Find Your True MHR Maximum Heart Rate / Pulse

If you rely on heart rate in your training, it’s important to know your maximum heart rate. You can set up training zones, which will optimize your training results. However, calculating the maximum heart rate can be challenging. Compared to measuring power or speed, heart rate doesn’t max out straight away. Maximum heart rate forces you to the limit.

There are a couple of different ways to calculate maximum heart rate with sufficient accuracy.

There has been much interest in recent years in lending a “scientific aura” to endurance training. Jargon, catchwords, and semi-scientific terminology abound – most of it little understood by either the purveyor or receiver (the poor runner). Using “sort of” scientific training methods has also become popular.

Along with esoteric terminology and semi-scientific methodology, all sorts of electronic gadgetry have hit the market. One of the most popular being the ubiquitous heart rate monitor (HRM).

The HRM has some pretty straightforward uses that can be truly helpful to the runner. It can be used to measure morning resting heart rate (of course, a simple stopwatch works just as well), and it can be used to measure recovery time after exercise (here it really shines).

The most popular use for the HRM seems to be exercising at a percentage of Maximum Heart Rate (MHR). MHR is the highest beat frequency the heart will reach under exercise-induced stress.

There is a formula that claims to calculate this maximum rate, but we have yet to see a result that is even close to being accurate.

The most popular of these methods is 220 minus age. If you are twenty-five years old, you subtract 25 from 220 and arrive at the figure of 195 as your estimated MHR.

For 40 years old, this formula would estimate the MHR as 180. But, for example, when taking a Maximal Stress Test, the results might show 200 — a substantial difference.

Training by a percentage of MHR generally suggests that you train between 60% and 85% of your MRH. Unless you know your actual maximum, these percentile figures are totally useless.

Stress test protocols

Various Sports Testing Labs, and Cardiac Centers, use varying protocols. However, they all have certain areas of commonality. They allow for a period of warm-up, and they gradually take you, step by step, through higher levels of intensity, pausing at each level to allow your heart rate to stabilize.

These tests are only conducted after receiving medical permission, and there are always trained rescue personnel on hand.


A chest strap-type HRM and a professional-type treadmill with electronic control of elevation to 12% or higher. Ten percent will do in a pinch.

The test

Step on the treadmill, running at 2 mph (miles per hour), and set to an angle of 2%. Walk at this easy pace for three minutes. Unless you have problems with balance, do not grasp the rails during any part of the test.

  • At the end of the first 3 minutes, increase the speed to 3 mph and the angle to 4%.
  • At the end of the next three minutes, increase the speed to 4 mph and the angle to 6%
  • After three more minutes, increase the speed to 5 mph and the angle to 8%.
  • At the end of the next three minutes, hold at 5 mph, but increase the angle to 10%. (If the person being tested is a trained endurance runner, the speed may be increased to 6 mph and higher.)
  • At the end of the next three minutes, do not change the speed but increase the angle to 12%.

You may touch the rails lightly to regain and maintain balance, but do not hold onto them.

If the treadmill will go beyond 12%, continue to increase the angle of incline every three minutes until the runner becomes too tired to continue, elects to stop, or the heart rate refuses to go any higher. Record this final maximum heart rate.

If the treadmill does not go higher than 10% or 12%, you may instead increase the speed every three minutes (only for trained runners who are used to the higher speeds and who can maintain balance at the higher speeds without holding on to the rails).

After reaching and recording MHR, reduce the treadmill’s angle to 2%, the speed to a comfortable walk, and allow the runner to continue until breathing is normal. Terminate the test.

Armed with your actual MRH, research seems to show that you will achieve maximum benefits in speed and endurance by training close to 70% of the true maximum.

As scientific as the above sounds, you will achieve the same results using the “Operatic Aria System.” That is if, while running, you can carry on a conversation, but only in concise sentences, your pace is near ideal.

If you are gasping for air (anaerobic), you are running too fast.

If you can sing an operatic aria (even off-key), you are going too slow. Get the lead out!

This material is provided for informational purposes only. Obtain a Doctor’s permission, then proceed at your own risk.

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