Knowing your maximum heart rate is important. It helps you properly set heart rate training zones and is an important factor in your VO2Max calculations. Here’s how to determine its value.
Essential reading: Benefits of heart rate zone training
Advanced athletes heart rate zone train for a reason. It lets them know if they are doing too little or too much, helping them reach their potential in the shortest amount of time possible.
Most fitness trackers and smartwatches will calculate your zones for you by working backwards from your maximum heart rate. This is the highest heart rate you can achieve without potential for severe health problems.
The best way to measure your true maximum heart rate is via a cardiac stress test. But this costs upwards of $100. The controlled physiologic stress test is usually conducted on a treadmill while being monitored by an ECG and at least one medical professional.
An alternative way of estimating your maximum heart rate is by subtracting your age from 220 for males and 226 for females. This is the formula smartwatches and fitness trackers often use as it’s the simplest way of calculating the figure. The device then takes your age and gender into consideration and other factors to calculate heart rate zones and your VO2 Max.
Some watches have an Auto Detect feature to automatically record your maximum heart rate during an activity. This customizes the figure for you and so that it doesn’t rely on population averages.
An alternative is to do the test yourself using a smartwatch or fitness tracker that has a heart rate sensor built-in. These days, most wearables fit this criteria.
To start off, make sure you are healthy and don’t suffer from any heart conditions before attempting this. You should consult a physician if you have any worries about your health.
The test consists of running as fast as you can for 3 minutes and then continuing with a gentle run for a further 3 minutes. The final stage is repeating the 3 minute maximum effort. You should hit your maximum heart rate during this last interval. Save your run and consult your smartphone fitness app to see the maximum heart rate value achieved during the run.
Any half decent fitness app will let you manually tweak your maximum heart rate. Simply change the value in the field provided and your heart rate training zones should adjust automatically. It’s worth taking the time and effort to do this as you’ll have a more solid foundation for training.
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