Understanding Max Heart Rate and Why It Matters for Training

May 18, 2020

What Does Max Heart Rate Mean?

 

Your max heart rate is the greatest number of beats per minute your heart can possibly reach during all-out strenuous exercise. Maximum heart rates vary from one person to another, and while they are not an indicator of physical fitness, knowing what your max HR is can be very useful when deciding what types of workouts or training you want to do.

Below we’ll explain how to figure out your max heart rate, what to do with it, plus answer some frequently asked questions about it.

 

Max Heart Rate Formulas

 

There are a number of formulas out there for calculating max heart rate. The easiest and most commonly used one is to simply subtract your age from 220. So if you’re 40 years old, your max heart rate would be 180 bpm. However, this method is flawed for a variety of reasons. It’s less accurate for both younger and older people, and also does not consider variables specific to you--most importantly genetics.

Other more detailed max heart rate formulas exist as well, like the Tanaka (208 - 0.7 x age) and the Gulati (206 - 0.88 x age, for females). While they may be more accurate for different ages, they also fail to take into account the fact that every human body is different and some people are just born with higher or lower max heart rates than others.

A better solution is to wear a device like WHOOP that tracks heart rate continuously and will determine exactly what your own personal max heart rate is.

 

Why Calculate Max Heart Rate?

Calculating max heart rate is necessary for heart rate training and understanding what your heart rate zones are. Once you know what your max HR is, you can then monitor your heart rate while exercising and track what percentage of your max you hit during certain workouts and activities.

Different percentages of your max HR represent various heart rate training zones, which are useful to target depending on what your goals are. For example, as you can see in the chart below, exercising at 70-80% of your max heart rate is good for improving your overall level of aerobic fitness.

 

Percentage of Max Heart Rate Chart

A chart depicting percentage of max heart rate zones, and what you'll accomplish by training in each.

 

How Long Can You Stay at Your Maximum Heart Rate?

 

Since your max heart rate is attained by the most strenuous level of physical exertion your body is capable of, it is only sustainable for very short periods of time. For the average person, this likely falls somewhere between 10 seconds and 1 minute.

Very good athletes can often perform at their max HR for 2 minutes or so, while the world’s best may be able to for 3-4 minutes.

 

Does Max Heart Rate Increase with Fitness? Is it Good to Have a High Max Heart Rate?

 

No. Max heart rate in itself is not an indicator of fitness. It does not rise as your fitness improves, nor is it a sign that you are more fit than someone else if you have a higher max HR than they do.

However, as discussed above, as your fitness level increases you will be able to maintain your max heart rate for longer periods of time.

 

What is My Max Heart Rate? Find Out With WHOOP

 

When you first put on a WHOOP Strap, we use a proprietary formula based on demographic information you provide to create an initial estimate of your max HR. From there, WHOOP monitors your heart rate 24/7 and adjusts accordingly based on your own HR data to reliably measure what your max heart rate is.

WHOOP also uses your heart rate data to quantify the strain your body takes on for individual activities and over the course of the entire day. Each morning, our recovery metric (calculated using heart rate variability, resting heart rate and sleep) tells you how ready your body is to take on strain. Additionally, when you track your workouts with the WHOOP Strain Coach, you’ll see in real time which percentage of max heart rate zone you’re in so that you can make most of your training.

 

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Mark Van Deusen

Mark Van Deusen (120 Articles)

Mark Van Deusen is the Copy Manager at WHOOP. Before joining WHOOP, Mark served as the Managing Editor and Head Writer for CelticsLife.com. He was also a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and a contributor at Yahoo Sports. A former tennis coach, Mark graduated from the University of Richmond with a degree in Sociology and Leadership Studies.

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