The Age Related Max Heart Rate Formula

June 11, 2009

In response to yesterday’s post, the very cool zen master, Anthony Lemme, said the following: “Darryl, I love you man, but I’m telling you that that calculation is very often way off. I am 40 and my max heart rate, according to a Polar heart rate monitor is around 200. It might now be in the high 190’s because I tested it a couple of years ago but that is a big difference. What are the implications of people being off by 10 or 20 when working out? Maybe I’m just a freak but isn’t that 20 bpm a lot?”

Well, Anthony raises some interesting points. The first point Anthony makes is that the formula for max heart rate — [220 minus your age] — is very often way off, and he gives himself as an example. I agree with that point because my max heart rate is at least 193 (I’ve had it that high during strenuous cardio) and I’m 42 years old. However, there are two things to consider in regard to the age-predicted maximum heart rate formula.

First, it is not meant to be exact. Individual’s max heart rate will vary, but the inaccuracy of the variation (plus or minus 10 beat/minute per standard deviation) from the formula generally has little influence in establishing effective training zones for healthy people. Yesterday’s post stated that 55 – 70% of max heart rate would produce a positive training effect. If you’re an average 40 year old, max heart rate would be about 180 beats per minute (220 – 40). 55 – 70% of 180 is 99 to 126 beats per minute. If, however, you are a fit stud like Anthony and your max heart rate is 200, then 55 – 70% would be 110 to 140 beats per minute. If you exercise at 70% of the average 40 year old’s max rate (126 beats/minute), you will be comfortably in the middle of the 55 to 70% zone (110 – 140) for the more fit person. Also, if you know your max heart rate is more than the estimated maximum, just use what you’ve seen to be the higher figure for your calculations. That will provide more accuracy.

Second, the formula was created for convenience. It is possible to conclusively determine you max heart by exercising at all-out intensity for several minutes, or by having a cardiologist test you. Most people don’t have the motivation to exercise intensely enough, and also doing so can be dangerous for people predisposed to heart problems. Also, going to see a cardiologist for a max heart rate test isn’t something many people get a chance to do. So, the age related max heart rate formula is meant to be a convenient and reasonably accurate predictor of the maximum heart rate values for individuals.

Tomorrow, let’s discuss Bob‘s question about sprinting.


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