Need advice on Max Heart rate

Hey guys,

I am currently 49 years old (Born April 1970), and I have been trying to figure out how to compute my max heart rate. I have used some online advice about subtracting my age from 220, and looked at a few other articles, but I am of the opinion this doesn’t work for me. If I setup my computer with these values, then on a ride by myself, I am usually in zone 5 for about 40%+ of the ride. If I am riding with really fast guys, I can exceed 65%+ in zone 5. I don’t believe this to be accurate as I would think I’d be completely wiped out after a ride like that, and I’m not. I usually ride in the morning, shower and then go about my day and work tasks.

I’ve seen as high as 189, and 185-187 is regular when riding with someone as fast as me or slightly faster (or in a race scenario). If I’ve done a good solo ride (Meaning I didn’t get distracted by my own thoughts about the days events, work, etc), I am around a 165 average with a 179 max. So I am thinking my max should be set somewhere between 178 to 181 and then cascade down the zones from there? (BTW, my rides average from 1.5 to 2 hours).

Since lately, I have fallen victim to the mental ‘distractions’ while riding, probably due to becoming somewhat complacent on my local trail systems. Therefore, I have now setup my computer with a screen to show me all HR data - Average, Zone, Time in zone, etc… Basically I want to be able to look down and see that if I’m not hitting the ride hard enough, I can see it in the data and push harder. Also, this will give my brain something else to think about that may help with keeping me focused on the task of an effective workout in my ride.

Love the podcasts and all the great information you guys share. Keep up the awesome work!


If you’ve seen 189, then that is your max heart rate. A very well rested ramp test may show something higher, than that is your max heart rate. At age 65, that formula puts my max heart rate at 155. Typically I get up to 165, 166 during some intervals, and have seen as hight as 176. The formula isn’t valid for a trained endurance athlete.


If you race, use the highest HR you’ve seen during a race, typically post-sprint for the finish.

What’s the highest you’ve seen during a TR workout?

If you’re using TR for training, you’re training by power. HR while nice to have as a frame of reference is too subjective to outside factors.

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The weather has been good so I have been skimping on TR and just riding trails. MTB season finished for us here in Georgia back in July… So I’ve been getting bike time as I don’t do well in the cold and I know I will be on TR for several months pretty soon.

Thanks T_Field. So, if you get up to 165, then how do you compute the bottom of zone 5/top of zone 4, and on down?

No need to calculate when you have empirical data. The formulas are flawed, and generally more accurate for untrained people. At 42, I’ve seen 191 this season, and my proposed calculated max of 178 is one I hit somewhat routinely during VO2max work. If you’ve seen 189, then use 189 until you see 190.

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I switched to polarized training last May. I use pulse for staying in Zone 1 as outlined by Seiler. The intense intervals are currently 4 x 8 min at 105% of FTP. I don’t worry about pulse for these. I mostly pay attention to power unless trying to stay in zone 1 which is totally aerobic.

220 minus age is ok for the average of the population as a whole, but it is a pretty poor predictor of the HRMax of any one individual. In fact, the standard deviation is about 13 for this formula.

If 189 is the highest you have seen, and you are confident this is not a measurement error (eg. the classic early ride spike in cool conditions with a chest strap), then that is what you should use. The other HR data you present in your post is consistent with this 189, which means it probably isn’t a measurement error.


I don’t recommend using Max HR for training zones. Momentarily I can get to 184 at the end of a race (a few times this year) and I’m 55 yo. But I’ve prepared well and am fresh. My max HR is much higher if I’ve tapered and feeling fresh. But there’s no way I’d get it so high in the middle of a training block. Maybe only to 172-176. To set training zones off HR I recommend determining threshold HR as a better guide. Joe Friel does a good guide for this.. Me, I’ll usually stick with power for my training zones but keep an eye on what my HR is doing as a double check. I also agree with what @mgs says - look at your HR for the types of workouts you are doing and use that as a guide.


There are protocols for both LTHR and Max HR. Both are useful, though I agree LTHR is more useful for training, particularly in running. Max HR tests are generally pretty similar to TRs ramp test, which also happens to be where I hit 191 on the bike earlier this year.

The 220 - age thing never worked for me. It puts my HR at 172.

I use 186 which is the highest i’ve seen in the death or glory stages of a 5km or 10km running race. I rarely get to this on the bike though - usually 180 is the highest i’ll ever see. If i get above that then i am really going deep at the end of a race…

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Maximum HR is not your maximum HR, first of all. It should be your maximum HR cycling in the saddle.

So taking it from a sprint at the end of the race may artificially inflate it because you’re using your body as well as your legs - which you won’t be doing for the vast majority of TR intervals.

My advice - do a ramp test and make sure you stay seated to the end. Take the max HR from that and add 2 for good luck. If that’s over 189, that’s your new max HR. If it’s less, stick with 189.

The maxHR is mainly useful for 2 things imo. Firstly, checking that your endurance rides aren’t getting too hard by keeping under 75%. Second, making sure your vo2 max rides are hard enough by making sure you go over 90%.

If you want more detailed zones than that, then I’d agree with @Frankenzen to try the Friel method and get your LTHR.


That calculation is total BS and I’m sure it has caused a lot of people a great deal of worry over the years


Not sure if the ramp test will determine your max heart rate. Mine is 195 (hit during a seated sprint finish of a Zwift race), but I’ve never gotten past 188 during the ramp test.

The running max HR might be a better approximation, if you run. If not, I’d try a shorter version of the ramp test (shorter and/or fewer ramps) so that you can achieve a higher intensity at the end.

The Max HR protocols I’ve done in running all took around 20 minutes or so, were performed uphill at increasing intensity until I basically couldn’t go anymore. Obviously, there are other factors at play - muscular endurance prime among them - but the protocol is roughly the same as a ramp test. It’s valid, but like all other things, it might not work well for everyone.

I’m a fairly well trained endurance athlete and the formula tracks pretty closely for me (I’m actually a little below the suggested value for my age)

But…it is nonsense. It is printed on exercise equipment at your local gym - it is useful for people without a better sense of their body and their training

FWIW I only approach my max HR in races. Indoors or outdoors I’m incapable of pushing myself to that ragged edge without the competition of an event. Ramp test, group rides, VO2 intervals - nothing gets me the HR numbers I see at the decisive moments of a race


Based on what I’m reading, max HR should be set based on what you achieve in training? I’ve had my max HR set higher than what I see during, for example, TR sprints at 150% FTP. I hit 167 bpm a couple of weeks ago, which I haven’t achieved in quite a few years. I’ve had my max set to 175 for a long time. Should my max be set to 167 and then adjusted up when a new high is set?

Also, to add to what others have said, 220-age isn’t accurate for me either. That formula would set me at 158 bpm, which obviously isn’t correct.

@SnottyBooger what are you planning to do? Guessing you don’t have a power meter. In either case, I’d recommend using Joe Friel’s guide to setting zones which are based on lactate threshold HR (LTHR) and not max HR (there are good reasons for that). If you aren’t familiar with Joe Friel, he is a long time coach and author. His books give reasons why lactate HR is better than max HR, some really solid advice if you don’t have a power meter. Also, which bike computer? I’ve had a Garmin for years and it uses lactate threshold HR (LTHR).

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To be pedantic, what cyclists call "max heart rate"is really heart rate peak, and as has been said, you don’t really need to know it.

Do a 30min TT and look at the HR over the last 20min (or better yet just grunt it for an hour). Then do the zones off of that LTHR number.

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^ Friel’s guide to setting zones mentioned above and earlier in the thread @Frankenzen also posted Friel’s guide (from TP blog).

And here are the LTHR zones with friendly names instead of numbers, this is a screenshot from Friel’s The Cyclist’s Training Bible (4th edition):

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