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Maximum Heart Rate Testing


I have read different opinions on heart rate testing to determine zones to be used whilst training.

What is the best one to go for:-

a) Maximum Heart Rate Test
b) Lactate Threshold Test

Are the results accurate for a) above?



  • What is it your are looking for from obtaining this info?

    Regarding Max HR testing, I used to use a local fairly steep hill climb, warm up, do the hill once in high / easy cadence / gearing, back to bottom and go all out, and about 50M from finish, stand up push big gears as hard as possible - this usually resulted in my highest HR's.
    The hill was about 2 miles in total, getting steeper on the last 3 mins or so, usually takes about 13 minutes in total.

    Recently after joining the gym, a quicker, more severe test was the 2K row, building up slowly, high resistance and hammered the last 100M out, I managed to get it higher than I have had in years! 220-my age would be 185 but it hit 191.

    A local cycle loop (approx 60-65 minutes) all out ridden as a time trial gives me an average HR of 160.
    This for me is pretty much my Lactate Threshold approx 86% of MHR.

    A booklet I have states the following:

    L1, Fat burning / easy 50-60% of your max
    L2, Lower aerobic / steady state 60-70%
    L3, upper aerobic / medium 70-80%
    L4, Anaerobic Threshold / Hard 80-90%
    L5, Anaerobic / Very hard 90-95%
    L6, Lactic or Max 95-100%


    Obviously, there can be specific factors according to your own experience / ability etc. The 220-age is roughly correct. Here is some more stuff you may find interesting:


    Hope this helps a little
  • Sorry, I'm being a bit stupid;

    To work out your HR zones, I reckon you should always go off your maximum HR and use those % figures as your zones.

    Most decent HR monitors allow you to input your age anyway and it will calculate these for you.
  • I would always use a lactate threshold test and do so two or three times a year and re calibrate your training zones based on this data.

    Maximum HR is something which is hard to simulate as it has a high psychological influence at that intensity. You also need to ask the question is your body capable in other areas, neuro muscular, to take you there. My own experience was of believing when I first started training that my HR was around the 180 mark, which was in the 220 - age ball park as a 45 year old.

    I have since then got considerably fitter and stronger and have gone above that figure when really putting the hammer down climbing over the top of some pretty steep climbs in the Pennines on my bike. In these situations there was a pretty clear psychological elment going on "get your f*****g arse over this thing and don't you dare drop change up a gear you lazt b*****d" type of thing. It also helped that I had gone past a string of other cyclists and was still in full view and ego can be a motivating factor ever when hyper ventilating. My data indicated I was at 184 for a good part of the last hill section, is this my maximum doubt it, if I had to race to a hospital carrying my badly injured son to save his life I am confident it would be a lot higher still. My point is I do not think I can stimulate this effort in a test scenario on my trainer. I have come close to this point when running and pushing it on 181, I suspect I would have to be in a race situation something like a 5k or 10k and be going for the line against a best mate to stand a chance of hiting 'near' a top figure.

    I feel we like the idea of a definitive mark and so 'maximum' draws an acord rather than something which is somewhere in the middle as is LT. The point is why want to know in the first place and the answer is to set training zones. LT is better for this as it is a measure of fitness for the purpose of measuring fitness.

    to be continued...
  • The truth is you need to be flexible in your approaches. My HR zones are different for cycling and running which is normal based on individual threshold tests. If I could do a test for swimming that would throw in another set for sure. In reality my experience is at first it is usefull to look at my HR monitor to see what I am doing in the session, do this more on my bike, and on long climbs or on a day with strong winds, the rest of the time I try to ignore the data untill I get home. With experience what I use in percieved effort levels. I know what easy, steady, tempo, hard etc.... feels like. If I go out for a long easy run I instinctivly know if I an going too quick and then face the choice to back off or not. The same is true on a hill interval repeat on my bike, I will know the second effort was a bit soft and i wasn't pushing hard enough.

    My final point is that the science is very good and data usefull but there also needs to be an 'art' to efective training so don't get too hooked on the numbers and miss the point elsewhere.
  • Thanks for the feedback.

    My original posting was lacking information so I have added some further notes below.

    After completing IMUK this year in 10:10 and missing a Kona slot by 4 minutes I now want to see if I can optimise my training to go sub 10 and hopefully gain a slot.

    I know I have a tendency to overtrain so I want to maximise my training but not dip into the red too often. So I am planning to do a HR test for cycling and swimming and then set the training zones accordingly. After doing some further research and reading your comments I have also reached a similar conclusion that MAX HR testing to set the upper limit is difficult to do and the results are not always consistent. I found an article in Going Long by Joe Friel that uses a time trial method over thirty minutes that can be used for cycling and running. When the test is started the lap counter is set at 10 minutes and an average of the heart rate is then taken for the next 20 minutes. This should give the threshold levels as mentioned in your posts. Using this average value in the threshold column you can then read off HR ranges for each zone. There are seperate tables for running and cycling.
  • Tony I have digested going long a few times now and so am familiar with its content. Given the distances you are racing, and am surprised you are coming to this area now given your time, I would try and do a lactate threshold test for as long a duration as you can. I have personally had a few goes at various tests. I tend to consistently use a bike test from training and racing with a power meter which has a long run in then an all out effort interval a cool down then warm up again before hitting the main 20 minute test interval. With shorter regimes it takes me five minutes or so to get to a good threshold HR and skews the data. I have created a file for my Tacx Catalyst to do this and know what gradients and gears are optimal with my cadence at 90 rpm this took some time to learn what is optimal for me. This test makes the assumption that most people can't sustain an hour long interval so there is then a % adjustment made to the power output achieved.

  • My personal viewpoint is that I am fit enough to go pretty flat out for 20 minutes and take a lot of stress in maintaining an output, psychologically I am personally not this strong over a couple of hours or more. Tony as you are trying to find zones which relate to a five hour plus effort think about trying to put in a long threshold test once a year to see if the corellation is there with your shorter tests which i do around three or four times a year at key points in my annual programme. My concern is that a lot of standard tests might give good training zones for Olympic and even 1/2 Ironman but beyond that distance things become a little less certain. I have found that the power based results match up pretty well with previous tests for HR's when setting zones.

    When it come to running I tend to use a broad overview of the data I get on a daily basis to find my zones. The tests I have done running (outdoor) have always ended up with me possibly going too hard at the end and dealing with a lot of stress for five minutes or so. In this area I think i could do with investing in a treadmill test with an experienced coach alongside. As my running level is not as mature as my cycling I can afford to put this off for another season.

    My experience is that the lower zones come out pretty low especially for running and high volumes of easy training is the key area to get right more so than the harder work as personally I can slightly over cook it day after day over an extended period of time at this time of year in trying to get a solid foundation in. Trainning at tempo or specific interval pace is a lot easier. Given you are a better athelete than me and have more experience you might have already cracked this key area.

  • One thing i have found really usefull has been taking my training paces which could be HR zones and as a starting point using running I went and used the online McMillan pace calculator to put a factor on all my training sessions. For this an easy paced run for 1hr equates to a factor of 1. As I get faster in sessions/HR higher a tempo run for 1 hour might equate to a factor of 1.5 or 2. A race paced session a lot higher. I do the same with swim and bike sessions.

    When i then went back through my training diaries and honestly calculated my training using these factors I could clearly see that when I end up overtraining and have to back off I have personally been pushing things too hard, expecting too much improvement on what has gone before. Normally adding volume and then throw in a couple of harder sessions which push my limits too much. A typical pattern is being comfortable with 22 to 25 hrs a week over winter all at easy pace and then struggling in the Spring/Summer with 18 to 20hrs work when in reality factored in it would be more like 30hrs and I end up overtraining and have to rebuild again. I know last year when the weather got good I trained on my bike a lot in the Pennines and simply carried on thinking these were long easy rides when in reality there was within them an hour or so of pretty hard work going up the major climbs. My reaction was to think small additions to my running volume was the issue rather than understanding i had in effect thrown in two or three hard interval sessions into something labled in my diary as '5hr easy ride'. Just a thought as I have a bit of time on my hand today... The improvements will be there to push for a Kona slot, take time out to analyse last seasons training it might well be a case of less is more. Good luck.
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