Most GPS units or heart rate monitor watches ask for your maximum heart rate so it can calculate the different heart rate zones. I have outlined several different methods below. Please note that your maximum heart rate is different than lactate threshold. As per this article in Road Bike Ride, by John Hughes, “Max heart rate doesn’t show cycling fitness,” but instead “lactate threshold is a better measure of fitness.” I have covered that topic on this blog post.
Here are some formulas for determining your maximum heart rate:
- The old classic easy-to-use formula is 220 minus your age for males or 226 for females. But is a very rough estimate and can vary widely.
- Here is perhaps a better formula. “The maximum heart rate of male athletes was calculated to be 202 – (0.55 x age), and for female athletes, 216 – (1.09 x age).”
From the RBR site and is Dr. Mirkin’s formula from a study in Liverpool England.
- I believe this is most accurate technique, by Edmund R. Burke, PhD, as found on pg. 74 in the timeless book Serious Cycling (2nd Ed).
Do an all-out effort on a 5 km (3 mile) time trial (solo and a generally a flat course). Determine your average heart rate in the middle of this ride. He says. This is your exercising heart rate. Manually plot your heart rate against your time and speed on a graph. You’ll see that your heart rate levels off in the midportion of the ride. This corresponding heart rate is your average heart rate. Multiply that number by 105 percent to arrive at your maximum heart rate.”
- Sally Edwards, in her book The Heart Rate Monitor Book, suggests…
finding a long hill or series of hills and, after warming up, hitting the bottom of the hill relatively fast. Work the hill extermely hard until your heart rate reading no longer rises and you approach exhaustion. This number is your maximum heart rate. (Quoted in the book Serious Cycling above.)
It would seem to me that if you race (as opposed to just training or causal “riding” with friends), that taking your highest recorded heart rate during an event would yield the same result as Sally’s method above.
- Have a medical professional conduct a stress test and let them know you want to know your absolute maximum heart rate. This is usually done on a treadmill, however, and not on a bicycle, which may yield a slightly higher value.
- Sigma of Germany makes some nice heart rate monitor watches and cycling computers. Here is their formula, from their PC15 instruction manual (circa 2007).
First, convert your weight from pounds to kg: divide by 2.2.
Then for men: 210 – “half age” – (0.11 x weight in kg) + 4
Or for women: 210 – “half age” – (0.11 x weight in kg)