Concerns over sub-max heart rate data

Earlier in the year, I took an active metabolic assessment test which gave me my training zones as well as my max heart rate of 190bpm.

Most of the people I come across (from Pro level athletes to competitive age groupers) all seem to have the ability to sustain efforts that closely match to their max heart rate but even when I absolutely bury myself, I don’t seem to come close to this number.

For example, during high intensity training and a recent 5k race, my max heart rate during the 5k race was 170bpm and my recent ramp test yielded 158bpm. Adding to this, most of my hr long sweetspot workouts are spent around 135bpm and longer VO2 workout intervals like Spencer and Kaiser max out at about 148bpm. The intensity feels correct but my heart rate tells a different story.

Is there any information to gather based on this analysis? Right now, I’m questioning my ability to really dig deep and keep pushing until I’m at or near max.

You might start with getting your hands on a 2nd device to check your heart rate.

While I’ve never had any lab testing done, the highest HR I’ve ever seen on myself was 183 (if I remember correctly). On the trainer, I regularly see #'s in the 160’s during hard efforts and low 170’s is very common outside. I have to consciously ease up to stay below 155 on any climb when outside.

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I actually use both a tickrx and HRM-tri device and the readings are consistent across both. I’m in very good shape and I remember in previous years recording 200bpm values on hard efforts on some enduro stages so I know a huge part of it is just having an increase in fitness but even most pros seem to be able hold heart rates close to their max so I’m just a little unsure. Probably over thinking it :slight_smile:

Is that 5K a run? If so that has no relevance to your cycling max heart rate. You will get higher running than you ever can cycling.

I suspect that your “active metabolic test” also gave you a result well above what you can achieve on a bike where your legs are the only muscles doing serious work.

158bpm for a ramp test tallies quite well with 148 (93%) for a vo2 workout or 135 (85%) for a sweetspot workout. Go with 158 as your cycling max and ignore what you achieved running.

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Heart rate seems to be hugely individual so this is N=1 advice! I find my max HR to be linked to freshness more than anything else. When I’m fresh or tapered my HR goes up quicker and higher in response to hard efforts. When I’m in the middle of a big training block it’s much harder to get my HR up. This is particularly the case when I’m doing tri training and have a lot of running fatigue in my legs - did a 70.3 in February and was running 30-40 miles/week for 6 months before that, now that I’m “just” doing cycling my HR in hard efforts (races, fast group rides, etc) is about 10bpm higher for similar RPE and % of FTP.

Note - a weird consequence of this is that Garmin now thinks my VO2MAX has dropped even though I’m putting out the best power numbers I’ve ever had since I first measured power.

Thanks for the reply!

Yes, the 5K was a run and I only mention it as a reference point to consider as it’s still well below my 190max level even though this was an all out effort in pretty humid conditions here in Dallas. I’m aware that my cycling heart rate will be lower and should not be compared to running heart rate. 158 seems like it would be super low for a 31 year old putting out maximal effort which why I sometimes question my abilities.

Interesting to hear and appreciate the feedback!

I’m in 140.6 training myself and so I’m just curious what others are typically seeing in their heart rate data in response to their training. I just completed a ramp test which prompted me to post this question/concern. Even though it was indoors, 158max HR recorded during my ramp test session just seemed kind of low. My 5K race run was outside in fairly stressful environmental conditions and I recorded 170bpm as my max during the race which also seems to be much lower than my max HR which my metabolic assessment test provided me (190bpm).

Profile for reference: TR Profile

A (solid) 5k run is a pretty good running max HR test - assuming you are trained for it. The latter is important, as if you are limited by your muscular endurance rather than your (an)aerobic capacity, you will not reach your max. Same applies to a ramp test for your cycling max HR: if your legs blow up first, you won’t reach your max HR.

Pacing a 5k race correctly also requires quite a lot of training; the margin between too slow and too fast is very narrow.

Out of curiosity - how was that 190 bpm achieved? Treadmill?

I think you are right on, there. Max heart rate for a 5k on a hot day is going to be >> than max heart rate you’ll be able to attain cycling…but it’s still WAY below the number your test gave you.

158 max cycling heart rate is lower than most but I can think of a couple people in the area of similar age that have similar max heart rates on the bike. It just means your heart probably displaces more blood volume per stroke. Concrete validation that you’ve got a lot of heart.

I see max HR creeping up into the 160’s for some of your ramp tests. Are you using a chest strap to capture heart rate?

Yes - that would be me. I was around 165 at that age (and around 170 running), now down to 160-ish. And I rarely reach 95% of max on the bike, even in VO2Max intervals, except at the end of a ramp test. It always freaked me out to talk to people who got HR up past 190.

Yep. Seems like maybe 1 in 30 riders are maxing out in the 160s, maybe? Most seem to max out in the 185 to 190 range. I’ve always thought that if we could measure the flux of oxygen in the blood leaving the heart all those differences would normalize.

Treadmill. But I never reached that max value during the assessment. It was something that the overall test provided me along with my training zones. I agree with your previous statement. It sounds like I am being limited by my muscular endurance. I felt like the pacing was pretty good for the 5k which was 6:32/mi PR and I was definitely burning.

It’d be interesting to find out the methodology / science / theory they use for giving you a max heart rate that you don’t actually reach in the test.

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That makes sense, thanks! Yes, I’m using wahoo’s tickrx HRM

I’m going to email to get a clear definition on this. It was done at lifetime fitness. I’ll report back once I have the answer

Personally, I use the ramp test to set my max heart rate.

For me, that’s 195.

I’m 29, so the 220 - age estimate would put me at 191.

So I have my max set a little bit higher than what the estimate would say. When I’m racing, I feel like generally 180 is kind of where my threshold point is. I can hold 180 for two hours in a race situation, but I have a hard time holding 185 for anything more than a few minutes.

When I do VO2 work, I’ll generally be hitting 183-185 bpm towards the end of the workouts, but when I do sweet spot I rarely get over 170 bpm.

When I run, my heart rate is always lower than when I cycle. Oddly, I can’t push my heart rate past 180 running even if I try. I’m not really a trained runner, so maybe that’s it. However, I can do a 5:45 mile and a 21 minute 5k right now so I’m not terrible either.

I guess I’m not too concerned from a cycling standpoint since I’m training based off of power (set my ramp test) and RPE but still curious as to why it would be that low compared to most people. Other people gave some great insight to this so I’m content with that. That is interesting that your running heart rate is lower than your cycling heart. Seems to be the opposite for most people and even most studies suggest that running heart rate is 10+ bpm higher on average. Furthermore, I would think that because you are not a trained runner that would make you have a higher heart rate running

I’d agree, I would think it should be higher running.

It just seems to take awhile for my heart rate to start to climb and by time it climbs my legs are burning and I have to slow down and then my heart rate falls.

I’d bet that 190 number is suspect as hell. Any max HR number derived without you actually hitting that number should be taken with a bucketful of salt.