What is Maximum Heart Rate?
Maximum heart rate is the highest number of times per minute your heart can contract. This makes sense, doesn’t it? It’s the heart rate at the point of exhaustion in an all-out short effort. You can continue to increase your intensity, but when you reach the maximum heart rate point, your heart simply won’t beat any faster. (Most researchers believe this genetically determined point is your body’s way of protecting itself. If your heart beats too fast, it doesn’t have enough time between beats to fill the chambers adequately, to fully contract and effectively pump the volume of blood needed to your body parts.)
There are at least a dozen mathematical equations to predict – guess – your maximum heart rate. Don’t use any of them; they’re all too inaccurate. Only a formula that uses your specific cardiovascular response can accurately predict your individual maximum heart rate. (And we’re going to provide you with several fun tests that can do just this, after more paradigm shifting.)
My search for supportive data on maximum heart rate goes back to my UC Berkeley college notes. I found my class notes on maximum heart rate and target heart rate zone, now on yellowing pages.
As students, we had to take lab work and test each other with everything from underwater weighing to various anthropometric measurements. Sure enough, there were my maximum heart rate test results from 1969 as a 22-year-old coed – Sally Edwards’ maximum heart rate: 194 bpm.
Today, at the age of just over 60, my maximum heart rate for running remains 194 bpm, for cycling 183 bpm, and for swimming 170 bpm.
Here’s the pregnant “but”: this is one woman’s 40-year longitudinal study. I have stayed fit and active all my years. If I were to ever use, please don’t, the age adjusted formula with my running maximum heart rate (220-60 = 160 bpm) the error would be 33 bpm or more than an entire zone, so the older you get, the greater the error, the worse the prediction formula. The formula is useless.
Where did “220” come from? Sadly to say, it was invented in the early 1970’s by scientists Fox, Naughton, and Haskell who never intended it to become the gospel, the foundation for all cardio-training in the world.
In fact, research by Robert Robers and Roberto Landwehr, two Ph. D. scientist has established there is an enormous margin of error for this formula – as great as thirty beats per minute. Quite frankly, that’s just not accurate enough to work very well for very many people. Certainly it doesn’t work for most people, and not at all for very active individuals.
And, the formula is dangerous beyond the fact that there is no scientific research to support it. The equation overestimates maximum heart rate for young adults and underestimates it in older people – both are dangerous situations.
The bottom line is that this prescription that results in this single zone notion based only on age has failed us, and failed us miserably. Frankly, the ACSM prescription does not address the needs and goals of each individual. A new guideline needs to be set by all fitness organizations based on sub-max testing of individuals.
More to come ..
Keep your eyes peeled as we continue to release excerpts throughout upcoming weeks. If you want to read the entire book, make sure to swing by our online store and grab a copy: The Heart Rate Monitor Guidebook.