulae Used to Calculate MHR
There are several formulae you can use to calculate your maximum heart rate, but the most accurate calculation is to perform a max heart rate test (see below). The following is a list of various formulae used to calculate maximum heart rate (MHR):

The easiest and best known method for calculating your maximum heart rate is:

MHR = 220 - your age

Londeree & Moeschberger
Their 1982 paper from the University of Missouri-Columbia indicates that MHR varies mostly with age, but the relationship is not a linear one. They suggest the following formula:

MHR = 206.3 - (0.711 * Age)

They further concluded that sex and race have no impact on your MHR, but that your MHR is affected by the activity and levels of fitness. Studies have shown that MHR on a treadmill is consistently 5-6 beats higher than on a bicycle and 2-3 beats higher on a rowing ergometer. Heart rates while swimming are significantly lower, around 14bpm, than for treadmill running. Elite endurance athletes and moderately trained individuals will have a MHR 3-4 beats slower than a sedentary individual. It was also found that well-trained over 50s are likely to have a higher MHR than that which is average for their age.

Miller et al
A paper by Miller et all (1993) from Indiana University proposed the following formula as a suitable formula for calculating MHR:

MHR = 217 - (0.85 * Age)

USA Researchers
Evidence from several United States researchers, reported in the Med Sci Sports Exerc (May 2007) identified the following formula as more accurately reflecting the relationship between age and maximum heart rate:

MHR = 206.9 - (0.67 * Age)

UK Researchers
Research carried out by scientists at John Moores University in Liverpool in 2007, reported in Int J Sports Med, came up with the following formulae for predicting maximum heart rates in both endurance and anaerobically trained athletes:

Male Athletes: MHR = 202 - (0.55 * Age)
Female Athletes: MHR = 216 - (1.09 * Age)

Miller, Londeree & Moeschberger
To determine your maximum heart rate you could use the following, which combines the Miller formula with the research from Londeree & Moeschberger:

  • Use the Miller formula: MHR = 217 - (0.85 * Age)
  • Subtract 3 beats for elite athletes under 30
  • Add 2 beats for 50 year old elite athletes
  • Add 4 beats for 55+ year old elite athletes
  • Use this MHR value for running training
  • Subtract 3 beats for rowing training
  • Subtract 5 beats for bicycle training
Laboratory Tests Used to Calculate MHR
Aside from relying on yourself to crunch some numbers, you can visit a sports scientist who can perform a few different laboratory tests that can serve as a very accurate indicator of your MHR. Be advised that these may be expensive. Here are two types:

VO2 Max
It is also possible to calculate your MHR as a percentage of your VO2 maximum.

Stress Test

A stress test can also be conducted to determine your MHR.

Calculating Your MHR By Sport
By in large you will find that your MHR varies quite a bit from sport to sport, with your MHR for running generally the highest. Here are a few max heart rate tests that you can perform on your own that will serve as a very strong indicator of your MHR. You will need a heart rate monitor in order to record the most accurate results. It is also important that you only undertake such a test if you are in good physical health. Be sure to warm-up well before beginning any of the maximum heart rate tests listed below.

I recommend a 400 meter build swim. This means that you will begin at a moderate pace and gradually increase your speed. The best way to do this is to use a 50 meter pool rather than one that is only 25 meters (or yards). Thus, swimming to one end and back equates to 100 meters.

Begin the swim at a moderate pace. Every 50 meters you should gradually increase your speed. Thus, you will increase your speed seven times during this workout. By the seventh increase (50 meters left), you should be in an all-out sprint. Once you cross the finish line, you should be completely exhausted.

I recommend a 4 mile build ride finishing up a strong hill. This means that you will begin at a moderate pace and gradually increase your speed. The best way to do this is to use find an open stretch of road that is relatively flat but ends with a large climbing hill.

Begin the bike at a moderate pace. Every half mile you should increase your speed such that by the time you have one mile left you are in an all-out sprint. By the time you reach the hill, you are feeling wiped. The hill should feel painful - your body is exhausted. Make sure the hill is not insanely steep or long - you want to be able to make it to the top. Once you reach the peak, you should be completely exhausted.

I recommend a specific 2 mile build run. This means that you will begin at a moderate pace and gradually increase your speed. The best way to do this is to find a standard track, perhaps at a local high school. On such a track, eight laps around should equate to a 2 mile run.

Begin the run at a moderate pace. Every two laps (every half mile) increase your speed. Thus, you will increase your speed three times during this workout. By the third increase (two laps or half a mile to go), you should be in an all-out sprint. Once you cross the finish line, you should be completely exhausted.

Checking Your Pulse
Immediately check your heart rate after you complete the test either using a heart rate device or by checking your pulse under your neck or on your wrist (count the number of beats in six seconds and multiply by ten). This number should be a very accurate indicator of your maximum heart rate. For a reference point, my MHR (maximum heart rate) for running is 198bpm (beats per minute).

For more accurate results, perform the MHR test a couple times over a two to three week period.

Note: it is important that once you complete any of the above MHR tests you do not collapse immediately. Once you cross the line, transition to a very slow walk/pedal to check your heart rate and to avoid injury.

Sports Coach: Maximum Heart Rate, Brian Mackenzie

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