Q: I have used the Age + Fitness level based formula (Karvonen formula), but feel the numbers don’t add up. How do you find your true max heart rate?
A: As you have seen, all the methods you have used using age can be very different than the max heart rates we can actually hit at a certain age.
We use VO2 Max tests and Lactate curve tests to establish zones. Each one of those can give you a picture of what the body is doing at a given heart rate.
Now that you have a heart rate monitor, you can establish quickly (in most Level 4 workouts) what your true max heart rate is. A lot of times running, bounding, and skating workouts will give us higher max heart rates. Double poling tends to not get us to our max heart rate, as it is a movement that uses a small amount of muscle groups. In these Level 4 workouts, see what your heart rate gets to on the last couple intervals. Usually this will be at or within 5 beats of our max. Once you have established this max you can use the percentages of max to establish your zones.
I use these as starting points for zones:
Zone 1: 60-70% of Max
Zone 2: 70-80%
Zone 3: 80-90%
Zone 4: 90-95%
Zone 5: 95-100%
After establishing an estimated actual max, the numbers you are actually hitting while out training will start to make more sense than the supposed zones that you have used while using the formulas that include age.
It also should be noted that when somebody does not have a developed aerobic system (Level 1) their HR’s tend to be higher for that Level 1. As athletes do more easy distance training with being strict in keeping HR low, they will start to see their HR drop in these workouts. They will be able to hold a higher pace at the same HR’s as before.
Hopefully this helps and good luck with training going forward.