Knowing how to estimate your maximum heart rate can give you a great boost in improving your fitness. Building a stronger heart is the best life insurance there is. And the best way to get a stronger heart is to give it a good workout by taking regular cardiovascular exercise. Either at home on your bike, stepper or treadmill, or down at the gym.
However, before you jump on the nearest bike and go at it hell for leather, it’s best to know what sort of intensity you should be working at. It’s handy to work out your maximum heart rate and your ideal training zone.
Assuming that you’re not injured and/or sick, your ideal training zone is dependent on two main factors: your age and your fitness level.
Training zones are usually represented as a percentage of your maximum heart rate (MHR). Therefore, the first thing you should do is calculate your MHR. This can either involve you taking a ‘stress test’ whereby you push your body to its absolute limit and take a reading. Or a more sedate calculation that will barely raise your pulse above its resting rate.
The first method is more accurate, but for most people (especially beginners) simply taking your age from 220 will suffice. I.e. if you’re 34 years old, your theoretical MHR will be 220 minus 34 = 186bpm.
Although the following formula can be out by as many as 15-20 beats, it still offers the safest way for those new to exercise to attain a maximum heart rate value.
To estimate your maximum heart rate, just take 220 - your age.
This is then used to calculate your heart rate training zones.
A heart rate zone is a 'controlled' band in which you keep your heart rate within. There is an upper and lower limit. Heart rate is measured in beats per minute (bpm).
Type of Exerciser
Ideal Training Zone
Taking the same 34-year old example from above. If he/she is an intermediate exerciser, they should be aiming to keep their heart rate between 130 and 158bpm for the duration of their cardio training sessions.
Intermediate to advanced trainers (who have no history of heart problems and have been CV training regularly for 6 months) can perform a maximum heart rate test to achieve a real value.
Measuring Heart Rate – Chest Straps vs Contact HR
On commercial grade cardio equipment, contact HR can give a reasonable ‘estimate’ of your working heart rate. That being said, a chest strap is much more preferable, because: a) they’re more accurate, and b) they update the information to the program a lot quicker than contact HR.
Another point worth mentioning, specific to treadmills – how many of you are comfortable running at reasonable pace holding onto a contact rail to record your HR data? Not many, I presume.
On home fitness grade equipment, contact HR tends to be very inaccurate indeed. Some experts go as far as saying that it’s just a ‘cheap gimmick’. Retailers may tell you “something has got to be better than nothing”. However, when that ‘something’ doesn’t work accurately, you have to question its worth.
Some suppliers offer the HR chest straps without the accompanying watch receiver. They can connect with the majority of commercial grade gym equipment and existing smart watches or fitness trackers. Alternatively you can spend a bit more and buy a kit with chest strap and monitor watch included.
Performing a maximum heart rate test
Here's what to do:
After warming up, increase the effort on your CV kit of choice every minute, until you are unable to continue. At this point, you are at around your MHR.
If you train on different pieces of cardio equipment, you should find your MHR for each. This is because MHR won't be the same for each machine.
You'll find your MHR will invariably be higher when running, than rowing, cycling or stepping.
This is a consequence of:
- the amount of muscle the exercise uses
For example, more muscles get a workout when rowing, than cycling. The more muscle, the greater the 'heart power' requirement.
- level of impact
Cross trainers, rowers and cycles provide supported exercise. Overcoming gravity, as when running, requires greater heart (and muscle) energy to create movement.