From the BarryS Coaching Training Library


Finding Your Max Aerobic Heart Rate

by Barry Stokes

The 180 Formula

To find your maximum aerobic training heart rate, there are two important steps.

  1. Subtract your age from 180.
  2. Modify this number by selecting among the following categories the one that best matches your fitness and health profile:
    1. If you have or are recovering from a major illness (heart disease, any operation or hospital stay, etc.) or are on any regular medication, subtract an additional 10.
    2. If you are injured, have regressed in training or competition, get more than two colds or bouts of flu per year, have allergies or asthma, or if you have been inconsistent or are just getting back into training, subtract an additional 5.
    3. If you have been training consistently (at least four times weekly) for up to two years without any of the problems just mentioned, keep the number (180?age) the same
    4. If you have been training for more than two years without any of the problems listed above, and have made progress in competition without injury, add 5.

For example, if you are 30 years old and fit into category (b), you get the following: 180?30=150. Then 150?5=145 beats per minute (bpm).

In this example, 145 must be the highest heart rate for all training. This allows you to most efficiently build an aerobic base. Training above this heart rate rapidly incorporates anaerobic function, exemplified by a shift to burning more sugar and less fat for fuel.

Initially, training at this relatively low rate may be difficult for some athletes. I just can’t train that slowly! is a common comment. But after a short time, you will feel better and your pace will quicken at that same heart rate. You will not be stuck training at that relatively slow pace for too long. Still, for many athletes it is difficult to change bad habits.

If it is difficult to decide which of two groups best fits you, choose the group or outcome that results in the lower heart rate. In athletes who are taking medication that may affect their heart rate, wear a pacemaker, or have special circumstances not discussed here, further consultation with a healthcare practitioner or specialist may be necessary, particularly one familiar with the 180 Formula.

Exemptions:

  • The 180 Formula may need to be further individualized for people over the age of 65. For some of these athletes, up to 10 beats may have to be added for those in category (d) in the 180 Formula, and depending on individual levels of fitness and health. This does not mean 10 should automatically be added, but that an honest self-assessment is important.
  • For athletes 16 years of age and under, the formula is not applicable; rather, a heart rate of 165 may be best.

Once a maximum aerobic heart rate is found, a training range from this heart rate to 10 beats below could be used. For example, if an athlete’s maximum aerobic heart rate is determined to be 155, that person’s aerobic training zone would be 145 to 155 bpm. However, the more training closer to the maximum 155, the quicker an optimal aerobic base will be developed.

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