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Thread: Low Max HR

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    Low Max HR

    I started road cycling about 6 months ago after years as a MTBer. About the same time I also started wearing a HRM and training more seriously. In most of the posts/discussions I see about max HR people seem to be at or above the standard formula calculations of what their max HR should be (220-age, etc), but the highest I have been able to get my HR is 167 bpm. No matter what I do, pushing as hard as I can, on the road or on the trainer, following all of the standard field test methods, or just all out riding - I've never seen a higher number. I know the formulas are generalized for the whole population, but at 32 years old I am so far below norm that it makes me wonder what is going on. Should I be reading anything in to this low max? Am I just a wimp?

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    Senior Member kf5nd's Avatar
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    the 220 - age is only an estimate, and a crude one at that. max HR will decrease if you are overweight.

    and if you're not in good shape to begin with, of course your max HR is lower. it's not something you're born with, it's something you build. how long does it take you to ride 25, 50 miles?

    when you are at 167, how do you feel? at max hr, your muscles should be burning, you should be absolutely unable to speak, unable to continue, gasping for breath, ready to puke, in a great deal of suffering.

    if you're not that uncomfortable, you've not gotten there yet.
    Peter Wang, LCI
    Houston, TX USA

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    Ah, good points. More info... I'm 6'1", 165 lbs. In decent shape. Not great, but certainly not bad. Over the last ~700 road miles I've ridden (since I got a new computer for Christmas), I've averaged 18.8 mph (mostly solo, all types of terrain and weather). When I hit 167 it was on a trainer and I could barely see straight, unable to continue, wanted to die, etc.

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    I've been doing the HR thing on my "spinner" bike, with similar results. Granted, I'm 52, but no matter how hard I try, I can't get MY high number over 179. It just seems to stop there (tapping on the HRM doesn't help, either. )

    My advice to you? The same as I've been telling myself: Everyone is different; my max heart rate is my max heart rate. A lower MHR doesn't seem to me to be something you should be fretting over, particularly in light of your average speed and perceived effort. It's just a number, which is affected by any number of factors - genetics NOT being the least of them.

    Think of it this way: What most other people your age can accomplish with heart rates in the 190s, you can do with a heart rate in the 160s. Your own, unique heart doesn't have to work so hard to 'get it done'. Consider yourself fortunate for that.

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    Dude who rides bike BikeInMN's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Summit
    Am I just a wimp?
    Your max HR has nothing to do with wimpyness

    I've got a friend who is quite fast and has never seen a HR over 165 on the bike. He just has a lower HR for a given power than others, simple as that.

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    Senior Member peterm5365's Avatar
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    Not to be the annoying guy who always brings up Lance, but I read somewhere that he can only maintain somewhere in the 160s while George Hincapie is prefectly fine in the 180s. They're only a couple of years different in age and no one could say either is in poorer shape than the other. Everyone is built different.

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    Quote Originally Posted by peterm5365
    Not to be the annoying guy who always brings up Lance, but I read somewhere that he can only maintain somewhere in the 160s while George Hincapie is prefectly fine in the 180s. They're only a couple of years different in age and no one could say either is in poorer shape than the other. Everyone is built different.
    Just to be a devil's advocate (), I'm posting Lance's stats (might be a couple years old...):

    Resting heart rate: 32-34
    VO2ml/kg: 83.8
    Max power at VO2: 600 watts
    Max heart rate: 201
    Lactate Threshold HR: 178
    Time Trial HR: 188-192

    Pedal rpm's during TT: 95-100
    Climbing rpm's: 80-85, sometimes faster when attacking
    Average HR during endurance rides (4-6 hrs): 124-128
    Average watts during endurance rides: 245-280 watts
    Training miles/hours, endurance rides: 5- 6 hrs / 100-130miles

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    Senior Member LordOpie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rich007
    Average HR during endurance rides (4-6 hrs): 124-128
    I'm pretty ignorant, but wow!

    FWIW, my "max" HR 2 yrs ago was 160, now it's 175.

    By "max", I mean the suffering described above. No formal testing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by kf5nd
    the 220 - age is only an estimate, and a crude one at that. max HR will decrease if you are overweight.

    and if you're not in good shape to begin with, of course your max HR is lower. it's not something you're born with, it's something you build. how long does it take you to ride 25, 50 miles?

    when you are at 167, how do you feel? at max hr, your muscles should be burning, you should be absolutely unable to speak, unable to continue, gasping for breath, ready to puke, in a great deal of suffering.

    if you're not that uncomfortable, you've not gotten there yet.
    Please correct me if I'm wrong but your max heart rate is what you were born with, you can not improve it with training.

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    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    I just got a hrm about a year ago and have been wearing it on various occasions.

    According to that guideline, my max hr should be: 220-37 = 183 bpm.

    So, I wore it while riding the trainer to see if I could hit a max hr on the trainer. I pushed myself so hard I was literally seeing red, heart pounding in my head, and gasping for breath ... max hr: 175 bpm.

    I was disappointed! After all, I've been cycling a lot for years and thought I'd register a higher max hr than that. I tried two or three times on the trainer to see if I could get it any higher, and I could not.

    A few months later I wore it on a hill training day. At the time I lived in Manitoba and hills in Manitoba go down, not up (ravines, not hills). The plan was that we would cycle down into the valley, climb the other side, turn around, cycle down into the valley, climb the other side, etc. The climbs were fairly steep - probably a 10% grade, and took about 15 minutes to climb, plus there wasn't much time in between each climb. In the interests of building strength and speed, I did the climbs standing and as fast as I could.

    My hr maxed out at 194, three times out there!

    I don't know why I couldn't reach that max on my trainer, but it did lead me to believe that trainer miles are so much easier than real road miles ... and that climbing, not riding on flat ground, is where a person is going to see a max hr.


    Now I've got a question for you ... when was the last time you went through a series of heart tests? I went through a set about 6 years ago, and am most of the way through another set now. Sometimes if you've got some damage (like a damaged valve), you won't be able to reach as high a max hr as someone else. If it's really bothering you, go see a Dr and have your heart checked - probably not a bad idea anyway before anyone attempts to find their max hr.

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    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Average HR during endurance rides (4-6 hrs): 124-128

    I'm pretty ignorant, but wow!



    That's normal ... isn't it? That's what my hr is on endurance events. It usually starts at about 135ish as I begin cycling, and then drops into that range once I settle into my pace.

    I've also noticed that my hr will be a little bit higher (128-130) when I'm riding in traffic, and then drops to about 120-124 when I'm riding in the country.

    I don't think you'd want it much higher than that, or you wouldn't be able to ride very far.

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    Senior Member LordOpie's Avatar
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    like I said, I'm pretty ignorant.

    But I'll ride 4-6 hours in 145-150... that's just where I'm comfortable at.

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    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LordOpie
    like I said, I'm pretty ignorant.

    But I'll ride 4-6 hours in 145-150... that's just where I'm comfortable at.

    Well, for 4-6 hours that might not be too bad, but I do 24+ hour events (I'm a Randonneur), and if I were to do those events with my hr that high, I'd be burnt out in no time.

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    nbf
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    I have been living the last few years with an average HR of 70, if I take it up from there I think I will burn out to soon For biking I think itīs to painstakingly slow to go below 145
    Look behind you - coming up!

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    Thanks everyone for your thoughts on this.


    Quote Originally Posted by Smokey
    Think of it this way: What most other people your age can accomplish with heart rates in the 190s, you can do with a heart rate in the 160s. Your own, unique heart doesn't have to work so hard to 'get it done'. Consider yourself fortunate for that.
    I like that explaination the best. Hope it is true!


    Quote Originally Posted by LordOpie
    FWIW, my "max" HR 2 yrs ago was 160, now it's 175.
    By "max", I mean the suffering described above. No formal testing.
    This is what I'm hoping isn't true for me. Since from what I've read max HR doesn't actually increase with fitness, if this happens with me I'm guessing it will have more to do with being able to take the pain than with my max HR actually changing (gets back to my wimp question - and I'm sure I am a wimp, but just hate to admit it).


    Quote Originally Posted by Machka
    I don't know why I couldn't reach that max on my trainer, but it did lead me to believe that trainer miles are so much easier than real road miles ... and that climbing, not riding on flat ground, is where a person is going to see a max hr.
    This is an interesting thought. The highest I've been able to drive my heart rate on the road is 166 (one bpm lower than on the trainer), and that was after intense all out climbing. But more climbing miles may answer this one for me.


    Quote Originally Posted by Machka
    Now I've got a question for you ... when was the last time you went through a series of heart tests? I went through a set about 6 years ago, and am most of the way through another set now. Sometimes if you've got some damage (like a damaged valve), you won't be able to reach as high a max hr as someone else. If it's really bothering you, go see a Dr and have your heart checked - probably not a bad idea anyway before anyone attempts to find their max hr.
    Never had any heart tests from my doctor. In fact haven't been to the doctor for anything other than a broken bone in over a decade. I've been healthy, and although I feel like I'm getting old at 32 years old, I don't think I'm at a point yet where they recommend tests unless there are known issues.

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    And so what I'm left wondering about it my appropriate training HR ranges. I've read a bunch of different views on this. Some based on percent of max HR, some based on percent of HR during sustainable TT-like efforts, some based on the phase of the moon, etc. Right now I'm focus on building aerobic capacity. During endurance rides that are for this purpose I try to keep my HR in the mid to low 130's. This correlates to 80% of the max I have seen and 90% of my sustainable TT-like effort - which seems to be the most common recommendations for the base building phase. Mentally I have a hard time accepting this low of a number, but my body seems to be happy in that range. I can ride there for a long time, but after the ride it does feel like I have done something.

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    Here's a different formula from my Sigma heart-rate monitor manual.

    210-(half age)-(0.11x body weight+4). That's the equation for men. For women, delete the four.

    This equation makes more sense because it has body weight as a negative factor. It also counters the arguement of those that have posted on the forum that reducing body weight is the same as reducing bike weight.

    This equation is a lot closer to my max, but my measured is still somewhat higher.

    Al

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    Quote Originally Posted by Al.canoe
    210-(half age)-(0.11x body weight+4). That's the equation for men. For women, delete the four.
    Interesting. That is closer for me. 172 from the formula vs. 167 observed.

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    Jackpot! I found a formula that nails my max HR spot on...
    220 - (days in lunar cycle) x (1/2 of age) / (1/4 of wieght) x 2.25

    I guess I should give up worrying about it and just ride.

    Thanks again for everyone's input!

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    Correct me if I am wrong, but like some of the other posters have said, I think that MaxHR is more or less fixed (although it's claimed that it goes down gradually over the years). What can be enhanced, by training etc., is the tolerance of clocking a high(er) HR over a long(er) period of time: you get used to 'suffering'.

    Another issue with establishing one's MaxHR is that your overall level of fitness, the length of the warm-up prior to 'hitting the ceiling' and the procedure of 'getting there' probably have their effect on the resulting number.

    Take these two extremes as an example: (1) You haven't been riding for a month, feel a bit ill, but nevertheless take your bike out for a ride. Two minutes into the ride, you spontaneously decide to engage in a short, brute all-out sprint. You hammer like there's no tomorrow, until you reach the imaginary finish line and see stars. Check your HR monitor.

    (2) You are half way a good training schedule, feel great and rested. You go out for a spin, warming-up for as long as you usually need it. After 30 minutes or so of steady, easy cruising, you gradually increase your effort, taking your time to get 'comfortable' in each next 'zone'. Your last jump is where you give it all (an elevation helps), until you have nothing left (and feel that you shouldn't have gone that far). Ease down, try to maintain control over your bike, and consult the MaxHR readout.

    My prediction: MaxHR (1) will be lower than MaxHR (2).
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    Quote Originally Posted by Summit
    Interesting. That is closer for me. 172 from the formula vs. 167 observed.

    It might depend on how you are measureing it. It's really tough to get to your max heart rate. I've only done it, at least I think I have done it, because I sometimes really like to push myself when I mountain bike. I've seen the same "max" three times over six months, so I assumed it was my max.

    In the literature I've seen where you should ride 3km at full bore. The max should be seen some time past half-way. Sounded too hard for me.

    Al

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    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nbf
    For biking I think itīs to painstakingly slow to go below 145
    Depends what you're doing. If you're racing, sure, you want to push yourself more ... but if you're doing long distances and want to last for hours/days, you might find it more manageable to ride a slightly lower heart rate. But of course, everyone is different.

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    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Al.canoe
    Here's a different formula from my Sigma heart-rate monitor manual.

    210-(half age)-(0.11x body weight+4). That's the equation for men. For women, delete the four.

    This equation makes more sense because it has body weight as a negative factor. It also counters the arguement of those that have posted on the forum that reducing body weight is the same as reducing bike weight.

    This equation is a lot closer to my max, but my measured is still somewhat higher.

    Al
    OK, that's even further off than the 220-age formula! Where DO they come up with these things!!

    For me:

    220-37 = 183

    OR

    210-(37/2)-(0.11x125) = 177.75

    Nevertheless, my hrm still recorded 194 as my max on three occasions, so I use 194 for my zones.

    I will add though that everyone IS different . . . and that I've been cycling seriously now for 15 years . . . and that on one of the echocardiograms I had, I was told that I have an athlete's heart (slightly enlarged - muscle more developed), so perhaps that's why my max is above the "usual".

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    Quote Originally Posted by Machka
    OK, that's even further off than the 220-age formula! Where DO they come up with these things!!

    I will add though that everyone IS different . . . and that I've been cycling seriously now for 15 years . . . and that on one of the echocardiograms I had, I was told that I have an athlete's heart (slightly enlarged - muscle more developed), so perhaps that's why my max is above the "usual".
    They come up with them empirically from data that's probably an average over many thousands of people. Since nobody (almost) is average, you can't expect the number to fit anyone except by coincidence. Your measured value may not be unusual, it might just be at the upper end of the usual range for your age (and weight?).

    Al

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    Quote Originally Posted by Summit
    I started road cycling about 6 months ago after years as a MTBer. About the same time I also started wearing a HRM and training more seriously. In most of the posts/discussions I see about max HR people seem to be at or above the standard formula calculations of what their max HR should be (220-age, etc), but the highest I have been able to get my HR is 167 bpm. No matter what I do, pushing as hard as I can, on the road or on the trainer, following all of the standard field test methods, or just all out riding - I've never seen a higher number. I know the formulas are generalized for the whole population, but at 32 years old I am so far below norm that it makes me wonder what is going on. Should I be reading anything in to this low max? Am I just a wimp?
    Your max HR goes down (not up as many people erroneously believe) as you get in better aerobic condition.
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