Workout heart rate

I’m wondering how to determine my max heart rate for the purposes of working out. I’ve tried the formula most often cited on the internet (220 minus your age in years), which tells me 158 is the max for me (I turn 62 in 6 days) and seriously doubt the accuracy of that internet derived formula.

The context for my question is a little convoluted. I’ve always stayed pretty active daily but less so in winter. I bought an Apple watch with heart monitor and wear it ice skating, with 1-hour hard skating sessions every other day. Generally, I am in the 150 range pretty consistently (95% of theoretical internet derived max) and do not feel like I am working excessively hard in that range…it feels very do-able and normal. Today I hit 161 for a while when I was intentionally working extra hard which is 102% of max (???). I know for sure that I work much harder than that during hockey games when I am not wearing the heart monitor. However the usual doctor advice for a 62 year old is to limit yourself to 85% of max.

Not sure how to proceed if it turns out my max heart rate is much higher than 158 (as I suspect) or possibly if it actually is 161 (does that mean I am risking a heart attack when I skate?) Do I set up an appointment at my doctor for a treadmill test or ???. How does one determine a max heart rate and what does one do with that knowledge once it is known?


The way I would proceed, may not be the recommended way, but it works. This is use a treadmill or a long steady hill i.e. a 1/2 mile hill. Warm up fully, once fully warmed up, run up a gradual incline until you are running as hard as you can up the hill, once you are no longer able to raise your heart rate anymore you are near your max. If you happen to catch a sudden drop in your heart rate (Wenckebach), you will know you are at your max heart rate. It is likely to be much higher than 220-age.

Of course all of the usual disclaimers apply to consult with your Dr. before doing something with this much exertion.

I am not sure you doctor would agree to stress you to this level. But you can always ask.


Probably not. If you have any heart ischemia (narrowing of the arteries) a really high heart rate can make the pain you experience worse. Also, a heart attack is generally caused by a plaque breaking off, perhaps the stress of the exercise could help break the plaque off, but it probably would have progressed anyway.


That “220 minus your age in years” formula is consistently wrong for people who are active. And is also often wrong for people with a few more years of experience. (I am right there with you :wink:)

I break my “max” all the time.

There are some other formulas that are commonly used that might give you better estimates.

211 minus 64% of age, is a better one, and it will give you a higher max for your age.

Another one that is better is this one:
207 minus 70% of age (this one is for men, the one for females is slightly different).

Really though, the best way to get max HR is to do an actual test.

If you do it with a doctor, the problem is that the doctor will cut you short. The doctor will wait until your RER gets to about 1.1 and say you are done, you are maxed! And if you are very fit, you won’t be at your max!

You can find out your own max - but only if you are comfortable with doing this.

Do an easy mile warmup. Then run one hard mile at Tempo pace. This is the fastest pace that you could hold for about 30-40 minutes. Keep running after the Tempo mile for another 1/2 mile. Keep increasing the speed gradually. For the last 1/4 mile it should be as fast as you can run to finish. The total distance (not counting warmup) would be 1.5 miles.

Take your HR immediately after finishing. Count your pulse for 10 seconds and multiply by 6. You have to do this quickly because your HR will start dropping right away.

The HR you get at the end is pretty much your actual max, not a formula derived number.

Only do this if you feel comfortable with it.

Chris, the problem with a hill or incline is that you can experience muscle fatigue before you max your heart. It can work if your muscles are trained for it, but a lot of people’s legs can’t handle the incline. So they might not max out.

An example is this - suppose I asked you to take a 5 pound barbell and do curls as fast as you can until your arm is completely exhausted and unable to do anymore, and then take your pulse.

By comparison, do the same thing with a 50 pound barbell, until your arm can’t do anymore.

Both tests would cause your muscles to fatigue, but the reps with the higher weight would stress your muscles much faster.

But which test would give you the higher heart rate? I guarantee it would be the one with the lighter barbell.

The best and most accurate way to do this is with a test called a supermax VO2, where the test protocol is changed and tailored for the individual.

You can get them done at test labs if you want, for a few hundred dollars. I know that personally I can get a higher HR with flat speed than with inclines.


I completely agree, and on hard workouts I also exceed my “max” heart rate. The max heart rate as derived from formulas is quite useless. In addition the whole reason that most people want to know their max heart rate (exercising in “fat burning zone”) is bogus as well - in fact, the harder you exercise the more fat you’ll burn. So if your body is already used to exercising, and unless you have some medical reason to limit heart rate (as Chris says, check with your doctor!), you should feel free to exercise as hard as you want. That was my conclusion.


I’m sure someone has already said it, but before I started with anything else, I personally would ditch the Apple Watch. I have one, and my heart rate on it makes me giggle. I currently have a Garmin, thanks to some encouragement here, but I’ve always used Polar with excellent results. I used it for years prior to purchasing the Garmin, and it always closely represented what I would see in a 24 hour holter monitor or stress test. My Apple Watch, though wonderful for most things, is not even worth looking at nor was the Fitbit.

I rely on my monitors as the max heart rate equation is not a great fit for me either, and then I see my cardiologist periodically for routine testing and to discuss numbers/concerns. So far so good. (Knock on wood knock on wood). :grin:


That’s interesting that the Apple Watch heart rate may be bogus…I don’t have any heart health issues that require super precise heart rate info but I do want to optimize my skating workouts by using the heart rate as my guide. Not sure I want to invest in more tech for this but maybe I can get a feel for correlating my heart rate reported by the watch to actual. I guess my plan of attack is to try to replicate Eric’s suggestion, only adjusted for ice skating instead of running. Checking my pulse rate by hand will give me a good check on the Apple Watch and we’ll see how it goes!

My plan is where Eric says “mile” I will substitute an appropriate time skating laps, varying my effort as we go. So for the last 1/4 mile it will be 60 seconds or so.


Completely understand. I wear my Apple Watch and my Garmin while I workout (which looks as ridiculous as it sounds) and would be happy to see how they line up as well. I sometimes have difficulty keeping a reading with the Apple because I’m moving, and it just won’t pick up my HR. If I can get them both going though, I’ll let you know how close they are. A finger check certainly sounds as reliable as anything though for getting that gauge.

And, for what it’s worth, I break my max all the time, too. I see my cardiologist often enough for him to know my story. He doesn’t worry too much about it. He does, however, put a lot of emphasis on how I’m feeling during the workout, whether or not I’m experiencing any kind of symptoms, and how hard I feel I’m working. We also discuss the role of caffeine… because he’s not as relaxed about that. :roll_eyes:

I honestly am not a big fan of visiting the doctor and would prefer never to go, but to go speak with a cardiologist with the specific fitness goals you have seems reasonable. If you haven’t been, there might be some basic tests they’d prefer you have done, and it might be a great opportunity for this discussion.


Running and skating don’t translate exactly the same (much like running and biking do not translate the same). There is specificity for each sport. You can get your heart rate up much quicker with running than you can with biking or skating.

I would suggest that for the “one mile” you do fast laps, but for the “last half mile” you substitute fast sprints, skating up and down the ice instead of laps. The stopping and starting and changing direction will drive your heart rate up faster because there is less rest. Remember to pace yourself to be able to get at least a full minute for the “last 1/4 mile”. That is tough stuff to do! Best of luck to you.

It would be interesting to compare this effort to a running effort to see how close they are!


@Nickyghaleb, listening check for me here…you run with a Garmin, an Apple Watch, a tester, and a test strip bracelet? Do I have that right? (No judgment…just trying to get a visual of elites here.)

That’s all connected together. Just one piece. :wink:


I’m getting a Diabetes Wonder Woman image of this equipment…elite diabetic arm shields or wrist cuffs of gear…


It’s actually just a big bubble, @T1Allison. Like a full body bubble shield. It’s tricky getting into and out of but totally worth the effort once you’re in. :rofl:

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Well… if you insist…:grin:

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I’m heading out for a run this morning and will try to remember to get a side by side, but I thought it was worth mentioning (maybe only for the laugh) that when I picked up my Apple Watch to put it on, it was already reading my heart rate at a 104. A resting heart rate of a 104 would’ve been a red flag if it had actually been on my wrist, but it wasn’t. I’m not sure why it was giving me a reading at all, but it’s reading a 64 now, and that sounds better. Anyway, I’ve got the Garmin and will try to remember to fire them both up once I’m … I’ll just do that now. Or I probably won’t actually remember.


For general interest I found a review of stand alone heart rate monitors, pretty informative. Still trying to sort out what I would do with the data if I start keeping closer track? I know for sure (based on reliable gut feel) that I am working much harder during an actual hockey game than during even my most intense skating workouts have been The overall goal of the skating workouts are improved stamina, improving my skating ability back to where I was in my 30’s, and doing a regular and enjoyable workout during the rainy season (meaning it has to be indoors). Perhaps with a decent monitor I can assess and re-tailor the workouts to more closely replicate game conditions…not sure at this point where I’m headed with all this but will continue to fiddle on this.


Thanks for sharing the article. I’m happy to see both Polar and Garmin made it since those are the only two I’ve ever believed. :grin:

I did a little soft observation of my Apple Watch during today’s workout, and it was interesting. I have no idea if it would be more consistent or reliable for the next person, but it was about 50/50 in being spot on or way off. There were times I would find it within one or two of my Garmin, but then it would just as often show me a value that was 30 points higher. I’m sure there was some kind of pattern and it probably had to do with it updating the value after a period of inactivity, but whatever it was, it meant that about 50% of the time I was seeing a number that was far above my actual reading. Had it not been for the Garmin, I may have even been concerned and sat down. :smiley:

I think if you’re really looking to rely on a HR value, you’ve gotta start with one that uses a chest strap. That’s been my experience anyway…


Figured it’s time for an update…I’ve pretty much given up on using the Apple watch to get any reliable data. That’s based on counting my pulse when I know my heart rate is pretty close to it’s max and comparing to the random numbers reported by the watch. Also, sometimes the watch seems to stop counting for long periods, apparently caused by sweat on my wrist.

Not sure my quest for optimal heart health rises to the level of buying more tech. I’ve become pretty comfortable with my gut feel for how hard I’m working and will give that a try for a while.


That is too bad. I had high hopes :frowning: