Finding your maximum heart rate and setting target zones

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Finding your maximum heart rate gives you an idea of were your aerobic threshold is for a particular sport.  Trying to increase or train at your maximum heart rate may lead to injury and over training.  Finding your maximum heart rate for each sport you train in will help you set up your target zones heart rates making your training more efficient.

Variables that affect your personal maximum heart rate

  • 1) The sport you are doing
  • 2) How well rested you are
  • 3) The effort you can produce (how much pain)
  • 4) How well you have eaten the previous 2 day
  1. The particular sport has the largest effect on your maximum heart rate.  Sports that use large muscle groups such as running, cross country skiing and rowing produce higher maximum heart rates.  Also your position matters, if you are sitting or lying down your maximum heart rate will be lower such as in swimming and cycling.  In addition, higher maximums can be achieved by utilizing multiple parts of your body in rapid low force movement.  (For Example, Cross country skiing, or walking upstairs lifting weights)
  2. The more rested you are the harder you can push yourself, therefore producing a higher heart rates. When you are tired, it is difficult to maintain a high heart rate.  This is where a heart rate monitor can help give you useful information and make sure you are not over trained.
  3. How hard you can push yourself will produce higher maximum heart rates.  Let's face it, it is not comfortable pushing yourself that hard and takes practice doing it.
  4. How you eat effects how you perform.  Eating leaner higher carb food will help fuel you better than a plate of wings and some beer.

How to determine Maximum Heart Rate  (MHR)
(get clearance from doctor first)

The first is through a fitness assessment with a qualified exercise physiologist or cardiologist, and is the preferred method if you are over the age of 35. If you are overweight or have a family history of heart disease it is essential that you consult a cardiologist.

The second method is by formula. Sedentary individuals are advised to use 220 - age to determine approximate maximum heart rate. If you exercise aerobically 3 or more times a week, use 205 minus half your age.  The fitter you are the less your maximum heart rate will decrease with age.

I determine my max heart rate by doing a good warm up. I run or bike for about 4 minutes at 90% effort and then follow that effort with 1 minute of a sprint to the finish line preferable up hill. It is important to realize that your maximum heart rate will vary depending on the sport, how well you have eaten including eating too soon before exercise and how well you are rested.

You can increase your maximum heart rate by going to the red line about once a week depending on the sport and how fast you recover.  As you teach yourself to go harder and build muscle mass for a particular sport you will tend to increase your MHR.   However as you get in better aerobic shape your heart rates will tend to drop.   These counter effects along with other variables previously discussed make it difficult to prove that you can increase your MHR.  Remember it is much more important to improve how long you can hold your aerobic threshold rather than tiring yourself trying to improve your maximum heart rate.   Your aerobic threshold is about 12 beats below your maximum once you have figured out one or the other you can set your target zones and construct your personal training program.  Training at your aerobic threshold is useful because this is the pace you race at and can be sustained for 30 minutes or longer depending on your fitness.

By Jamie Sarkisian
Sark Products
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