Determining female an/aerobic threshold

  • Creator
  • #35149

    I understand that aerobic threshold is individual and will change over time as training progresses, and that the best non-lab way to determine it is the treadmill method described here on the UA website. With that said, I have a question about max heart rate. The long-used “standard” formula to measure max heart rate (220-age) is based on studies of males. While research was done at Northwestern in 2010 indicating that for females the formula should instead be 206-(age x .88) ( (, I haven’t had any luck finding more recent statements on it. Can you refer me to any resources about this? Thanks!

  • Participant
    mgoat4 on #35150

    ^^ I meant to add, I’d also like to know if the “dirty first stab” MAF Formula method for estimating max aerobic function (detailed on this page: is solely based on male subjects, and if not, what is your experience of determining it for females.

    Raz on #35151

    I don’t know about the research behind the Northwestern formula, but it seems to be about as useful as the standard male-based one (i.e., not very). When I apply the 206-(age x .88) formula to myself it gives a max HR of 154, which I can surpass with just moderate effort. Like the standard formula, probably the main caveat is “average” — it’s statistically based, so it would be most accurate for a woman of “average age” (whatever that is, but probably much younger than I am) and “average fitness.” Given that most of the population in the U.S. can’t run for even 30 minutes, it’s pretty likely anyone using Uphill Athlete is well outside the average range.

    Scott Johnston on #35155

    All these formulas for calculation of max HR are statistical averages of large populations. So if you tested 1,000 people you might find that the average maxHR of this study group could be found using one of these formulas 220 or 206. But the standard deviation is so great as to render the formula useless for any one person to use it find his or her maxHR. If you are serious about training you should be focused on finding you own personal metabolic thresholds, AeT and AnT so that you can establish intensity zones that are meaningful for you. MaxHR is irrelevant in the determination of these zones.

    The MAF formula seems to work well in my experience for both men and women. However it too is a just a formula and does not allow for much individual variation nor dies it aloow for the big changes in AeT that will occur with proper training.


    mgoat4 on #35176

    Thanks for the reply, Scott. Yes, I understand that MAF is not directly related to determining AeT and AnT, and that the MAF math-based method isn’t very accurate (I meant that to be clear in my original post, but it didn’t come through). This was more a sideline curiosity question because my trainer (a climber, but not yet an alpinist… I’m working on her!) mentioned the 220-age formula and it pinged my memory of the Northwestern study. I thought to ask here since your team is aware of the latest science on this stuff.

    Also, I was psyched to see the female-specific section created on the forum and want to get more action going here! I’m a 54yo female long-time climber/ mountaineer/ alpinist coming off a period of low activity and I have goals! So glad to find your book and website.

    Next week I plan to use a more accurate AeT threshold method described in your book/website. Stoked to find my baseline and see how it changes over time. Thanks for everything.

    mgoat4 on #35177

    Hi Raz, thanks for your reply. Agreed on all counts. I too find the math method put my max rate too low (ie: I’m able to go extended times at that rate without dropping).

    Raz on #35186

    Hey Mgoat — Whereabouts are you located? I too was happy to see a women’s forum here.

    I’m a 58 year old novice climber (about a year) and just started learning mountaineering skills this past summer. I’ve always been active and athletic but I’m now working to develop my uphill endurance (I’m an oceanographer by profession — other end of the altitude spectrum!) I’d love to connect with some other people training here with similar interests. My goals are modest — I’m just fascinated by snow and ice and came this –>| |<– close to doing arctic tundra research before I was lured into the deep ocean. Now I’m semi-retired and itching to explore — especially our fast retreating glaciers.

    I live in San Diego, but visit Washington state regularly too (parents). Was just up there to do an AIARE course but it was lack-of-snowed out! 🙁

    sally kentch on #39558

    HEY! Happy to see these posts from women closer to my age than a 30 year old. I am 66, live in Washington State and want to bump my endurance up because I think I can! And because I love to ski and hike and want to keep at it as long as I can. I was an Alpine climber in my 20’s and 30’s and have found that I just don’t have the endurance for it any more. So I want to see what I can do to improve.

    alexandragaudet on #43064

    This is a huge problem in medicine, studies being done on men/boys and we learn 20 years later that “X” illness actually present much differently in women. Autism spectrum disorder and ADHD are a prime example. I’m sure sport science is not immune to it, I wonder what % of the data comes from white males. Obviously, it’s all theoretical since the basic principles of training are pretty robust and common sense. But it really highlights how important is to adjust to how you feel rather than following generic formulas and prescriptions.

    @ Sally : I’m 30 but I can totally relate. I initially bought this book out of scientific curiosity, because I wound’t see myself as one of these people, the motivated, organized, athletic type. And look at me now, just ordered a HR armband and Training Peaks subscription. Because data is fun! And it’s a good way to trick myself into exercising regularly, not just when it’s nice out and I have something interesting to climb or a new trail to ride. Hiking comes very naturally to me no matter how steep or long the trail is, but I’ve been hitting a wall during splitboard season the last few years. I’m starting to understand why rather than just jumping to conclusions “I’m just not an athlete, why even bother training”.

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