Is there a good way to predict maximum heart rate?

There are a couple very basic ways you can predict maximum heart rate.  The first and most often used is to simply take 220 and subtract your age.


Here is an example for a 40 year old athlete

220-40= 180 (maximum heart rate)


The second is called the “Karvonen Formula” which uses the heart rate reserve method. This is similar to the basic formula of 220 minus your age but it also uses your resting heart rate to factor in appropriate heart rate efforts as a percentage of maximum effort.


The Karvonen Formula is as follows:

220-age = maximum heart rate

Maximum heart rate- resting heart rate = heart rate reserve

(Heart rate reserve x % of maximum desired) + resting heart rate = Target heart rate


Here an example for a 40year old with a resting heart rate of 60 beats per minute (bpm) who wants to train at 70% maximum

  • 220-40 = 180bpm (maximum heart rate)
  • 180-60 = 120bpm (heart rate reserve)
  • (120 x 0.7) + 65 = 144bpm


If you want to predict your zones using this method it’s best to calculate the percentage efforts required for each zone (as per Table 1) and set a heart rate range for each zone.


The key thing to note is that using either the maximal heart rate method (220-age) or the heart rate reserve method there is little difference in the heart rate values. That being said, the low value of the target range (say 60%) is slightly higher in the heart rate reserve method than the value in the maximal heart rate method. The heart rate reserve method is considered more accurate, as it can protect you from having too low a threshold target and takes into account your resting heart rate.

For both of these methods there is a large assumption involved—that your maximum heart rate is, in fact, 220 minus your age. After all, it is your age-predicted maximum heart rate. In reality, your maximum heart rate may be much lower or higher than this. It is estimated that one standard deviation from this value is 12 beats per minute. Therefore, only 68.3% of the population has a maximum heart rate that lies between 208 and 232 minus their age. For this reason, if you find that you are exercising at the high end of the range and yet not feeling your exercise intensity is very hard, it may be that your maximum heart rate is higher than average. This is why many people prefer to use additional measures of exercise intensity – in particular finding maximal heart rate.

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