Steve and I just got this question posed to us and would like to answer it here on the Forum so all can see it.
Hi Scott & Steve –
First off, have to say fantastic work on Training for the New Alpinism and this site. Both are top-notch resources, and the fact that you’re willing to dedicate time answering questions on this forum in addition to your regular work speaks volumes about the kind of folks you both are. It’s much appreciated!
I’ve tried twice now to determine my max heart rate using a treadmill and heart rate monitor, and I feel like I’m missing something and not getting to a max cardiac response. Quick background in case it’s helpful — I’m a 28-year-old male who’s been active my whole life and spent the last 4 years focusing on running ultramarathons, up to 100 milers. So I would imagine I’m fairly aerobically fit, but by no means elite.
The max heart rate I got on the two tests was 180 and 176, respectively. On the first test I was perhaps not fully rested and chalked the lower-than-expected result up to that. The second test I was fully rested but I think I tried to ramp up the effort too quickly after warming up and fatigued my muscles faster than the heart/lungs could catch up. I don’t know — how much can botching the test in these ways affect the result? Could I be 5 beats per minute off? 10?
Based on rule-of-thumb general formulas I would predict my max heart rate should be somewhere around 185 – 192. I’ve also found my aerobic threshold at 160 beats per minute, which would be unrealistically high (89%!) if my max heart rate was only 180. After experimenting with this a couple times on the treadmill I do feel confident that 160 beats per minute is my true aerobic threshold, yet this seems too high; it would be 84% of a 190 max, for instance.
So, either my 160 beats per minute aerobic threshold is a much higher percentage of my max heart rate than I would expect based on my previous training, or it’s an incorrect result, or I truly haven’t been able to elicit a max cardiac response — or all of the above. Thanks everyone for any and all help.
Nate; Thanks for taking the time to write us with regards to determining you max HR. From your comment about a standardized formula for HR max I gather that you want to know this so you can apply a formula for fixing the training zones you might use. First, let me try to disabuse you of the idea that ANY percentage formulaic approach to finding your own personal max or training zones is a good method for you to use. We included the % of maxHR type of zone calculation in our book because so many people are familiar with it and for the completely uninitiated it should get them in the ball park. In the next printing we will extensively edit that portion of the book. We tried to mitigate the influence of this somewhat arbitrary method by including the ventilatory marker for Aerobic Threshold. The UA website contains more information for determining both the AeT and the second ventilatory threshold that corresponds closely to the Lactate or Anaerobic Threshold.
Back to you and your question. The chances of your max HR being 220 minus your age or any other % of some number is slim. especially for a well trained person like yourself these formulas wil not be effective. The fitter the athlete the more individualized must be his training to deal with his specific weaknesses. These % formulas are averages taken across large populations. How average are you??? So forget formulas and look for some real metabolic markers to help set your intensity zones. With your ultra distance running background it is very likely that your AeT is quite high relative to your max but more importantly high relative to your AnT or LT. Developing a high aerobic capacity should be the primary goal of every endurance athlete. It sounds like you have this quality. If you are correct with respect to your AeT HR, and there is only one sure way to find out (see below), then your aerobic base is well established and you will benefit from adding a judicious amount of higher intensity training to your plan.
If you are really looking to improve performance and dial in your training zones you need to get a test to help you determine your metabolic response to exercise. This can be a simple blood lactate test all the way up to a full blown gas exchange test that gives the % of fat vs carbs at many different intensities along with VO2 and lactates. We recommend this test for most of our high level coached athletes. It is the only way to definitively know what is going on inside your muscles when you run.
I hope this helps.