Understanding max heart rate (2 questions)

I recently turned 45 and the standard formula of 220- (your age) = Your max HR gives me 175 now.

Ok, fine. But…

I have about 40 years of cycling and running in my body, of which 15+ is serious cycling and running in my body (meaning some form of structured training in either sport). I raced for a big chunk of my serious cycling (XC and fixed crits) and at different points of my life have called myself a runner who races.

After some burnout a few years back I stopped racing and training… just rode (or ran) what felt good and where I knew my limits where. Then in Spring 2018 I started in on TR (MVB 1 & 2 multiple times, MV General Build this past spring). Having done all of that I find myself in the best shape I’ve been in years, still not racing, but enjoying my fitness for sure.

Which got me to another surprise this summer. I see 185-188 heart rates again. I know bu feel this is my absolute upper limit. If I’m running 188 HR I know it’s a big match and I only have so many. However, it had been about 5-8 years since I saw 185+ HR. When I hit 40 I figure it was gone and just plugged in whatever number the 220-age gave me.

But right now, where my fitness is, I know what 175 HR feels like and it’s not my limit. I can maintain it for minutes. I’m suffering, but I’m sustaining and have another gear. 185+ however… that “FEELS” like a limit and within seconds the match is burned.

So my questions;

1). the formula says 175, but I have lots of recent data that says 188. Which one do I use?

2). I’ve always used the zones and max HR between cycling and running. However… I know if I hit 188 running there is an issue…I rarely go over 165 running, even with hard efforts (granted I do go harder on the bike). Are they interchangeable? Or should I go by feel here? 175 max for running and the resulting zones feel appropriate… but for cycling they are low. Thoughts?

The formula is basically useless. Don’t use it. Use the max HR you know based on your data instead. That one is always more correct barring outrageous or irregular readings.

Also, you are likely to have different maxes and zones for different sports when it comes to heart rate. Again, data from your monitor is the best way to determine this stuff.


+1 to everything BCrossen said. I’d also add that most people have a higher max HR for running than for cycling though, since running is closer to a whole-body effort.


That was my gut but the data didn’t differ a lot until recently (1-2 bpm maybe).

I’m starting in on a running block (half marathon in Oct) and will go with 175 for now until I have more data to show me otherwise.

Hmm, I guess I’m not pushing hard enough running. As I said I’m starting a training block this weekend and it will push me. I’ll adjust the numbers based on the data.

42 year old.

220 - 42 = 178

My max ever recorded is 198. formula is too generic and basic, imo. I don’t follow it for the obvious reasons.

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As with al of these formulas. It’s getting you in the ballpark. Especially hearth rate is highly personal. I’m 36 and the max I’ve ever seen on my rides is 186, so I guess my absolute max will be even a couple of beats higher.

As for running vs cycling heart rate, normally running heart rate is a bit higher, simply because your generally using more of your muscles.

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45 as well, have hit 185 a couple times over the last year, so I take that as my max, and the other zones that flow from it make alot more sense to me that basing it on the formula…

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Turned 60 this year and my observed Max HR has been 189… Supposed to be 165 per the formula. Yeah, right, I get to 165 during sweet spot last intervals and during threshold intervals.



Mine should be 169 per the formula, I am 51 but I see 176 quite often or a bit higher. I am not sure what it was in my younger years because we never kept track.

Jim Miller, formerly of the Olympic Training Center, now of Training Peaks says, for athletes (in the absence of a max test), use 220 - 1/2 your age.

Works for me.

my blog: expro-says.blogspot.com

220 - (62/2) = 189 :flushed:

Um, yeah, no thanks. I’ll stick with 175 as my set max. 220-age doesn’t work for me either. :sunglasses:

I’m on the other side of the fence. Im 35 so my max hr should be 185…but the Highest hr I have ever seen is 166. I go off of 166 or I would he dieing in my hr based workouts lol. But i i rarely even look at hr for riding. Mostly post workout for analyzing if vs hr…this has been a great indicator of ftp going up

A buddy of mine is 47. He’s in good shape and does V02 max work etc. His “Max” HR is 185 in any sporting event he’s ever been in.

He rode past a cow moose with a calf nearby. She chased him down, tried to trample him, ended up chasing him, knocking him off his bike and confronting him for almost 10 minutes. His HR was a pretty steady 218 even when he crawled under some tree roots and was lying still hoping she would leave him alone. True story and I’ve looked at the HR file.

If you can hit 188 in the high end of your athletic pursuits, that’s your max athletic HR. It isn’t your max though, trust me. Definitely good enough to set zones but will always be regulated by your body. I would throw the 220 - formula out the window.


Forget about that formula and don’t worry about what your max heart rate is (assuming you are healthy, of course). Comparing across individuals is basically useless, what matters is power.

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I’m using it to set HR zones, not compare to others. I ride AND run, so power does me no good while running.

Similar reason why HR during races is higher. Adrenaline - and I’m sure other fight-or-flight hormones - in the body.

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Age 49 … Max heart rate, 198

The “formula” is just a way of getting a estimated max, I had a stress test last year (don’t exercise with a virus, out me in hospital), before the stress test (where they medically induce a higher heart rate and watch the heart on ultra sound) they did the 220 - ago, and then 80% of that, I informed them of my higher max, just said “220 - age is just a way of getting a guide to working heart rate, we know it’s not accurate, and it doesn’t matter for this”

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46 year here. Forget about the formula. I even saw 196 last year during criterium race.

191 for 1 minute

185 for 5 min

175 for 20 min.