Monday, February 14, 2011

Maximum Running Heart Rate

Why not celebrate Valentine's Day by determining your maximum heart rate?  I've been running consistently over the last few weeks, but at erratic paces and distances.  Sometimes I run an easy pace on the treadmill, other times I crank the incline and go hard.  At other times I'm doing a tempo paced run, followed the next day by whatever feels right.  I realize that mixing things up is actually a good plan...hard/easy, short/long, fast/'s all part of a good training plan.  Unfortunately, I don't base my decisions on any true pace-based or effort-paced program.  This weekend, I decided to "take it up a notch" by finding my maximum heart rate that could then by utilized for an effort-based program.

After making sure I wasn't alone at the gym, and heart paddles were readily available in case I fainted, I started my quest for my maximum heart rate while running.  I ran easy for about 3 miles, then started to up the pace until I felt I was going pretty fast and steady...then I steadily cranked the treadmill setting as high as I could handle.  I made it to a pace of about 5:30 minutes per mile.  Heart rate peaked at 188.  After a couple minutes of walking to get my breath back and clear some lactic acid, I quickly cranked the treadmill again and made it to 5:20 pace...and my heart rate peaked at 191.  With another rest and fast paced session it may have gone a bit higher.  I may try several fast hill repeats when the weather warms up.  For now, I'm using that 191 number as my maximum heart rate.  My resting rate in the morning varies from 50-56.  For now, I'm using 55 as by baseline resting rate.

Most comprehensive effort-based programs use the Karvonen heart rate formula for target ranges.  A quick overview of heart rates and different formulas can be found at Wikipedia.  The Karvonen formula uses your heart rate reserve (Max - Resting) to determine percentages. You multiply the HR reserve by the percentage you want, then add the resting HR back to get your target HR.  For instance:

70% = (MaxHR - RestHR) * .70 + Rest HR

Every few months, it might be worthwhile to re-assess your max and resting rates and re-calculate your target zones.  Your max won't change much, but your resting rate will vary from day to day and week to week based on stresses in your life--training, racing, work, family, etc.  Generally, a lower resting rate signifies good health and aerobic fitness.  Many experts suggest you check your morning HR almost every day to help guide your training and recovery.  If your resting rate is elevated, then take it easy or take the day off.  That's a good strategy, but rather intrusive.  Who wants to check their morning pulse all the time?  Once you have a baseline resting rate, you have your target HR zones and can easily follow them without major modifications.  The cool thing about having effort-based zones, is that if you are tired or under stress, your HR will be higher and thus you will need to run slower to keep within your zones.  The heart rate monitor forces you to adjust paces based on ACTUAL heart rate...which AUTOMATICALLY forces you to hold back when you aren't feeling well and forces you to pick it up when things are going great.  It's like having a full-time running coach with real-time data to make decisions! 

Of course, having your maximum heart rate and resting heart rate is only the first step.  You now need target heart rate zones for training.  Many good sources for this step.  My favorites are:

John Parker, Jr:
"Heart Monitor Training for the Compleat Idiot"
Roy Benson:
"Coach Benson's Secret Workouts: Coachly Wisdon for Runners About Effort-Based Training"
Keith Livingston:
"Healthy Intelligent Training:  The Proven Principles of Arthur Lydiard"

The books above are listed in order from easiest to most complex.  The Parker book is definitely the easiest and most straight-forward of the three.  I'm using it right now to get started and continue good, basic aerobic training.  Later this spring or summer, I'll shift to a more structured and detailed scheme from Benson or Livingston.  If you want to follow a heart rate based program, but don't care for it to be based on your resting and maximum heart rates (but rather on age), I suggest the following two books:

Phil Maffetone--"Training for Endurance"
Stu Mittleman--"Slow Burn: Burn Fat Faster by Exercising Slower"

These are two excellent guides.  While they don't utilize maximum or resting rates, they seem to work well for most people. Maffetone has several other books that I own and enjoy.  You can find them in "My Library" link (also on side of blog).

WARNING: If you attempt to find your maximum heart rate, you should be in good health and have exercised regularly without complications.  It will stress your heart!  That's the point.  If you race regularly, one way to find your maximum HR is to wear a heart rate monitor and really push it for the last 400m-800m of a 5K race.  Whatever you record as a peak is likely very close to your maximum.  After warming up, running several very fast 400m loops of a track works too.  As would several short and very fast hill repeats.


Adam Irish said...

Great post Chris! Will need to make this a part of my running routine as soon as I can get a heart rate monitor.

Chris said...

They can be very useful for training...and racing. I know people that set target zones for their 5Ks to 50 milers and the monitor helps them keep things under control and supposedly they race better. Once you've used the HR monitor for a while, you develop a good sense of what each zone should FEEL like and you don't need the monitor as much.

janak said...

Mind is also important in reaching the HRmax. What I mean is that it is hard to reach the HRmax with mindful effort like on a treadmill. To overcome the mind resistance and kick-up a notch, it is suggested that one run a very hard 5k and do a mad dash for the last 200 meters or so. By this method I reached 196 once and had never been able to reach that again by choice - e.g. speed work, hill runs etc.
Studies show that rowing team members reach extremely high HRmax during races but not during practice.

Chris said...


You are absolutely correct. Mentally you need to push hard to achieve your max. Guess that's true with life in general.