How to Accurately Determine Your Maximum Heart Rate & Have An Out of Body Experience At the Same TimePosted by Mark Iocchelli Filed Under: Training
- The fastest and hardest your heart can pump without going into fibrillation. Rate differs according to age.
Funny but true! If you’ve ever done a real test of your MHR, you’ll probably think it very difficult to tell if you went into fibrillation.
- The greatest number of times per minute the heart is capable of beating.
Boring But True
- Maximum allowable heart rate.
Allowable? Who does the allowing?
- The fastest that your heart can beat when doing activity. Rather than actually measuring the peak rate that your heart can beat, it is easier to predict what that rate is. We can do this by using a simple formula: 220 – age = maximum heart rate.
That last definition (or a variation of it) is probably the most common one known to people wanting to improve their fitness level. Unfortunately, it’s a flawed definition that is actually less accurate than the one that has the potential to send your heart into fibrillation. Let’s find out why.
A Story Written on a Napkin
The story/myth behind the 220 – minus your age = your maximum heart rate is that some M.D./Ph.D. was travelling to a conference to speak about something related to heart rates. Apparently during the flight, the good doctor had nothing better to do and decided to kill time by scratching out a maximum heart rate formula on a napkin, thereby making history and screwing up runners forever. Well, almost forever.
Actually, many people immediately knew the formula was unreliable. After all, it was a theory and, as we often find, theories don’t always translate well in practice.
Take Me for Example
Four years ago, I wanted to learn what my MHR was and found the formula which told me this:
220 minus 35 (my age back then) = 185 MHR
Afterward I read the formula wasn’t very reliable so I set out to figure out a way that would be. The way I eventually came up with to arrive at my actual MHR was similar to the “fibrillation” example in the definitions listed above. I’ll provide details for how I got my MHR shortly but for now, the most important information you need to know is that my MHR turned out to be 200—fifteen beats per minute more than the formula said it should be.
In the world of running—especially for runners who train to race, fifteen beats per minute is a huge discrepancy that can lead to severe under- or over-training.
Lesson: Don’t trust the damn formula.
How to Accurately Determine Your Maximum Heart Rate
As far as it pains me to say this (and pained me to do it!), the fastest and hardest your heart can pump without going into fibrillation MHR definition is almost what you’re after if you really want to know your maximum heart rate.
Before, I tell you my method, here’s the obligatory warning: Do not try this without being darn sure you’re not going to drop dead doing it. Before you do this, be sure to check things out with your doctor—and preferably not the one who wrote the MHR formula on his/her napkin.
Ok, now that the warning is out of the way, here’s one method you can use to determine your MHR:
- Strap on a heart rate monitor.
- Warm up by running for 10 or so minutes at medium running speed.
- Build speed for another few minutes.
- Approach a long, 500 meter/yard medium-grade hill while still building speed.
- Run up 500 meter hill as fast as you can.
- Fall down when appropriate (i.e when your body tells you it’s time to fall down).
- Enjoy heart fibrillations and “rad” out-of-body experience.
Some people get to MHR by running progressively faster laps on a track—a method I’m sure works just fine but I think using a long hill is the best way to do it since it will challenge you in the two dimensions of speed and strength. It’s a potent challenge that will get anyone the measurement they’re after.
How You’ll Know When You’ve Hit MHR
If you’re human, and you’re running at top speed, you’ll likely know around the 400 meter/yard mark of the hill. The first couple hundred meters, your heart rate will rise quickly and then level off. The next 100 meters your heart rate will climb very slowly. Finally, in the last 100 meters your heart rate will increase only another one or two beats per minute no matter how hard you push—that’s when you’ll fall down and commence with the fibrillations.
Your Very Own Panic Button
If you’re afraid of pushing to your absolute Max – don’t do it. Just push yourself as far as you feel you can and then estimate the top end. So, if you push to what you think is 95%, stop there and add 5% more beats per minute to your total. It’s very likely you’ll still be closer to your actual MHR than if you just used the “napkin formula.”
I Guess I Should Tell You This
There is another way to figure out your maximum heart rate and that’s to go into a facility and be put through what is called a Cardiac Stress Test—essentially a medically supervised version of what I’ve described above. And, if the test doesn’t send your heart into fibrillation, the cost for the test might just finish the job so you’ll get your out-of-body experience under the supervision of a team of doctors.
Why MHR Is Important
As I mentioned in my last article about Resting Heart Rate, MHR is one of the two foundations used for calculating the Karnoven heart rate training targets. The key connection to the Karnoven Method is that without accurately determining MHR, your HR training targets will be off, your training program will be flawed, and your odds of under- or over-training are that much greater.
Where Do We Go From Here?
So, now you know about MHR, RHR and the Karnoven Method. So what? Is there a good reason for knowing all this? Stay tuned next week.