Target HeartRate Training

I know. You’re probably saying “here he goes again” and you are correct. You’re thinking “Come on, don’t attack the target heartrate zone idea too”. Sorry. Here we go again. Every time I have this conversation with a group I always get the question “If this stuff isn’t true, why is it plastered on the front of every treadmill”. I can’t really answer except to say that it probably came out of the legal department of the manufacturer.

The truth is that target heartrate zone training is a highly flawed concept that could result in us drastically overtraining or undertraining ourselves or a client. Why is it a flawed concept? Because the physiologists know that only a small percentage of the population actually fits the formula. Did you know that seventy percent of the population is plus or minus ten to twelve beats from the theoretical 220- age formula. Yes seven out of ten people don’t fit the mold. Even worse, thirty percent of the population deviates nearly twice that much.

In mathematical terms for seventy percent of the population maximal heartrate actually equals:

220 – age plus or minus 10-12 beats per minute

For thirty percent of the population maximal heartrate actually equals:

220- age plus or minus 20-24 beats per minute

Why is this such a big deal? To realize why, we need to first state that those whose heartrates are on the high end are at little to no risk. All that happens with those folks is that we don’t push them hard enough. The problem is with the folks who have an unusually low maximum heartrate. If we were to push a person in the thirty percent group that is minus twenty-four beats per minute to eighty percent of their theoretical maximal heartrate, we would actually be pushing them to ninety percent. This would be a major error that could have significant ramifications.

The lesson here is that, as with so many of the so-called truths of fitness, there is actually significant variability in what we seem to think is an accurate and time-honored formula. Be careful with yourself and with you clients. Buy a heartrate monitor and learn how both you and your clients really respond to exercise.

9 Responses to “Target HeartRate Training”

  1. Yale Steingard Says:

    If the 220-age calc. is not recommended because of the deviation, what method should be used to determine max rate and target rate? Do you still believe that you should be training in your target zone? for how long should you remain in that target zone?

  2. […] Target HeartRate &#84&#114&#97ining « Michael Boyle's Blog […]

  3. mboyle1959 Says:

    Great point. We try to use heartrate monitors as much as possible. I’ll write a follow up post to explain what we do. Thanks

  4. While what Mike has stated here is largely true, (statisticians would take issue with the interpretation and application of standard deviation) coaches, trainers, physiologist, shouldn’t use this as an excuse to not integrate the use of bio metric technology into your practice. The data that is collected by these devices is INVALUABLE to the process of prescribing your clients exercise intensities. The continuous monitoring technology that has evolved in the past decade to track heart rate and now work loads, respiration, skin temperature and other bio metrics is going to be a critical factor for coaches in the future. You can measure a pulse and get a reading without some fancy device. But what your fingers and RPE’s don’t give you is the ability to develop metabolic portfolios of your clients training histories. An individual cannot possibly catalog the sum total of all the effort that is expended by a team of individuals and use that feedback to “tweek” or even completelu design additional training components. A coach that considers themselves a real scientist will metabolic test their athletes and clients and have real data to determine individual training intensities. I come to this position from experience. I once thought of myself as a pretty good coach when I was concentrating on the RPE’s of my athletes and taking brachial pulse rates during workouts. When I began using my first download-able heart rate monitor it became clear to me that I was kidding myself before. Don’t use the inadequacies of 220-age as an excuse to keep your head in the sand. Conditioning coaches today have to be scientists, and to have “truth” as a scientist you must have data. Otherwise your dealing with faith and snake-oil.

  5. As a mater of fact, I do see a similar pattern. The last interval generally has been 164-166. I was concerned that it wasn’t any higher, but it seems that things are going as they should. Thanks for the confirmation.

  6. mboyle1959 Says:

    If your max HR is 174you should probably be in the low 160’s at the end of your half mile workouts. Generally the HR will rise about 3-4 beats per interval. So think
    150-154-157-160 …. Do you see a similar pattern?

  7. People are so eager to create a normalization of numbers because it gives people an easy target to follow. Even those that know of the highly significant population variability you just mentioned will potentially adhere to the “standard formula” because they don’t know how to work out how well they’re responding to training – over/under/apt. Perhaps some pointers on how people can assess how their body responds to exercise (and not just pointing out that people need to do it) would be beneficial? Not, of course, that the information isn’t already out there.

  8. If you know how your body responds to exercise, what kind of range should you strive for with interval training? For example, using the Karvonen method, my theoretical max is 174, and through tracking my workouts, I have found that to be pretty accurate. I do interval training mostly on the Airdyne, usually 8 X .5 miles. What heartrate range should I expect?

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