How to calculate your maximum heart rate for running

Defining maximum heart rate (HR max) is easy: it’s the highest number of beats per minute your heart can pump under maximum stress.

Determining your maximum heart rate, however, is a little bit harder – but don’t despair.

There are several methods to calculate or estimate your maximum heart rate for running. Here are some of the most popular, arranged from the simplest to the most accurate.

First, though, a little background.

WHY IS MAXIMUM HEART RATE IMPORTANT?

Heart rate-based training enables you to run at the right intensity in order to reach your training goals. In other words, training smart is better than always training hard.

Training intensity is divided into five heart rate zones – from very light to maximum intensity. The heart rate zones are calculated as percentages of your maximum heart rate.

To determine your personal heart rate zones, you first need to know or estimate your maximum heart rate.

For example, within heart rate zone 4, you’ll be training at 81–90% of your HR max and increasing your maximum performance capacity.

To determine your personal heart rate zones, you first need to know or estimate your maximum heart rate.

HOW TO DETERMINE YOUR MAXIMUM HEART RATE

ESTIMATED HEART RATE MAXIMUM: 220 MINUS AGE

 

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Your maximum heart rate can be estimated from the commonly used formula: 220 minus age. While a good starting point, research has shown that this formula is not perfectly accurate for all people, especially for people who have been fit for many years or for older people.

You can use our Maximum Heart Rate Calculator below to estimate your HR max using this method.

DETERMINING MAXIMUM HEART RATE: FIELD TEST

Besides estimations and tests, you can determine your maximum heart rate by putting on your running shoes, firing up your heart rate monitor and heading out into the real world.

You won’t need fancy laboratory equipment for the field test but you’ll still get an accurate and personal estimation of your maximum heart rate. The premise is simple: you warm up properly and then do an exercise that brings you close to your maximum effort.

For an example field test, see the end of this article.

Please note that for a maximum effort field test it’s best to call a friend and have them join you, just to be on the safe side. Also, make sure you have some hard training under your belt from recent weeks.

ACCURATE MAXIMUM HEART RATE: LABORATORY TEST

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