Resting and maximum heart rate

Identifying your maximum and resting heart rate is vital for the calculation of training zones. Particularly for endurance training these numbers are very important and they are not hard to come to. But there are a few things to consider.

How to find your maximum heart rate:

You have probably heard of the formula 220 minus age to get your maximum heart rate. Some say that this formula is not too exact but all in all the results are ok. Unfortunately that is not the case. In most cases the result is way off.

A Norwegian study on more than 3300 healthy women and men has tested their maximum heart rate. The graphic below shows the result. What we can see is that the average values for the whole population is on a straight line. But for most individuals their maximum hear rate is far from that line. The conclusion is that the formula works for the average global population but not for an individual.

When looking at the graph it is also evident that no formula can calculate the individual maximum heart rate. The results are just too scattered. The only way to get to your max HR is a test.

Heart rate distribution by age
Source: Age-predicted maximal heart rate in healthy subjects: The HUNT Fitness Study

How to test your maximum heart rate:

The maximum heart rate should be tested in your sport. Runners should run and swimmers swim. Triathletes should do a run test. The heart rate is the highest in running of all three sports.
A max HR test is VERY demanding. You need to go to your limit and that will hurt.

A typical test for runners looks like this:
Warm up for at least 10 minutes. Now increase your tempo for 5 minutes until you get out of breath. This is the time to start a one minute spurt. It will hurt but you need to max out. Depending on your ability to push yourself you’ll get close to your maximum heart rate.

How to find your resting heart rate:

Like for the maximum heart rate there is no formula to calculate your resting heart rate. The resting heart rate is even more individual than the maximum heart rate. Some sport watches can measure your pulse while sleeping. In the morning you will have your resting heart rate.
If you don’t have such a device you can simply measure your heart rate right after you woke up. Untrained have a resting heart rate between 60-80 bpm. Endurance athletes might have only 35 bpm. The reason for such differences are adaptions to the cardiovascular system. The heart get stronger and more efficient when under high load but also when resting.

Changes of the maximum and resting heart rate:

The heart rate changes during your life time. Simply by getting older. A new born baby has a resting heart rate of 130-140 and it drops with every year. This is the reason why the formula 220 minus age came up. But there are a lot more factors than just age that influence your heart rate all the time. Therefor you should do those test again from time to time to make sure your training zones match your physiology.

But there are also short term changes in your heart rate. You won’t be able to reach your max heart rate every day. Also the resting HR is changing from day to day up to 15 beats per minute. reasons can be a cold or over training. By checking your resting heart rate regularly you can spot abnormal stress levels early and adapt your training.