# Geek alert! Maximum heart rates and stuff - Couch to 5K

## Couch to 5K

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# Geek alert! Maximum heart rates and stuff

I reckon quite a few C25kers know (and appreciate) the value of a kilometre more than they once did. Perhaps you have thought about things like maximum heart rate, resting heart rate and target heart range? Maybe a few people have even done some maths...

Someone asked what we thought about whilst running the other day. It’s a good question. For me, there have been occasional minutes of admiring a sunrise, or laughing at an appropriate lyric, or just blissful nothingness (which I hope to experience more of) - but usually I am very much in the effort of the moment and find myself doing maths. Trust me when I say this is a very strange turn of events. 😳

I put a graphic rather like the one above on my very first post here. Someone commented on how high my heart rate was and I worried a bit that I was exerting myself too much, particularly as we are meant to be running at this mysterious ‘comfortable’ pace. Was I going too fast? Unfit? Just really not built for running?

The weeks have gone by and the runs have varied in difficulty and effort, but my heart continues to drum like a humming bird when I run. I regularly spike at 183.

This tells me something: the oft-quoted formula of (220 - your age) to calculate your maximum heart rate (MHR) is incorrect. I waved goodbye to 37 six years ago. So I did a little investigating...

Well! The 220 formula was devised in 1970 by a couple of doctors on their way to a meeting. They were trying to determine how strenuously heart disease patients could exercise. They culled data from about 10 published studies in which people of different ages had been tested to find their maximum heart rates. Most were under 55 and some were smokers or had heart disease. They were never meant to be representative samples of he population - in fact, people unused to exercising or who have heart disease will often prematurely stop the test, so they don’t get anywhere near their MHR.

The formula was rapidly adopted by the heart rate monitor industry and became entrenched in the fitness world - and in cardiology. Doctors stopped tests when people reached their ‘maximum’ as per the formula, compounding the myth and misleading themselves and their patients as to their true MHR.

The cardiology doctor in the NY Times article said that in fact, more than 40% of patients can get their heart rates to more than 100% of their predicted maximum according to the 220 formula. An exercise physiologist at Ohio University studies rowers and has seen athletes in their 20s with a MHR of 220, and 160. It’s just that some people get blood to their muscles by pushing out large amounts every time their hearts contract; others accomplish the same thing by contracting their hearts at fast rates.

(220 - your age +/- 30) seems to cover it. So... that means my MHR could be anything up to 207. To most sane people/non-athletes, none of this really matters. Experts say we should be exercising in the ‘target heart range’ (THR) of 70% - 85% of MHR for at least 20 minutes, preferably longer, of our workouts. Fitbit uses the formula to calculate our intensity of exercise - peak, cardio and fat burning (I could write another post on these ranges, but will put that aside for now 😆). I found the red spikes on my Fitbit worrying, which is what prompted me to start reading a little...

My target is to enjoy this journey. The maths for me is an exercise in worrying less, rather than more.

Running has turned me into a complete nerdgeek and I reckon that 90% of you will have not read this far 🤣🤓

98 Replies

Interesting 😊

It is! 🤓

I do maths too! Mine is more percentages / fractions, calculating how far through the run I am. I actually find it distracting to be doing the mental gymnastics. Now you've given me a new thing to check

Try counting steps for a minute, multiplying by how many minutes it took to run 1k, then dividing by 1000m to get average stride distance. Whilst jogging. That should keep you occupied 😂

🤣🤣 got a flashback reading this: Calculus professor at university telling us that calculating manually the square root of 2 would make a wonderful entertainment if any of us found ourselves stranded on a deserted island 🌴 ✍️😱🤣

😳😱 Something just went ‘crunch’ in my head 😆

Might just try that!

Not the square root of 2 one though! Got a perfectly good calculator for that.

The calculus professor is clearly in a separate dimension if he considers that ‘wonderful entertainment’

Mmm, I did study n-dimensional algebra (maths degree) but don't remember a dimension where that would've been fun!!

Wow, that's some amazing stuff, well done on the research! Looks like I'll keep pushing until I drop!

Cheers Jundal! The stuff above is mainly from one article (in the NY Times) I stumbled across whilst looking at target heart zone percentages and I have lifted sections of that article into this post. Crazy (and sobering) to realise how easily an idea can become accepted as ‘fact’. Listening to your body seems to be the most sensible approach!

I did! And I do calculations too, more about people’s pace and how fast I can hope to achieve a 5km.

Thanks for sharing!

I think a lot of us do that! There’s a fast(er) runner in most of us, wanting to emerge ☺️

I’ve done this too. At current happy pace I would complete 5k in around 40 minutes. Looking at our local parkrun website, I wouldn’t be last in my age group!

After your suggestion, I went and checked out my local Parkrun VW40-44 category results over the last 3 weeks. Slowest times each week were 43, 44 and 45. Fastest times 24, 27 and 28 😳. The median average for this age category was about 32, 33 and 34 😬 - but for new runners, more like 40. 2 out of the last 3 weeks (and the 3 before that) didn’t have any new runners at all... they all started last week - New Year resolutions?!

Sounds like no one is walking it! I’d feel better if some people did so I could at least not come last!

That’s just the women aged 40-44. There are loads more people, some going slower 🙂

Yes but that’s exactly the category I’m interested in

Got to start week 3 tomorrow, I gave myself an extra day but no excuses tomorrow...

I wouldn’t worry about Parkruns just yet CP! Good luck tomorrow, go make chips out of that run 👟👟

I’ll smash it 😜

😆

Yes - my max HR is supposed to be 148 by the old formula - but in reality I see 165 at the end of hard sprint finishes at parkrun.

A fine example of blasting the 220 myth!

My resting heart-rate (measured with clock'n'fingers) goes as low as 45, easily. I have seen it as low as 38. Yet I regularly hit 178 when pushing hard. And, the good news for me is that after stopping it falls back really quickly.

All this worried me at first, but I went to see the doc and he sent me for tests, and I'm doing okay, at 69 years.

But the numbers are almost as much fun as writing about running.....

Apparently your MHR isn’t an indicator of health (as demonstrated by those healthy 20 year old athletes). It’s just whether your body gets a greater volume of blood to your muscles through pumping faster or pumping more each beat. I thought that was interesting - our MHR is determined by our genetics and not something to worry about or work on. As you said - it’s about how quickly you recover so really good news for you! The same article said that an average healthy person’s heart rate drops about 20 beats in a minute. The rates of athletes nose dive by 50 beats!

I can see mine fall off on my watch if I ease up. Often I'll race for the line and get HR right up to 170, but 2 minutes later I'm back down to easy 120-130 (that's about when I remember to click the stop button...).

Having taken up running last April after 50 years of exercise being walking from the car to the desk and the rest sitting before a screen or a meeting table, I can definitely attest to this being genetic and not trained! Okay, it is probably better than last April, but 9 months isn't long enough at my age to fix anything fundamental.

You are welcome 🙂

Yep, that MHR rate from the 70s is up there with 10000 steps in many ways! Even most athletes will only go to 90% MHR on a distance run as that’s pretty much the limit aerobically and your monitor may “measure” that too and call it VO2max... which is another guesstimate unless you go through testing.

It’s amazing how these things endure... 10k steps was a sales thing, no fitness or health experts were involved... and it endures. Most of us think fat eaten equates to body fat added, which it only does in the same way as anything else we eat, but as it’s harder to digest the flow of blood sugars is more enduring. Again this is old misconceptions living on. Many of us have doctors who still think that running is bad for the knees, even within medicine it takes a long time for the old “knowledge” to fade after proven wrong.

It sounds like 207 is more realistic as a max estimate judging by how high a lot of graphs have been on here, and the fact that none of the posters died, well not before posting at least 😂

Thanks for the post.

Oh darn. I was loving my Fitbit cardio fitness score (calculated by the VO2 max figure)! 😂

I have adjusted my Fitbit heart rate zone as the custom rate is clearly wrong... the VO2 figure is going to drop 😔

Haha, numbers schmumbers. It’s all about the wind in our hair, right?!

It was... then I shaved my head, so now it’s all about freezing my ears 😂

🤣

hmmmm. this maximum heart rate/target heart rate thingimy always slightly concerned me as my rate always seemed to be somewhat higher.

🙂

I think about stuff like this too, I never did the research you've done though, that's really interesting.

I really got into it in 2016 when I spent a lot of time cycling and watched the effect on my heart rate. It lowered significantly both in terms of resting heart rate (now mid 40's) and the average over a ride (started off in the mid 160's now mid 140's on the same route if done at the same pace).

In terms of running my average and peak haven't really started to drop yet but I suspect that is to do with with each week increasing the effort required so I'm hoping to see drops now I'll be regularly running for 30 mins.

In terms of max heart rate I was told that the only way to find the true number is under medical supervision as you need to push yourself to the point of collapse, so I can't see me knowing the truth anytime soon. What I do know is that at 51 (nearly 52) I regularly maintain mid-170's and peak past 180 if I really push it when cycling. So 220-age looks to be off but I'm sure it is within the 220-age +/- 30.

You sound as fit as a flea on a butcher’s dog! It is interesting - as you have seen, the fitter you get the harder you have to work to get your heart into the target zone. Also, fitness doesn’t carry perfectly from one sport to another, like cycling to running. I guess technically we aren’t efficient at new sports and specific muscles are having to wake up!

Like you, I am hoping to see my average bpm drop once the C25k plan levels out. Still on week 7 here - sounds like you have just graduated or are about to!

Not sure about fit as a flea but definitely a lot fitter than I was a few years ago.

Agree on fitness not necessarily transferring between sports. It certainly didn’t transfer from cycling to running for me. It’s been tougher than I imagined getting through C25K.

Someone on this forum mentioned how difficult Usain Bolt was finding the transfer from running to football. You need a different physique and a different type of fitness. I smoked for years but also have climbed for years, so I guess I am climbing fit. I say ‘I guess’ as I never thought of myself as fit because I couldn’t run - I don’t know when that became my measure of fitness, but it stuck somewhere. So I wasn’t expecting to find running easy, but at the same time, all my strength and ability to give maximum effort seemed to bubble up and demand to be used! I don’t think I’m alone in this, as I have seen a lot of posts from people who do other sports who are initially struggling and frustrated. But we are tough cookies, us C25kers 🙂

Thank you for this 😊 really interesting read

As long as mine is beating.. i'm happy

We have had some really great geeks on here.. we have a terrific Gadget Geek... yatesco ... his posts were so interesting.. although he has not posted for quite a while...

Interesting post..thanks !

You are welcome. It looks like quite a few of us on here like a bit of data! Will have to look up vatesco 😋

This is really interesting stuff - as a maths teacher, I find maths in pretty much everything and it is the love of my life. SO I have been trying not to get into the maths too much yet as my main goal is to finish the programme but I am now very tempted to start tracking the stats. Oh dearie me - soon I will not have time to go to work!

Quite basic maths over here mafee - and usually very bad maths. I am sure you can elevate all this to a much more advanced level!

I did doodle a graph the other day... the Y axis had a range from ‘despair’ through to ‘buzzing’, the X axis stretched 54 (27 runs + 27 rests) 😂

that's great - I might invent my own!

Hehe, I was going to post it when/if I get to graduation 🙂

You got me google searching now 😂. Found this calculator and it seems more like I expected. ntnu.edu/cerg/hrmax. Got it off a Lifehacker article which more or less backs up your research 😊

The link didn’t work I’m afraid. Probably a good thing as I have spent too much time down the rabbit hole that is the internet 😂

I can’t lay claim to much research, most of the above is lifted from a NY Times article which I stumbled across when looking at target heart range zones and how they are calculated. See?! Rabbit hole!

Happy running/googling 🙃

Ktsok. That’s was really interesting. I don’t have any idea of my HR when running... I haven’t really given it any thought until now..... I am now intrigued 😀

Wimborne... honestly, I think your approach (not knowing) is without doubt the best 🙂

Read to the bottom and a very interesting read. Would love to know your findings on the Fitbit stance as I think this is massively inflated

Oooohhh... yes, I did a bit of reading and calculating on this. I’ll come back to you 🙂

Interesting bit of research. Thanks for that. I think running watches use the standard 220 formula to derive hr zones (unless you set them manually that is).

It looks like the entire fitness industry uses this standardised formula and I guess most of us don’t really question it. They do all seem to allow for manual adjustment though - I have now adjusted my Fitbit!

A nice bit of research.

Basically, if your HR zones are going to be anything other than a crude average guide, you need to establish what your actual maximum heart rate is. There are various methods of doing this,but as some involve some risk and are best done under medical supervision, I will leave you find out about them yourself.

Cheers Tim! Most of those methods look fairly torturous, I think I’ll stick with a guesstimate 🙂

GoGo_JoJoModerator

Great post. Yes it's so easy to get hooked on the numbers but ultimately we are all unique individuals who need to learn to listen to our bodies. So long as RHR is reducing over time we're doing good.

My personal bugbear is Garmin telling me I'm Unproductive or in Recovery when I'm ruddy not! The more we do the more these gadgets expect us to keep doing and increasing which is when common sense needs to be applied.

Yep it's really all about the wind in the hair and the blue in the sky and how wide the grin is. Fun factor is important. Fitness is one thing but having fun doing it is even better for you all round 👍🏃‍♀️🏃‍♂️😁

Its easy...just dont measure it all all and go by how you feel lol!

One day, CrazyCat, one day 🙂

My son and I were having a very similar discussion the other day (but without quite as much thorough research)! My heart rate when I first started C25K was regularly spiking at 180 + but now it tends to sit around 150 while I’m running. His tends to be higher, and so we googled to find out how it is calculated. I think it is really interesting to see where these numbers come from but also important to work out what is “normal” for ourselves as individuals.

I concur. Another example of the difficulty of making comparisons between different bodies. And yes - in this day and age of gadgetry and information it’s good to have an awareness of one’s own body and the science (or not) behind the tech.

Are you running later? If so, enjoy! I have just been, was good, post to come 😉

I will be running later, yes. Squeezed between various children’s activities and cooking a big family dinner!!

Super hero 💪

Really interesting, I’m doing my runs on a treadmill and check my heart rate before starting, after the run and at the end. I remember from my physiology that it’s your recovery time that’s a better indicator of fitness, but I may be wrong. Anyway I don’t think the monitor on the treadmill can be accurate at all, my heart rate is often higher at the beginning than at the end of my run!🤔

Recovery time is a much better indicator (according to the research!), yes. That monitor does sound a bit suspect, unless you are truly terrified of exercise!

Actually, that may be true, I’m always a bit anxious about whether I’ll make it!

My gym equipment at my gym which measures all these things including heart recovery recovery and it gives you your estimated age from this element very interesting as I think recovery is one of the most important metrics to monitor.

I've come a cross this before too. I always tell people using that formula to estimate your Max HR is like using your age to estimate your height. Jack Daniels also talks of testing elite athletes at the same performance level and, whose Max HR were something like 165 and 190.

The only way to know is to test it. Use a chest strap not a watch. And it isn't a good performance indicator. Just use it as a guide to let you know your effort level. I don't really use it, just go by percieved effort. But I often go too fast and get injured

I like the ‘using your age to estimate your height’ comparison, it’s a nice way to remember not to take the stats too seriously.

Do you think knowing your accurate MHR and knowing your THR (target heart range) is helpful in preventing people going too fast? I don’t know - I suppose it might help some people who have running watches - and good eyesight! I can’t imagine being able to squint at a watch/fiddle with a phone whilst running, and don’t really want a voice in my ear telling me how slow I’m going! I do find the 1km pacing notifications quite useful, but sometimes I have gone out too fast and it comes a bit late...

I think knowing your max HR can be useful. I don't use it often. There are other methods of training with their own advantages and disadvantages. But instead of constantly watching your watch the idea would be to track it all and then look at your stats after the run. See what your average heart rate was and then change accordingly. So you eventually learn your pace.

Instead of using heart rate, I prefer to take a recent race like 5k, then use formulas to tell me what my tempo, interval, easy etc paces are. Just remember these are all pace ranges, especially the easy pace, I go by feel for this. If I notice I am too fast for the range I will slow down on an easy run. If I am too slow I try to speed up but don't worry too much. Jack Daniels also talks about people who perform similar sticking to either end of the easy pace range. I find it much more important for interval training though to have a target pace. Some plans have this included like the Mc Millan.

The advantage HR monitoring would have is live feedback. For example going uphill those pace ranges go out the window. With a HR monitor you can still stick within the HR zone. But like you say it would require some watch watching. Its also simpler to use than GPS, if you cant get an accurate GPS tracking you can definitely get accurate HR tracking.

I don't think anyone would say one is better than the other. You just get an idea of how that pace feels and then you don't really need to keep checking.

I think your formulas system sounds good - and yes, I see how on hills pace wouldn’t be the best indicator of effort. I guess once you have been running a little while, you must get a feel for how hard you are working and the pace you are doing. I think that’s what you meant when you said you notice you are going too fast? Is it your knowledge of your body rather than a gadget telling you?

I’m week 7 and struggle to set a consistent pace for the first km, but seem to settle after that (providing there aren’t muddy fields, wind and hills to contend with!). Any advice I’m grateful to take on board 🙂

Yes you do get a feel for pace. Mine isn't very precise and I always have GPS, but I can tell 5k pace 10k pace etc. You do learn as you do more running and you also get in touch with your body. I don't mean in any mystic way, but I can tell when muscles aren't right, only because I have developed problems like shin splints etc gone to physio and they tell me why it started and what to do. So you learn a lot through experience.

My only advice is to enjoy it you are doing awesome to get to week 7. You can get carried away with stats etc, I did it too, but always important to realise that is secondary to enjoying the running. Geeking out at the stats after can be very fun too though, but I would never push anyone down the route as it isn't necessary.

Even approaching 2 years of running I still go out too fast, when you begin running it takes a while for your body to warm up and start supplying blood to all the muscles, thats why the first part feels harder.

Apart from enjoying it, my other advice would be to get expert help when you get injured or something feels sore. Go to a physio who is interested in running dont delay. It is worth it so much to keep running as you want it to be a hobby for life. I have spent a month just trying to rest a sore knee to end up going to a physio and finding out all I had to do was stretch a certain muscle (for example) and didn't really need to rest. Another physio taught me how to run properly. A podiatrist told me what insoles to wear. At each of these steps I would otherwise have just had to give up running and been one of those people who says "I have bad knees so I can't run".

I can't stress enough though, you are doing really well, well done, just go out and enjoy the runs

Yea not sure how I would feel about a virtual coach on my Apple Watch telling me what to do if I am running slow or not fast enough

Interesting post. I've read an adjusted formula which works by subtracting your RHR from the MHR before doing percentage zone calculations then adding it back in (or something like that - it didn't seem to be worth the effort). My watch allows that as an alternative measure. I got a bit concerned about the number of High HR alerts I was getting during a run (at 62, calculated MHR = 158, regularly hitting 163 or even 167, but still better than the 180 I was hitting when I started C25K.). Then my wife said "What do you mean 158 max? You know you've hit 180 and it didn't kill you - surely you should set your max to 180!" There may be some sense to that simple logic.

Of course, I wouldn't want it to stay that high, but as an MHR figure, it sits within that +/- 30 range.

Yes Oldjigger! I saw that formula and did all the calculations and they were substantially different to the 220 formula, particularly when you factored in the different % ranges for aerobic/anaerobic effort, etc. It’s what led me to the information above.

Also, as a few people have pointed out, when we look at our heart rate spikes, that figure is almost certainly not our MHR. When people go into a lab to have their MHR calculated using oxygen masks and top of the range monitors, they are pushing themselves to their absolute limits until the point of no return. So it seems logical that you can add a few more bpm to that 180 figure, if you were still running and breathing! I spiked at 177 today but I definitely wasn’t going 100%. If you are recovering swiftly and not suffering afterwards, that seems to be a much better benchmark.

Really interesting ktsok. My garmin, and my fitbit before that, recorded my runs as spending 90% of my time in the peak zone, yet my breathing was easy and I felt fine (I'm a lazy so and so, I don't really push myself as I like my runs to feel comfortable)

Someone on here (so sorry, can't remember who), posted a link to estimating your max HR, and it came in as 12bpm higher than Garmin thought it should be. So I changed the settings on my Garmin and voila, my stats now make far more sense.

As so many have said, we're all different - there's no magic formula that covers us all. Shame, as it's really interesting!

We do love a simple formula! It seems to be our default... I’m quite taken with an idea mentioned above (have expanded it a little) - if we take our heart rate spike (so long as it’s a regular spike, rather than an anomaly) and if we are still running and breathing and not about to collapse, then our MHR is perhaps 10% more. If you are doing HIT when you hit your spike then perhaps it’s 5%. This is all to be taken with a large tablespoon of salt, as I am no expert and the above still doesn’t account for fitness levels, age, equipment and a zillion other variables. BUT. 😜. I spike at 177 very consistently. This formula would give me a MHR of 197 (197 x 90% = 177). Oh, what fun 😂

So is it good that my Fitbit thinks I run at peak?

Does a rock falling from a mountain make a sound if no one hears it?

I read it... and was fascinated all the way!

Geek village, here 😆

I had a similar dilemma when I started exercising (not specifically running). I too did some research and yes discovered the calculation widely used is probably inaccurate. In my case not a maths geek but a research geek. Before this though my GP even sent me for tests at the hospital only to discover I’m quite normal. Since then I typically just work on no what is considered normal but what is normal (for me)

Sounds a sensible approach! After all, we all know we are normal and it’s everyone else that’s not 😜

Indeed!

I got to the end! Seems it’s the same as another myth that annoys me - drink a litre of water a day. That’s not got a medical/scientific basis either. I drink when I’m thirsty!!

Oooh more googling to do 😜

My heart rate is around the 180Bhp when running 🏃🏻‍♂️, I sometimes think if something like 80% of the world is illeterate then 120% of the world must suffer discalcula to the Nth degree when it comes to this sort of thing. My Apple Watch is great for metrics but I have found none of them apart from the heart rate on the matrix cardio equipment actually correlates with a lot of the so called activity trackers.

Obviously you do not want a heart attack but I do monitor mine now and we even have a price of gym equipment at my local gym that pits you through a set of easy exercises and measures you heart rate and resting heart rate and such can give you your BMI, hydration, bone density (I think), and even fitness age too.

I think my Apple Watch is great as it gives me an alert if my heart rate increases dramatically, there are many studies and I have read articles in heart health and all I would say is that obviously 🙄 they say when you get to your GP the actual stress of having your heart rate blood pressure can induce and increase from the stress of it actually being read, so who knows what having a virtual GP strapped to you might do.

In an age of data and privacy I am not sure I want or it is right for people to have access to that data one being the disabled who want activity trackers because to be fair if they say they are to disabled to walk or work but then you find they are burning 6,000 calories a day from other activities like shopping why would you not be able to use that data to tell them to actually get a job if you are able to that....do you see what I mean....

Maybe just give them cheap Chinese ones which will just lie to them and tell them with a little push notification that they are doing an excellent job.

Part of me thinks the market for activity trackers to alert people if they are at risk of a heart attack or their heart has stopped is a dying/dead market.

I read your last comment first and thought you were being ironic regarding activity trackers being a dying market! But I suppose some people do use standard activity trackers as heart monitors for health purposes, whether that is sanctioned by their doctors or not... 🤔

One sure thing is we are all built very differently and our hearts cope with exercise differently. So any device that is being relied upon to keep someone with a heart condition in their safe zone needs to be set up under the guidance of a medical professional, I would have thought, with personally tailored ‘zones’, and monitored for change.

No idea about worldwide illiteracy and dyscalculia percentages, but I think 120% may be a trifle over stretching it 😉

Yes, I agree, one needs to be careful with data and privacy.

Happy running 👟👟

I’m in the 10% then🤓😉

Haha! I think I underestimated the lure of heart rate information to runners! 🤓

Wow ktsok brilliant bit of research - thank you! I’m always at or around my MHR (or so fitbit tells me) so I’ve started slowing down thinking I was at the brink of death 🤣, but never out if breathe......Rate drops like stone when I stop running.....so I’ll be back to pushing myself a bit more.... thank you!

Glad to oblige! Don’t push too hard! 🤣

I have always kind of wanted a heart rate monitor watch for when I run, but like you my HR can get very high. I have worried that, if I did have one, it would put me off when I otherwise feel fine! Good for you doing some research Happy running!

Yes, all this gadgetry and tech is only good if it helps you. It puts me in mind of a tourist who spends the entire trip with his eye to a camera and misses the view. If you feel fine, don’t change!

I am enjoying it for a number of reasons, but I am a sucker for a gadget 🙂