Ramp Test: How hard is too hard? How to find your ***max*** safe HR?

Is it medically safe to push the limit until your body stops you dead, by vomiting? [Or is there some other sign(s) we should be watching for?]

And is this a built-in limit, that we all definitely have, so we can just go FULL rip, until the body forces us to stop? Not asks, not demands, forces.

Or is pushing over a certain line for more than a couple seconds medically dangerous, and we should not be doing this, risking a __________ [coronary, stroke, arterial tear… what?].

And if the answer is “NO, DO NOT DO THAT!!”, then how we can find our maximum safe HR for testing and max intervals?

-Related, known, not the answer: Cyclists bible will help you use a test to calc your threshold HR, and HR training zones, maxing I think at 107% threshold. This doesn’t tell us if WE would be safe to hold 107% for any length of time. This will vary, based on individual “default” HRs, and fitness. [My book is at home. No disc of finding individual safe max that I could find.]

-Related, known, not the answer: The talk test, etc. Haven’t found anything solid to find max push HR.

-Known, very important: HRs, and thus safe max HRs, are intensely individual, and highly variable. I feel very near the top around 168 - 170. My partner jogs at 180, and runs comfortably for minutes at a time at 190 - 192. I’ve seen a vid of a female cyclist on a Zwift race holding 220 indefinitely… tens of minutes!! : O If I magically jumped my HR forward, past the vomiting stage, direct to 220, for sure I’d have a coronary. My heart couldn’t take it. It would be impossible for me to “train up” to holding that HR, I know that, no interest in it, not the point! : )

-Known, very important: It varies immensely day to day. Sleep, nutrition, Na, K, Mg + others balance, fatigue, etc.

-Known, very important: You obvi have to work up to pushing to your own max. You can’t be sedentary for 5 years, and then jump up and sprint until you vomit. This would be extremely dangerous. Think we all know that! Let’s keep the disc focused on people who take pushing watt limits & HRs pretty seriously, and have been practicing and learning for a while.

-Known, acknowledged: Maxing out is a strong workout on the heart. If you DO have an unknown underlying heart condition, this might cause an event, which could be catastrophic, that would not happen to a healthy individual. Nobody can promise anyone that your heart can do ______. It is known! : ) Talk to your docs, if you have any reason to suspect anything!

But for those of us who don’t have a condition, and love to train hard… how do we find that safe limit?

I would imagine there is some kind of measure or test we can do. Like, steadily increase your intensity & HR until you vomit [or other symptom? Can’t count backwards from 10 in your head? What?]. Ok, now THAT is 100%, and it’s actually quite dangerous. So only do 95% of that, ever, in training, including Ramp Tests. DO NOT break that.

Or like, you can’t go until you vomit even once, you almost died when you did that, so go until [insert symptom X]. Now, that is your 60%, do the math, and never take it above 95%.

I sort of imagine due to the daily variability we should actually be paying more attention to _______ symptom as our max, and not our actual HR. Right?

Or is it like, no, when you vomit, having a heart attack is still like 40 - 50 BPM ahead of there. You’re nowhere near the danger zone. Go as hard as you want and are able to!!!

Thanks in advance for all info & help!! Have a great ride today!!

[Did a ton of digging on net + TR forum, no answer found. Apologies if duplicate.]

Vom / voming doesn’t seem to be a frequently used term. What is it? Vo2 max intervals?

Disclaimers - I am not a doctor and I don’t suffer from vomiting during high intensity efforts. But I have seen friends with this problem, so I am also curious to know more about it.

Definitely consult with a doctor if you are in a high-risk group for cardiovascular disease or if this is a concern. This is the standard advice before embarking upon any exercise regime. But if everything checks out and your doctor approves, in my opinion, it would be very hard to willingly push your body to the point of real damage.

I found this article helpful:

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Short for vomit / vomiting. Sorry, thought it was super widely used! : )

-Edited the post to proper terms for clarity! Thanks!

I think this is why training with power is ultimately a more accurate way to go than training with heart rate. I don’t see any need in practice, in my own training, to find my “true max HR”. In fact, using the standard set of workouts one gets from a coach or even on TR, I feel I rarely if ever see my max HR. But this is really irrelevant - I’m still able to train in appropriate zones and make improvements.


Thanks for the article, Julie. Some cool info. If I read it right, it’s a little inconclusive on what is the cause; lactic acidosis, hypoxia, or other.

Your comment that you don’t experience nausea during high intensity efforts is even more interesting! Like, zero nausea, ever? If that’s the case, how do you find your limit that day, like what signal do you watch for that tells you “Ok, whoa. Too hard, entering medically dangerous territory.”

Like when you ramp test, what is the kill switch? Or you feel totally fine, don’t really watch for anything, just eventually you CAN NOT MOVE your legs?

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Yeah, usually for me my legs feel like concrete blocks and my cadence uncontrollably slows down until I can no longer push the pedals at that particular power! Either that or my breathing rate is just too high and I’m not getting enough oxygen. But usually my legs will stop first. Of course, everyone is different! I do know folks who vomit during high intensity, so it’s not unusual.

But yeah, if you’re feeling like tossing your cookies - it’s probably a good sign that you’ve reached your max. :slight_smile: From the article, it doesn’t sound like this causes any long term damage, and that you will feel fine after 20 minutes or so of rest. But if you’re really concerned, definitely ask your doctor about it.


Here’s some thoughts based on things I’ve picked up over the years.

If you’re interested into regulation of exercise performance, the central governor theory is a debated classic that may be fun to read upon.

Essentially the idea is that your brain stops your body from damaging levels of exercise.

People that can go so far to experience severe brain hypoxia and pass out (=exercise syncope) are assumed to be of high risk of underlying pathology and should be investigated.
Conversely, most people that push themselves to their limits do not experience syncope but rather stop exercising (?).

Stopping a ramp test because of overwhelming fatigue or vomiting is probably not damaging.

Some people can push themselves so far to experience exertional rhabdomyolysis. Although that may not be totally easy during a ramp test to achieve. Anecdotally I think I pushed myself into a mild form of this territory once during a 20min test.

Finally, a high HR is a sign of your body compensating for increased tissue oxygen demands.

Interested to read more what others think


Cool, thanks for the reply.

When you say “…or my breathing rate is too high and I’m not getting enough oxygen” , what for you is the sign / symptom that you’re not getting enough?

I don’t think you’ll hit max heart rate doing a ramp test. At least I know I haven’t. For me, my legs give out and I simply cannot pedal anymore. I set my HR PR during a cyclocross race where I was riding very hard (but not hard enough for my legs to stop functioning) for a longer time. HR just kept climbing and climbing.


I have a fairly high max HR for being 39 at 209 bpm but I rarely hit numbers that high except for sprinting or a crazy climb that I am really going all out. When doing ramp tests my legs are almost always toast before my HR crosses 200 bpm, I’m usually in the 196-198 range still. I’ve never vomited even after pushing max HR during a sprint or climb but it doesn’t take long at that level for my body to know that’s it done and I have to taper back. I think your body is pretty good at restricting you from putting yourself in danger. Definitely not a doctor but from what I’ve seen you’re very unlikely to push yourself into a “dangerous zone” in any single session, but repeatedly pushing your max HR frequently or for too long can cause issues with recovery and increase your chances of other medical issues.

That being said, the purpose of a ramp test is to determine your functional threshold power for training purposes and it doesn’t care what your HR is because Max HR doesn’t have anything to do with FTP really. FTP is a theoretical steady state you can produce for an hour, I would actually think if vomiting during your ramp test is an issue at that upper end you might be better off doing a 20 minute test where you can push a threshold HR for the duration that doesn’t make you sick and you may get a higher and more accurate number for training.


Okay a bit off topic but responses have me thinking. What are most people reaching for max HR in ramp test vs known max?

My max HR in last few years is 186bpm. I rarely ever see it. Maybe 1x per season.
My ramp test HR usually peaks out between 177 - 182bpm. I used to expect to achieve max HR in ramp test and if I didn’t, I thought I didn’t push hard enough.

I have never once vomited ever due to sports or exertion, not a thing for me.

For me, when I “Crack” my ability to maintain power goes off a CLIFF. My max heart rate on the bike (174) was a 5 minute MMP test that I started fresh and rested, and cracking right at the end. I was able to build power through the last minute ending in a dead out sprint. (No erg mode here)

Max heart rate off the bike 2 years ago was 178 found on a ~2 minute hill sprint.

@joshhartj yeah, no mate, roger that! Ramp doesn’t care about HR, for sure.

The reason I started digging into this is because of my ramp last night. I really want to know what sign to look for to know I’m safe, so I can push as hard as possible.

My ramp really sucked, and it wasn’t the first time this has happened, has even happened in just hard effort training rides.

I have pushed to the barfing point a few times, and have absolutely no clue if that is medically totally OK, or extremely risky.

I got there at 167 - 169 for a few minutes. My PB HR is 173, no / very little nausea.

Last night I hit 174 in a ramp, and stopped because I was worried I was doing something dangerous. I freaked because I’d been over 167 for quite a while, and then blew my PR by 1, and felt like I could do another 1-3 HR points, and was like “This is stupid. I’m going to kill myself.”

Really shocked to learn that for many, nausea doesn’t happen. So that can’t be the sign we all should look for.

So what sign(s) should we watch for so we can know we have fully maxed ourselves, but are still in a safe zone, for us, that day?

I used to think it was HR, but that is so highly variable as to be useless, really. A rough guide only.

Surely the answer can’t be “Go as hard as you possibly can, no matter if you get tunnel vision, puke, hyperventilate and have cardio arrhythmia, doesn’t matter, just keep pushing until you literally pass out. Especially if you barf on your bike, just do it and keep going until you black out.”

I mean… or can it? Even going after a puke, to blackout, is totally 30 - 50 BPM below where you’d have a catastrophic event? [Again, as long as no heart condition. See post.]

I just want to be able to push as hard as possible, safely! And in a way where I’m forcing myself to get stronger, not damaging my heart and getting weaker over time!

And I feel like there must be some bio-indicator we can watch for, to be able to tell this, accurately! : )

Unless you have an underlying medical condition, aren’t healthy, etc. - you’re not going to hurt yourself or damage yourself or have any catastrophic event of any sort unless you do something like bike into traffic or fall of your trainer. Again, assuming you don’t have some underlying medical condition or anything like that. All “Safe” assuming you have a base of fitness and health.

You’ll know. As in power starts plummeting and an inability to maintain the effort. Here’s the power curve from my last two minute test, with me doing everything I could to maintain that effort that I stuck with for the first minute. My power target started at 500W, went out a little above that, finished under 380 and dropping FAST by the second.

Again, there is no puke or pass out ever for me no matter how hard I push.

Now, there is data to show that too much intensity all the time isn’t great for your heart, but occasional bursts and training of it are fine and can be beneficial

That doesn’t mean that a MAX effort is always beneficial or advised. I don’t go out and try to max myself every workout. But, doing them from time to time is a good thing so you know what you’re really capable of.


Not medical advice, but I asked the same question of a physician friend on a ride once and he said not to worry. Absent an underlying condition your heart will only go as fast as it can and when you reach that point you won’t be able to stay there long. Don’t worry about it.

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If you are concerned, check with your doctor. He might reassure you or prescribe a effort test.

Your body has a natural governor. it will slowly start to shut down on you to protect itself. The only time i feel nausea or have actually hurled on the bike is when i go full gas from the first pedal stroke without any sort of warm up and usually involves going up hills. its only happened to me once riding to a college class that i was late for and there was a big hill just before the campus. i made it half way up before hurling over the guardrail. Felt better after and continued to class. It was a common occurrence you had to watch where you rode at the top of “The Wall” on the Boca Road race here in Reno because there was always someone who hurled at the top in the Cat 1-2 Group that went off first that is put on by the Reno Wheelman

If you’re healthy, you push until your body stops you, and it’s not especially risky to do so. It’s what you do in a race. A ramp test is no different. Hit your limit enough times and you will know what it feels like.

Of course, nobody can definitively tell you that you are at zero risk for a cardiac event. Not even your cardiologist. For example, asymptomatic blockages require sophisticated imaging tests to detect. Tests that are not normally done unless there is cause to investigate. Rhythm anomalies don’t always show up in even well screened patients. As we get older, the risk goes up with these max effort type events.

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Is there any reason you seem worried about doing damage to you’re heart? Do you have history of heart issues in the family? Or previous heart issues?