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Maximum Heart Rate? Forget It…

It keeps on coming up on social media. Plus, I am continually asked about maximum heart rate and how to calculate it.
The reason it would appear is to calculate those all important training zones that help maximise folks training, yet the question should be asked if there is a better way?
I hear about some new amazing formula all of the time, yet the truth is they do not work for that many people.

Formulae Do Not Work, OK!

There is no one size fits all here, merely normal ranges of what we would expect.
It all started with this:
Men – 220 – Age = MHR.  Women – 226 – Age = MHR.
So popping that in reverse against my known max I am 22 years old. Yay!!  I wish…
The roots of this formula lie in a study carried out on people recovering from open heart surgery of one sort or another. The age range was teenagers through to the elderly, with around a total of 60 participants.

Clearly this has no relevance on fit runner types.  It is however a very safe way of getting very poorly folk back into exercise. So this does have some relevance. Just not for us.
No formula I have seen works for everyone. Nothing I have ever seen on a sports watch works for everyone.  There are just too many physiological differences between us all.  Yes, there are ‘mean’ parameters that we would expect for where training zones fall.

So What Does Work?

I have always been reliant on a couple of methods. Both are very reliable and I have years of practice looking at heart rate, graphs and lab results The key to these results is also extremely reliant on the athlete being in a recovered state when the race graph is reviewed or the test undertaken.

  1. Get a Lactate Test…
    Well, that may not be so easy right now. We would normally offer them here at the Accelerate Performance Centre. If you are less local, when you can, find somewhere with plenty of experience. Universities, with a sports lab can usually oblige.
    Simply you run on a treadmill. Thankfully, you do not go to your maximum heart rate. That would be daft as you’ll probably fall over and fly off the back, plus there is no need.
    Every 3-minutes, sometimes four, a blood sample is taken from either your finger or your ear. Each time the speed is then increased and the process repeated around 6 times.  From here the blood sample is analysed to determine the amount of lactate that is present. This will rise as your put more effort into the test.
    The results are then plotted onto a graph alongside heart rate and it is from this that your training zones can be determined.  The lactate volumes will be different per person, and again no one size fits all. Too often I hear that 4mmols of lactate was used to determine the top  training zone.  Wrong again as we are all different; it’s a little like saying we all have brown hair.
  2. Study and Analyse Those Race Graphs.
    You’ll need to find someone who knows what they are doing. Yet it is possible to determine that top L4 Heart Rate Zone from good consistent race graphs. From there you can work backwards for the other zones.  I have done this loads of times and have preceded to predict the zones pre lactate test and to everyone’s surprise…
    5 mile and 10k graphs, or any sustained hard effort over no more than 45 minutes max should do it.

All of this has to be so much easier and safer than a ‘Bucket Test’ – so called as you may need a bucket following a maximum effort to achieve a max heart rate.
I have been using heart rate for over 30 years. As a coach it is my preferred weapon of choice, even with the arrival of ‘power’ for runners, I still believe it is the better option. Track, road and even mountain runners have all benefited from heart rate training weather to help develop lactate tolerance and buffering or to ensure adequate recovery. I have worked with runners from newcomers through to the very fast, triathletes and duathletes too.  The results these athletes have achieved using heart rate as a training tool speak for themselves.

Heart rate training, “it’s the best thing since sliced bread”.

It is unfortunate that there is no ‘one size fits all’ to heart rate training zone calculation. There is however a very clear opportunity to maximise training outcomes using heart rate and one that for many is just being missed. Too many times heart rate monitors end up as an add on to a GPS ‘requirement’ and something I have often referred to as the ‘bottom draw syndrome’ once people have struggled to get a handle on their heart rate. In my humble opinion, it’s a missed opportunity.