The maximum heart rate can vary greatly between individuals. Even within the same age group. By an untrained person, with a maximum HR of e.g. 200 per minute, the maximum heart rate will not change, after a period of endurance training. The maximum heart rate is not dependent on the training status. In extremely well trained endurance athletes a slight decrease in the maximum HR during the season can occur.

It is important to know that when older HR max gradually decreases. It therefore makes no sense to compare the HR during exercise with each other. That is certainly the case with a large age difference. The difference in HR max between a twenty years old athlete and a well-trained 50 years old marathon runner can be 20 to 30 beats/minute.

It is not easy to determine the HR without tools. During maximum effort the counting of the pulse rate is not possible. Shortly counting after discontinuation of the maximum effort will be inaccurate because the heart rate, immediately after stopping the effort, falls sharply.

There is a rough-and-ready rule, in which the HR-max is estimated on the basis of the age. For this, the formula applies: HR max = 220 – age. Someone of an age of 30 years, has according to this formula a HR max of 220 – 30 = 190 beats per minute. This formula is a rough estimate that often is not true in practice


The most reliable way to determine the HR max is to register the maximum heart rate during a workout or a race. One should know that the HR max can be achieved only if the athlete is totally recovered of the last race or workout. This also implies that the determination of the maximum HR only makes sense if you have already achieved a reasonable level of training.

Start by warming up. A light ride or run period of 15 minutes is followed by an intensive time trial race of 4 to 5 minutes or a running-race of 1500 or 2000 meter. The last 10 to 20 seconds are done sprinting, preferably in a sprint uphill. With a heart rate monitor, the HR-max can be easily read and or recorded. Counting the pulse immediately after exercise is an inaccurate method by counting errors and the rapid decline in heart rate immediately after a maximal sprint.

Also registrations of races and intense workouts give a lot of information about the HR max. In determining the maximum HR do not use only one registration, but make multiple registrations in the course of a few weeks including race and training registrations.

The highest value obtained is the actual HR max.

For different sports the HR max, in the same person, can vary greatly. As the HR max during running can be 203, where it rises in cycling to 187 in the same athlete. Athletes who are active in different sports, such as triathletes and run-bike-runners, would do well to determine their sport specific HR max.

  • On the basis of the HR-max and the HR-rest exact training schedules can be drawn up.
  • If you cannot reach your HR max during intense exercise means you are not fully recovered of the last training or race.
  • It is also possible a sign of overtraining.


The above shows that counting of the heart rate is fairly unreliable and that is certainly so during exercise. Heart rate monitors have solved this problem because counting is no longer needed. Each heartbeat – HR rest until HR max – can be read directly on a heart rate monitor. The heart rate monitors that have a memory function and the heart rate curve may be read after training or competition.