Low Maximum Heart Rate

by John
(Livingston MT)

I'm a 32 year old trail runner in Montana and I do all my runs on trails in the mountains. I'm training for a 50k run and I recently got a heart rate monitor to help prepare.

I went out to determine my max heart rate today. I picked a steep trail and after warming up for about ten minutes ramped up my pace until I was going flat out and kept going until I couldn't hold it any longer.

I repeated this 4 times and the highest my heart rate got was 151 (the results were 150, 151, 149, 150). Each time I spent 3-4 minutes ramping up and maxing out. My resting heart rate is 42.

I'm concerned because it seems like 151 is too low, and I feel like maybe I haven't actually maxed out. The formulas (which I understand to be inaccurate) say I should be at 184-188.

Could you tell me if my approach to maxing out was flawed? Should this be done on a track? Do I have to build up and hold max for a longer time? Should I simply spend the $$ and have a physiological test done? I've never heard of anyone my age having such a low max... do you know of any such examples?

I've always been a pretty strong endurance athlete and was a competitive mountain bike racer in college, so I don't feel like anything is necessarily wrong with me... just that I might be missing something in my approach.



Answer by Dominique:
Hi John,
Thanks for your question about your low maximum heart rate.

It is an interesting one as a maximum heart rate this low is very uncommon.

My thoughts on this are summarised as follows:

1. My protocol on establishing maximum heart rate
2. Potential explanations
3. If all else fails... Kool Moe Dee

My Protocol on Establishing Maximum Heart Rate

low max heart rate

I think your approach is pretty good. I have got my own approach to determining my maximum heart rate, which you can find on the max heart rate when running page. In short, I basically do a 15 minute warm-up. Then run a strong 800m. Rest for 30-45 seconds. Then run a 800m flat-out. Your max heart rate should be the heart rate you see when finishing the second 800m.

In general, anything that makes you go flat out for a sustained couple of minutes will drive your heart rate to maximum levels.

Potential Explanations

Possible reasons this might be happening....

1) Have you tested what your heart rate monitor says compared to the good old-fashioned approach of putting two fingers on your pulse and counting the beats for ten seconds? There may be an initial reliability issue with your new toy?

2) Running uphill pushes the heart rate up pretty high. But the only thing that might be playing a role is that if the hill is steep enough, your legs rather than your heart might be the limiting factor. It becomes a test of leg strength, more than a test of heart rate if that makes sense. So, as a first alternative - try to do the test on flatter grounds.

If all Else Fails... Kool Moe Dee

low max heart rate

If you believe your heart rate monitor is reliable and the test on the flat indicates similar outcomes and this concerns you... Just do what Kool Moe Dee suggested all those years ago... Go see the doctor. A full lab test should help you establish what your maximum heart rate is. If it really is that low, the experts might be able to give you some reasons as well.

Best of luck.
Kind regards,

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