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Impulse Athletic Coaching
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This thread comes up very often, so I thought I would post an article on this very subject. Since nobody wants to read the whole thing on an online forum, I will give you the source of where to find it. I will also post an overview.

The Suprising History of the "HRmax=220-age" Equation
Robert A. Robergs AND Roberto Landwehr
Exercise Physiology Laboratories, The University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM
Journal of Exercise Physiology
Volume 5 Number 2 May 2002

From Abstract
  • equation is often presented in textbooks without explanation or citation to original research
  • the formula and related concepts are included in most certification exams within sports medicine, exercise physiology, and fitness
  • large error inherent in the estimation of HRmax (Sxy=7-11 b/min)
  • formula not developed from original research -- resulted from observation based on data from approximately 11 references consisting of published research or unpublished scientific compilations
  • the formula HRmax=220-age has no scientific merit for use in exercise physiology and related fields
  • alternate HRmax prediction formula reveals that the majority of age-based univariate prediction equations also have large prediction errors (>10 b/min)
  • average decrease in HRmax for women was 12 beats in 21 years and 19 beats in 33
    years
  • average decrease in HRmax for men was 9 beats in 21 years and ~26 in 33 years

From Conclusion
  • Currently, there is no acceptable method to estimate HRmax.
  • If HRmax needs to be estimated, then population specific formulae should be used. However, the most accurate general equation is that of Inbar (17) (Table 3); Rmax=205.8-0.685(age). Nevertheless, the error (Sxy=6.4 b/min) is still unacceptably large.
  • Additional research needs to be performed that develops multivariate regression equations that improve the accuracy of HRmax prediction for specific populations, and modes of exercise.
  • Textbooks in exercise physiology and exercise prescription should contain content that is more critical of the HRmax=220-age or similar formulae. Authors need to stress the mode-specificity of HRmax, provide alternate, research substantiated formula...Similarly, academic coverage of HRmax needs to explain how this error detracts from using HRmax estimation in many field tests of physical fitness and in exercise prescription.

In other words, DO NOT try to estimate your HRmax using a formula, especially if you are setting training zones based on this number.

James
 

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In my experience, 220 - age gets me pretty close. At 21 years old, any time my heart rate gets up to around 199 or so I'm in pretty serious pain :)

I think it's implied and assumed that this is a very rough estimation, based on population averages.
 

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You don't need to convince me. My heart rate, by most people's standards, is incredibly slow. I find 140bpm very challenging. Yet I seem to do fine on group rides and races.
 

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crispy010 said:
I think it's implied and assumed that this is a very rough estimation, based on population averages.
I wouldn't assume that at all. I've seen post after post after post from people worried when their heart rate either exceeds their "calculated MHR" or they can't get close to what they think is the MHR. People go running to their doctors, change their HR monitor batteries and generally stress needlessly.

My sister-in-law's sister just took her personal trainer's exam and that was one of the questions she had to know. I think that this formula has been repeated as gospel so many times, people assume it's as accurate as pi.
 

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Impulse Athletic Coaching
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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
crispy010 said:
In my experience, 220 - age gets me pretty close. At 21 years old, any time my heart rate gets up to around 199 or so I'm in pretty serious pain :)

I think it's implied and assumed that this is a very rough estimation, based on population averages.
Don't "think" and guess. The article explains the details. A "very rough estimate" is not meant to be used for anything -- training, medical, or even the "cool" factor.

It's basically good enough to tell you that you were still alive when you hit a HR near this calculated number.
 

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Captain Obvious
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220- age has been relatively close to my max HR for years. i've never used that info for anything and realize all people are different. i guess i'm not really sure what it was supposed to be telling me anyways. it would give me a target to shoot for on some hill climbs tho. i tended to overshoot and never ended up dead, so that part is good i guess.
 

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iliveonnitro said:
Don't "think" and guess. The article explains the details. A "very rough estimate" is not meant to be used for anything -- training, medical, or even the "cool" factor.

It's basically good enough to tell you that you were still alive when you hit a HR near this calculated number.
Exactly! You can use the 220-age formula to get close, but if you really need to know your max heart rate, find someone who can test you to find out your "real" max HR.
 

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Banned forever.....or not
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For me, 242-age works pretty well. (at least for the last 15 years)
 

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NeoRetroGrouch
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Why won't this die???

I walk into a room of 50 people and say, "Your HRMax is 170." Several people in the room are going to say, "Wow, he's good! He came within a couple of beats." That's how good the formulas are. They don't come close. They are not a good estimate until actually tested. They are of no more value than my 170.

TF
 

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iliveonnitro said:
In other words, DO NOT try to estimate your HRmax using a formula, especially if you are setting training zones based on this number.
I guess what I don't get is why would you use the formula if you're an athlete with a HR monitor?

Just go out and measure your max HR.

The biggest problem with the formula isn't athletes but non-athletes (including the diseased) who you'd like to get a measure of exercise intensity or set training zones but the prospect of actually determining max HR is daunting or even dangerous for them.
 

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i would wager that the 220-age will get you within 5% of actual tested max HR on a random sample of 100 people 95%+ of the time.

for me: 220-39 = 181. my max HR as tested in a lab is 184. or roughly 2% off the formula.

I do agree that for any serious HR-based training, the only acceptable numbers are those that are empiricaly established. but for such a crude formula, its not that far off
 
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Going out and trying to measure it doesn't work that much better. Unless you have someone or something around to scare the bejesus out of you, you aren't going to max it out. Maybe you could have someone chase you with a gun or hold up a liquor store and then run from the cops with a HRM on.

Using one of many methods to determine your threshold level and then basing training off that is a much easier way to go about things.
 

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FYI - I refer to my max HR as the number I get when I do a V02max test in a lab. I've cross referenced this against race-sprint numbers etc.
 

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kytyree said:
Going out and trying to measure it doesn't work that much better.
Seemed to work for me. Find a hill, roll into fully recovered and then go full bore until you just can't go anymore. I'd get 181bpm as my max, and in all the races and training I ever did that was the highest I ever saw, which for all practical purposes made it my maximum heart rate.
 

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bauerb said:
FYI - I refer to my max HR as the number I get when I do a V02max test in a lab. I've cross referenced this against race-sprint numbers etc.
And it was the same? I would think it might be a bit lower during a VO2max test?
 
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Seemed to work for me.
Based on what?

Find a hill, roll into fully recovered and then go full bore until you just can't go anymore.
And your motivation during this was as high as if your life depended on it? Just because you and others can repeat the number doesn't mean its correct.
 

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"Based on what?"

On the fact that it gave me in practical terms my maximum heart rate which allowed me to set training zones that were appropriate.



"And your motivation during this was as high as if your life depended on it? Just because you and others can repeat the number doesn't mean its correct."

So what? Are we trying to get an absoluate most extreme situation of the rate one's heart might be able to contract or are we trying to get a practical number for determining train zones, stress, etc.?
 

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Personally I like the 220 minus age formula.

Since I know that my max HR is 210, using that formula gives me an age of 10. Ah to be a kid again........ Then again, I never cared much for school so I guess I will just have to deal with the 11% error I get when I use the formula with my actual age of 32. In reality, I never use my MHR for training anyway, I always base my workouts off of LTHR.
 

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waterproof*
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I think HRmax is a pretty useless number for bike racer / triathlete training.

Instead, people should be asking about how to determine lactate threshold, or ftp or related numbers. Those much more useful in modern training plans.
 
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