How to Determine Max Heart Rate

How to Determine Your Max Heart Rate

While often overlooked, our heart rate says a lot about our training, level of effort, and results we can expect to achieve.  So it’s important to know how to determine max heart rate.

And there is quite a bit of contradicting information out there, and picking the useful from the literal sea information can be challenging.

Today, we’ll go over how to determine max heart rate, why we should, and what that means for our training and fitness goals.

Ready? Let’s dive in.

How to Calculate Max Heart Rate (MHR)

A simple way to calculate your MHR is using this formula:

MHR = 220 – (your age)

For example, a 40-year-old man’s MHR would be:

MHR = 220 – 40 = 180 beats per minute

It’s important to remember that the calculation is a good general guide. Knowing your max heart rate (MHR), as well as your fitness goals, allows you to identify the ideal heart rate training zone. This is important, and understanding these training zones will take you to a new fitness knowledge level.

The Five Heart Rate Training Zones – A Brief Overview

When it comes to your training intensity, there are five training zones that you should know. Yes, five zones of intensity – how fun!

Zone% of MHRWorkout IntensityDescription
Zone 590-100%Maximum IntensityHelps fit athletes increase speed; Very short durations
Zone 480-90%AnaerobicIncreases Max Performance; Shorter durations
Zone 370-80%AerobicImproves aerobic conditioning
Zone 260-70%Weight ControlImproves endurance and fat burning; longer durations
Zone 150-60%Warm-upImproves overall health; ideal for warm-up and recovery

As you can imagine, these heart rate training zones will be determined by your maximum heart rate. So, much like there is variability in the MHR of two people, there is also a difference in their heart rate training zones.

What is Maximum Heart Rate (MHR)?

How to Determine Max Heart RateOur maximum heart rate (MHR) is a measure of the maximum amount of times our heart contracts (beats) in the course of one minute. Knowing what your max heart rate is and how it changes with age is important to your training golas.

Unlike many fitness-related things, our true MHR is mostly genetically-determined. Also, smaller people tend to have a higher MHR, which is why women tend to be able to maintain a higher heart rate safely. (1)

What’s more, your MHR doesn’t necessarily reflect your fitness level, but it can be useful when trying to create a training program. 

How Our Maximum Heart Rate Changes

An interesting fact about our maximum heart rate is that it changes as we age. You likely deduced that from the simple formula, MHR = 220 – (your age). More specifically, it lowers as you get older. One potential reason for that is the fact that aging suppresses the sinoatrial node, which acts as a natural pacemaker of the heart. (2)

Also, because our genetics and size impact our heart rate, it’s essential to take the initial calculation with a bit of caution. What does this mean?

Are There Benefits of Knowing Your Maximum Heart Rate?

Knowing how to determine max heart rate is beneficial because it allows you to design more productive workouts that are right within the training intensity you need.

For example, if you’re sixty and you know that your MHR is 160, then you can use the general guidelines for your training. Cardio workouts are typically in the 50 to 80 percent of your max heart rate, so that would work out to be about 80 to 130 beats per minute.

On the other hand, if you don’t know your MHR, you will spend quite a bit of time going through trial and error before you find a level of effort that suits your needs and goals.

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David Williams

A diet and fitness enthusiast, David is an ex-Army Airborne Ranger and Infantry soldier with decades of fitness and wellness experience. A West Point graduate with a degree in engineering, he focuses on technical research related to fitness, nutrition, and wellness. He loves the beach and working out, and spending time with his wife and daughters.

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  1. Waehner, P. (2020, November 12). Understanding your maximum heart rate. Verywell Fit.
  2. BMedSc, M. K. (2022, August 4). Sinoatrial node. Kenhub.

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