Okay, this might sound like a stupid question, but bear with me.
I'm having questions about what my "real" HR Max is. I've read a moderate amount about different ways to calculate it (joel friel, etc.). But my findings are not consistent.
If I look at the maximum HR that I've had "at all" on my HR monitor in the past six months, it's 185. Twice 182. But they are standouts. Anomalies. Very consistently, my max HR is in the range of 166-175 or so. Every now and then it'll get higher -- maybe on four occasions in the past six months.
So, today I did a 38 mi ride. Very, very hilly. Several climbs are 2-7 mi continuous, with grades ranging from 3-8%. I'm giving it all I've got for a seven mi climb, pushing myself to my absolute limit to try to establish my HR Max. 170 is all I could get it to go! I just can't push myself any harder. That's it baby! On another day, I might get it up a little higher, but not much. I've only gotten it to 185 once in the last year. A couple of years ago to 187.
My question then is, which number should I use as my HR Max to calculate my zones? I've been using 182, but I don't know that that's the best, cuz my zones then all seem unrealistically high.
Do I go with 182 cuz I have hit that, and so "that's my maximum HR," or do I look at that as an outlier and maybe just compute a more realistic average of more typical maximum HR's over the last year or so?
I'm 55. I put in about 150-160 miles per week, and those are pretty consistently the types of #s I get.
2006 Specialized Ruby Pro aka "Rhubarb" / and a backup road bike
Consider finding your threshhold HR (not max) and calculating zones from that.
The highest heartrates I achieve on rides vary tremendously even on the same route. Caffeination, how rested I am, dehydration, time of day, temperatures all have an effect.
My heartrate on a cold winter morning where I am fatigued from previous days' rides, skipped coffee, but am hydrated I will have trouble getting over 165.
On a hot summer afternoon after plenty of coffee, rested, but a little dehydrated, I will see 182 at same perceived effort.
I hit my highest heart rates after riding briskly for about 20 minutes, then climbing a steep 50-second hill where I must stand to climb and use every muscle to get the pedals to move. ~187bpm.
I upload my HRM data online post-ride to do analysis, I usually don't look at the bike computer during these max efforts.
Many people calculate their zones from their lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR). There's a sticky on this forum telling how to find that, plus there are many other online workouts for determining LTHR. If you want to base your zones off MHR, the simplest thing is to take your LTHR and divide by .9. That's probably closer than you can get by testing, assuming that you got your LTHR right.
If you are holding 170 on a 20 or so minute climb, you can use that as your LTHR, which would give a MHR of 188, so maybe you're not holding 170, maybe 165? That would give a MHR of 183, which seems to be your experience and would be consistent with your age IME.
I always thought that, barring some weird heart rhythm, that your max heart rate was the highest HR you can generate. Maybe I'm missing something.
Most people find obtaining their max HR to be an unpleasant process, which is why we don't obtain it very often. When I feel like blowing chow, tossing my cookies, and puking my guts out, I know I'm closing in on it.
7 mile long climb is a bad place to establish a HR max. It's too long, you have to go aerobic and you get something closer to LTHR than HR max.
The highest HR I recorded outside the house was on a short hill, about 0.1 mile long and averaging 8%. I hit the bottom of the hill at 20 mph and try to keep 20 mph all the way to the top. If I start sufficiently warmed up (with HR above 150), I end up in high 180's at the top.
The highest number I recorded, period, was on a stationary trainer doing intervals.