How to calculate your Theoretical Maximum Heart Rate


Well quite simply, understanding a little about training zones is going to help you enormously when it comes to training for different types of fitness and utilising different energy sources. It's going to make your training much more efficient and effective. To calculate your training zones though you need to have an idea of your 'Theoretical Maximum Heart Rate'.

Heart Rate or Power?

By and large cyclists are well versed in referencing to power when it comes to training zones and this is definitely to be encouraged so please don't get this article wrong. However, when it comes to running then heart rate is a much simpler, more convenient and understandable measurement. Not only that but many cyclists don't have access to (or the finances to access) a reliable power measurement system. Heart rate can therefore also be used on the bike and makes a convenient comparison for triathletes and duathletes.

Methods of Calculating Theoretical Maximum Heart Rate (HRmax):

There are a number of these from the blindingly simple to the slightly more complicated. What we must remember though is that everyone is different and we must be prepared to alter our figures in response to our personal situation. For example:

Elite Athletes: will generally have a higher theoretical maximum.

Different sports: will tend towards different results (cycling lower than rowing lower than running).

Younger Athletes: will tend to be lower.

Older (Elite) Athletes: will tend to be higher.

Mental Strength: how hard can you push yourself?

Male and Female: some research has looked at differences between the sexes. Results have been conflicting with some showing a difference and others not.

Previous Training: research has also identified differences in athletes that have trained anaerobically compared to those that have trained aerobically.

Ultimately though, all the differences that come out are quite small and you must settle for one that suits you and you can work with.

Easiest and best known:

Simply subtract your age from 220:

HRmax = 220 - age

Jackson et al:

Jackson et al (USA 2007) created the formula below to more accurately reflect age:

HRmax = 206.9 - (0.67 x age)

Whyte et al:

Whyte et al (UK 2008) came up with the formulae below that took account of both anaerobic and aerobic trained athletes but differentiated between males and females:

HRmax (male athletes) = 202 - (0.55 x age)

HRmax (female athletes) = 216 - (1.09 x age)

Dr. Martha Gulati et al:

Gulati et al (1982) compared females to the [HRmax = 220 - age] calculation and came up with the following:

HRmax (women) = 206 - (0.88 x age)

Londeree and Moeschberger:

Londeree and Moeschberger (1982) found that maximum heart rate varies mostly with age but that it isn't linear:

HRmax = 206.3 - (0.711 x age)

Miller et al:

Miller et al (1993) came up with a similar formula:

HRmax = 217 - (0.85 x age)

It's interesting to note that studies have shown that maximum heart rate on a treadmill is consistently 2 - 3 beats higher than on a rowing ergometer and 5 - 6 beats higher than on a cycling ergometer. Swimming incidentally shows results around 14 beats per minute lower than a treadmill.

Relatively fit/trained individuals as well as elite athletes will have a 3 - 4 beats per minute lower maximum heart rate than a sedentary person and well trained over 50s will often have a higher maximum heart than might be normally calculated for their age.

So what do the results look like. Well, below is a quick set of results for a 30, 40 and 50 year old male:

30yrs          40yrs          50yrs

220 - age                                                   190             180              170

Jackson et al:                                            187             180              173

Whyte et al:                                              186             180              175

Londeree and Moeschberger:              185             178              171

Miller et al:                                               192             183              175

So there we have it then - as clear as mud (and there are more!). Ultimately you need to pick one that works for you and then stick to it. As you can see above, there isn't a great deal of difference between many of the calculations. A fairly common approach is combine Miller with Londeree and Moeschberger to get:

HRmax = 217 - (0.85 x 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

  • Subtract 5 beats or cycling training (3 for rowing)

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