Determining your maximum heart rate

Determining maximum heart rateA very important part of cardiovascular training to consider is the training intensity. The training intensity is one of, if not the most important fator in achieving results with cardiovascular training. Several ways to determine the training intensity are available, which are discussed in this article. Exercise intensity can be expressed in various ways, but the most accurate method that is practical as well is to express it as a percentage of maximum heart rate.

When expressing the intensity in percentage of maximum heart rate, it is necessary to determine maximum heart rate (MaxHF). An easy method to determine MaxHF is the following formula: MaxHF = 220 – age. For example, someone who is 40 years old would have a MaxHF of 220 – 40 = 180 beats per minute (BPM). However this formula is based on an average, and as is often the case in populations there is a certain deviation from the average, which in this example is 12-17 BPM. In other words, if we translate it to the example of 40 year old people, 68% of 40 year old has a maximum heart rate between 168-192BPM and 95% will be between 156-204BPM. As one can see, the spread is quite large, which makes the formula above not the base training intensity on.

The best method to determine MaxHF is to determine it during exercise. This requires a reliable heart rate monitor, and intensity during the test is increased progressively until a plateau in heart rate is reached. This test is very exhausting and should only be performed by healthy people or people who have permission from their doctor.

When the training goal and MaxHF are determined, the training heart rate can be determined. This is done by multiplying the required training intensity with the MaxHF. For example, when someone wants to train at an intensity of 75-85% of HFMax and HFmax is 180, the heart rate range to train at is: 135-153BPM (180 x 75% = 135 and 180 x 85% = 153)


-Baechle, T.R., Earle, R.W., Aerobic Endurance Exercise. In:Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. Third Edition. Human Kinetics 2008.

-Wilmore, J.H., Costill, D.L., Kenney, W.L. Cardiorespiratory responses to Acute Exercise. In: Physiology of Sport and Exercise. Fourth edition. Human Kinetics 2008.