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Find Your True MHR Maximum Heart Rate / Pulse
© 2003 Michael Schreiber

This material is provided for informational purposes only. Obtain a Doctor's permission, then proceed at your own risk.

There has been much interest in recent years, in lending a "scientific aura" to endurance training.  Jargon, catchwords, and semi-scientific terminology abound - most of it little understood by either the purveyor or receiver (the poor runner). Using "sort of" scientific training methods has also become popular.

Along with esoteric terminology and semi-scientific methodology, all sorts of electronic gadgetry have hit the market.  One of  the most popular being the ubiquitous heart rate monitor (HRM).

The HRM has some pretty straight forward uses that can be truly helpful to the runner. It can be used to measure morning resting heart rate (of course a simple stop watch works just as well), and it can be used to measure recovery time after exercise (here it really shines).

The most popular use for the HRM seems to be for exercising at a percentage of Maximum Heart Rate (MHR).  MHR is the highest beat frequency the heart will reach under exercise-induced stress.

There are formulae that claim to be able to calculate this maximum rate, but I have yet to see a result that was even close to being accurate.

The most popular of these formulae is 220 minus age. That is, if you are twenty-five years old, you subtract 25 from 220, and arrive at the figure of one hundred and ninety-five (195) as your estimated MHR.

When I was forty years old, this formula estimated my MHR as one hundred and eighty (180). Yet, when part of an experiment, I took a Maximal Stress Test, the results showed the true reading to be two hundred and eight (208).   A substantial difference.

Training by percentage of MHR generally suggests that you train between 60% and 85% of your MRH. Unless you know your actual maximum, these percentile figures are totally useless.

STRESS TEST PROTOCOLS: Various Sports Testing Labs, and Cardiac Centers, use varying protocols. However, they all have certain areas of commonality. They allow for a period of warm up, and they gradually take you, step by step, through higher levels of intensity, pausing at each level to allow your heart rate to stabilize.

These tests are only conducted after receiving medical permission, and there are always trained rescue personnel on hand.

EQUIPMENT: A chest strap-type HRM, and a professional-type treadmill with electronic control of elevation to 12% or higher.  Ten percent will do in a pinch.

THE TEST: Step on the treadmill, running at 2 mph (miles per hour), and set to an angle of 2%.   Walk at this easy pace for three minutes. Unless you have problems with balance, do not grasp the rails during any part of the test.

At the end of the first three minutes, increase the speed to 3 mph, and the angle to 4%.

At the end of the next three minutes, increase the speed to 4 mph and the angle to 6%

After three more minutes, increase the speed to 5 mph, and the angle to 8%.

At the end of the next three minutes, hold at 5 mph, but increase the angle to 10%.  (If the person being tested is a trained endurance runner, the speed may be increased to 6 mph and higher.)

At the end of the next three minutes, do not change the speed, but increase the angle to 12%.

You may touch the rails lightly, to regain and maintain balance, but do not hold onto them.

If the treadmill will go beyond 12%, continue to increase the angle of incline every three minutes until the runner becomes too tired to continue, elects to stop, or the heart rate refuses to go any higher.  Record this final maximum heart rate.

If the treadmill will not go higher than 10% or 12%, you may instead increase the speed every three minutes (only for trained runners who are used to the higher speeds, and who are able to maintain balance at the higher speeds without holding on to the rails).

After reaching and recording MHR, reduce the angle of the treadmill to 2%, the speed to a comfortable walk, and allow the runner to continue until breathing is normal. Terminate the test.

Armed with your actual MRH, research seems to show that you will achieve maximum benefits in speed and endurance by training close to 70% of true maximum.

As scientific as the above sounds, you will achieve about the same results using the “Operatic Aria System.”  That is, if while running, you are able to carry on a conversation, but only in very short sentences, your pace is near ideal.

If you are gasping for air (anaerobic) you are running too fast.

If you can sing an operatic aria (even off key), you are going too slow. Get the lead out!


If you have questions, especially concerning training for and/or racing marathons, ultras or trails, just email The Mad dog, and I’ll come to the rescue. Answers are free.

Finally ready to achieve your “BQ!”  If you are serious about your commitment to running, and would like The Mad Dog to design a personal (continuously updated) training program for you, and provide personal online coaching, contact Endurance Coach, Mad Dog Mike

Copyright 2003 Michael Schreiber©. When briefly quoting or paraphrasing any of the material contained herein, you must credit the author and the website,

This material is one man's opinion only, not a prescription. Consult your doctor when you have medical questions, or before beginning any new testing, exercise or nutrition program. Then, the responsibility for a decision to continue or not, is yours alone.


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