Max Heart Rate Increase?

Hi all. I’ve been prowling the TR forum for some months now. Lots of great information here! I have many questions, but one came up during an outside ride today. I’m 52 years old, 5’8" (172 cm), and 162 lbs (73.5 kg) with an FTP of 228. I’ve been on TR for about a year and have now completed SSB MV 1 and 2 and am a week from finishing GB MV. Last year I did the Sustained Power Build, which has much less VO2 Max intervals than the General Build. The General Build has often kicked my butt with VO2 work, but I think I’m seeing dividends. Not only can I complete many of the intervals I haven’t been able to finish before, but I’m seeing gains in my outdoor performance.

On to my question: I went on a two-hour road ride today with a lot of climbing–2,121 ft. in 28 miles. I usually don’t pay much attention to heart rate, but decided to wear my strap to get a more accurate calorie count. To my surprise, Strava says that I hit 194 heart rate at one point during the ride. This is WAY above what I’ve seen before. I think my previous max was around 188. Even more interesting was the fact that my RPE was way down–it really felt like I was cruising most of the ride.

To what do I attribute this increase? Is it a likely Strava error? Am I getting fitter? Should I go straight to the ER?

Although I understand that HR is a pretty individual thing that really doesn’t mean a whole lot in relation to training, this was a surprising piece of data. Any thoughts are appreciated.

First, check that the HR data is good. If your HR builds up to the 194 (as opposed to a random spike), if it is at a point in the route that makes sense (e.g. close to the top of a steep hill), and if you know the HRM to be generally reliable, then the HR data is likely good.

It’s not usual that max HR increases. It could be that previously, you were not pushing yourself into max HR territory, and with an increase in the VO2 max work you’ve done, you are now more accustomed to pushing yourself harder.

HR can also be higher than normal due to caffeine or adrenaline. Or it you’re well rested, HR can get high, even at low RPE.

More generally, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Sounds like you are getting fitter and stronger on the bike, so well done on that front. Although might make sense to observe HR more frequently during workouts/rides. That way you’ll understand how your body typically reacts, and you’ll more easily be able to spot something out of the ordinary. As we get older (I’m 46, so a few years behind you), it’s not a bad idea to pay attention more to how our bodies, heart in particular, respond to exercise.

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Were you unusually well rested and/or motivated for the ride? I find my HR is significantly higher at any given power/RPE when I’m tapering for a race or am otherwise fresher than usual. And on race day when it all comes together (fresh, carb loaded, adrenaline, caffeine, etc) I’m often sitting fairly comfortably at HRs that would have me blowing up when I’m in the middle of a heavy training block. It’s a good sign that I got the taper right.

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MaxHR is really a genetic thing. It doesn’t really change with fitness, but slowly declines with age.

Most people do not routinely go above 96-98% of max, as a. it hurts, and b. it is not efficient training or racing. So the jump in observed maxHR is potentially consistent with a genuinely maximal effort as compared with what you might see in routine training.

Note also that in hot weather, you can see an increase in HR for the same effort, as your heart is working harder to keep you cool. Coming into warmer temperatures in June is a potential suspect here.

I agree with @DaveWh’s suggestions for looking more carefully at the HR peak for signs of a potential data error. As HR straps age, they can accumulate salts from sweat, which can lead to stray paths for static electricity and measurement errors. Washing the strap, or ultimately replacing the fabric strap (keep the measurement module itself) can help deal with the salt accumulation.

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I started getting strange spikes from my Garmin HR strap on outdoor rides, normally very early in the ride. After some research, I learned that is was not uncommon with the Garmin and thus I recently switched to Wahoo as reviewers and the TR guys said they don’t have spike issues.

I started getting spikes with Garmin strap HRM too but discovered I was not washing the strap regularly enough, now that I do wash it more (washing machine once a week) I have no more spike issues.

HR will also increase with dehydration.

I would check the quality of your HR data first, though.