The chill in the air did not dampen the spirits of the thousands lining the streets of Berlin, draped in colourful flags and comical costumes. All eagerly awaited a moment of sporting history. The humidity was high at 85%, and a slight eastward breeze added to an electric atmosphere filled with cheers, shouts and national songs. Suddenly, at 1 hour and fifty-five minutes, a hush fell over the crowd. The air was thick with anticipation and a rhythmic thud emerged from the silence. The rhythmic thuds of running feet grew louder, and a figure emerged on the horizon. It was Eliud Kipchoge, the Kenyan long-distance runner with a reputation for breaking records. Today was no different.
At 2:01:09, the crowd erupted as Eliud crossed the finish line, smashing his own world record by 30 seconds. He had completed the 42-kilometer race with a staggering pace of 2 minutes and 52 seconds per kilometer. It was an awe-inspiring achievement.
But Eliud’s success is not just down to his incredible genetic gifts. His rigorous training regimen, based on the simple but effective Zone training method, has helped him become the champion he is today. By focusing on his individual goals and strengths, and adjusting his intensity based on his maximum heart rate, Eliud has honed his body into a machine capable of extraordinary feats. His story is a testament to the power of dedication and hard work, and a reminder that anything is possible with the right mindset and training. Today, we break down Zone training, and Maximum Heart Rate, so you can also optimise your training regimen.
What is maximum heart rate (MHR)?
As Eliud demonstrates, one way to ensure you maximise your workouts, recovery, and heart health is by tracking your maximum heart rate (MHR).
Maximum heart rate is the highest number of beats per minute that your heart can reach during strenuous physical activity. In other words, it is the highest output one’s body can produce during physical activity.
Knowing your MHR can help you determine the ideal intensity of your workouts relative to this figure. This enables training methods that optimally challenge your aerobic capacity without over-exertion. In other words, MHR allows you to know how hard to train to improve without burning out.
In fact, a review of the evidence for various training models found that a ‘polarised training program’, in other words, a training method structured around a particular duration in various heart rate zones, was the most effective at improving race pace.
Several factors influence your maximum heart rate, including your age, genetics, sex, and fitness level. As you age, your MHR tends to decrease, and it can also be influenced by underlying health conditions. However, a high or low MHR is not necessarily indicative of overall health, and MHR is not a goal in itself but rather an individualised metric to measure your physical exertion. Conversely, a resting heart rate (RHR) is a better indicator of overall heart health.
A normal resting heart rate is between 60 to 100 beats per minute. Researchers have divided the heart rate exertion into five general zones, delineated by their percentage of one’s MHR:
Zone 1 (Warm-up/Recovery): 50-60%
Zone 2 (Base Fitness): 60-70%
Zone 3 (Aerobic Endurance): 70-80%
Zone 4 (Anaerobic Capacity): 80-90%
Zone 5 (Speed Training): 90-100%
As you can see, different training goals correspond to different levels of intensity as measured by the percentage of your MHR. For example, if you are training for a marathon and targeting aerobic endurance, you may structure your training more heavily into Zone 2 (70-80%).
A study published in the International Journal of Exercise Science found a significant increase in oxygen uptake in triathletes regularly training in Zone 2. The exact breakdown of your exertion will depend heavily on both your exertion and recovery goals. The latter is one of the most helpful outcomes of measuring your MHR as few other metrics provide a guideline for how to maximise your recovery.
How to measure your maximum heart rate?
We have established that structuring your training around MHR is helpful, but how do you establish a baseline?
There are several methods to measure your maximum heart rate. The most accurate method is to take a professionally conducted VO₂ max lab test. To understand what VO₂ max is, check out our article on the subject.
However, these tests can be time-intensive and expensive. A more convenient, albeit slightly less accurate method, is to wear a heart rate monitor during exercise. A heart rate monitor can provide you with real-time information about your heart rate, allowing you to adjust the intensity of your workout based on your MHR.
If you don’t have access to a heart rate monitor, you can estimate your maximum heart rate by using standard formulas.
The most common way of doing this is by subtracting your age from 220. But there are some controversies around this formula. So, for more accurate results multiply your age by 0.7 and subtract the result from 208.
For example, if you are 35, then your MHR will be:
MHR = 208 – (35 x 0.7) = 183.5
Note from Healthypedia
It’s important to note that these methods are not 100% accurate, and there may be some variation based on individual factors. Additionally, your MHR can change over time as your fitness level improves, so it’s essential to re-evaluate your MHR periodically. You can also consult with a healthcare professional to help you determine your maximum heart rate and develop a personalised exercise plan that’s tailored to your specific needs.
Moreover, it is important to note that the breakdown of heart training zones is not without critique. Many argue that the zones are too generalised and may not be accurate to each individual. Although this is true, the variation between individuals is generally small. Nonetheless, it is important to use Zones as a guide and pay attention to how your body reacts to training. After all, there is no better indicator of your exertion than yourself.
In conclusion, knowing your maximum heart rate can help you get the most out of your workouts and track your heart’s health. There are several methods to measure your maximum heart rate, and it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the best method for you. By monitoring your maximum heart rate, you can tailor your workouts to achieve your fitness goals while ensuring that you’re exercising safely and effectively.
Why is heart health important?
In addition to providing a useful baseline by which to optimally structure your training, exercising around your MHR can promote wider heart health by avoiding overexertion and promoting awareness on the role of the heart in wellbeing. Maintaining a healthy heart is crucial to your overall physical, mental and emotional welfare. A strong heart has numerous benefits, including:
Indicating a strong cardiovascular system and reducing the risk of heart disease.
Enhancing physical fitness and athletic performance by making your heart more efficient in pumping blood to organs and muscles.
Regulating blood pressure and improving blood flow.
Reducing the risk of stroke, one of the leading causes of death and disability.
Improving sleep, alleviating stress and anxiety by reducing cortisol levels.
Boosting energy levels and mental clarity.
Strengthening overall health by ensuring adequate circulation to vital organs and tissues.
Moreover, the results of the largest study on cardiovascular health, with 67,000 participants observed over four years, showed that those with a normal heart rate had a significantly lower chance of developing medical conditions and an increased life expectancy. It is clear that a healthy heart provides numerous health benefits and has predictive properties for overall health.
How to improve your heart health?
We have demonstrated that a healthy, strong heart will have numerous positive effects on your overall physical, emotional and mental well-being. In addition to physical exercise, there are several methods to improve the health of your heart. The Healthypedia team has created a series of recommendations for you.
Fun and curious facts
The crown for the smallest heart in the animal kingdom is held by the fairy fly, which measures from 0.2 to 1.0 millimetres in length. The fairy fly’s heart is so small, in fact, it is almost impossible to see without a microscope!
The heart is one of the hardest-working organs in the body and, in an average lifetime, will beat more than two and a half billion times! That is 9 zeros!
Despite popular belief, the heart does not actually stop when we sneeze. Rather, pressure changes while we sneeze can briefly affect blood flow and heart rate, however, the heart continues to beat throughout and afterwards.
Maximum heart rate (MHR) is the highest number of beats per minute the heart can reach during intense physical activity. The knowledge of MHR enables an individual to determine the ideal intensity of workouts, ensuring that they train optimally without over-exerting themselves. A high or low MHR is not necessarily indicative of overall health, but rather an individualised metric to measure physical exertion. Structuring your training around your MHR is helpful and is accomplished through different training zones, ranging from warm-up/recovery to speed training. More generally, maintaining a healthy heart is crucial for physical, mental, and emotional well-being. A strong heart can increase longevity, improve physical fitness and athletic performance, reduce the risk of heart disease, and improve oxygen efficiency.
Hungry for knowledge? Here is more!
In this video ‘To Know Sport’, a popular producer of health educational videos, discusses the current evidence surrounding MHR-based training models commonly used by endurance athletes. The video provides a critical, evidence-based, analysis that will outline the potential rewards and risks of following this method.
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