My Heart Rate Is Too Low When Running


My maximum heart rate is 187.

I do variable distance intervals, tempo, long runs and recovery runs.

But my heart rate is too low - if I do intervals 400m or 800m or 1500m or tempos 3km-5km (or competition races 10km-25km) my maximum heart rate is 158-160.

I can't increase speed and heart rate. I do not have the speed for it in my legs.

Must I do more speed work?

My aerobic base is strong, I think - my long runs are 30-38km (4:50-5:00min/km heart rate 135-145).

But my intervals, 1500m, is 4:10min/km and heartrate is 158-160 and I can't do more.

I can do 20x200m(100m recovery 5:50-6:00min/km) intervals sometimes 3:20-3:30min/km (heart rate 145-155) or strides 6-8x100m 2:55-3:10 min/km.

I don't know why my heart rate is so low and does not increase - I want do VO2max intervals, but I can't do this.

And I can't increase speed in competitions or interval trainings, my muscles don't let me do it.

What do I have to do?

Answer by Dom:


Thank you for your running question. And great to get a question from Estonia. I feel quite privileged being able to "speak" to people all over the world about one of my favourite topics, i.e. running!

It seems like you do a lot of running. With a normal long run of 30-38km it sure seems like you have got a strong aerobic base.

There are a few possibilities here. I'll share them with you and I hope you will be able to work out what the problem is, if there is, at all, a problem...

How did you work out your maximum heart rate is 187?

In all your training, all you get to is 158-160. Even when you do tough workouts. Did your maximum heart rate get established scientifically or did you use one of the standard formulas to calculate your maximum heart rate?

If you used one of the standard formulas, then there lies the answer of your issue: the standard formula does not apply to everybody. It may very well be that your maximum heart rate is 160. It would maybe be low for your age, but it would not be impossible either.

A good way to establish your maximum heart rate you can find on my maximum heart rate page.

Now, let's assume your maximum heart rate is indeed 187 and has been properly established...

when you run your intervals, do your legs get heavy? Do you feel the lactic acid building up over time? Then you are doing intervals! Your heart rate is an approximation for the effort you put in. It may very well be that your heart rate (or your heart rate monitor!) does not react that much to your faster work because you have a very strong base. But do not take your heart rate as The Measure of everything you do. Go by effort, not so much by what your heart rate tells you.

OK, now let's assume your heart rate is 187, you try to do intervals, but you just don't get your legs to go any faster and that's why you can't drive your heart rate up... Then, that would possibly indicate you are overtraining. You might be doing too much. This causes your legs to feel tired and heavy all the time. When it comes to doing speedwork, your legs are heavy and you are not able to make them in to true quality workouts.
Now, that my friend, would be an issue!

I would urge you to apply more of a hard/easy approach to training. Hard one day (i.e. long run or quality speed workout), easy the other to give your legs a chance to recover.
Do that for a number of weeks and see if your speedwork improves.

As you see, quite a story and a few possibilities:

1) Your max heart rate is not 187 but closer to 160 --> No worries.

2) Your speedwork is at the right pace, but your heart just does not pick it up --> Again, no worries.

3) Your speedwork is suffering because you are overtraining --> Tone it down and give your body a chance to recover via the hard/easy approach.

Hope this helps you.

Best of luck and enjoy your running!
Kind regards,

Comments for My Heart Rate Is Too Low When Running

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Aug 06, 2010
Parathyroid disease
by: Anonymous

I had the same problem. My HR was very low, but my legs just ached even on an easy run. Turns out I had parathyroid disease. One of my parathyroid glands (which regulate calcium) had a benign tumor and was continuously calling for more calcium in the blood stream. My calcium levels were above normal and I felt terrible. The doctor operated and found an enlarged gland (you have 4), removed it and I feel much better now. See for a detailed info about this condition. Easy to diagnose, straightforward fix if that is what you have.

Apr 20, 2010
My low maximum heart rate
by: Anonymous

I do not think people understand your problem and I have the same one. My maximum heart rate is way too low. I never could increase my time no matter how many miles I ran. Leg fatigue prevented you from running faster and me too. I still ran a 10 minute mile no matter what. I went to a ear nose and throat doctor to see if it was my breathing. It was not. A pulimary doctor to see about my lungs. Not it was not. A exercise specialist and that is where I found out that my heart is not keeping up with my breathing. I was at total exhaustion at 73% of my maximum heart rate (220 minue age) Thus my heart is not pumping enough blood to my legs creating leg fatigue and why I could not increase my speed. Now I am waiting for all my test results since I just took the stress test last week.

Aug 11, 2008
Do not trust what the HRM says....
by: Dominique

Hi there again.
I would definitely not trust what your heart rate monitor tells you. Your maximum heart rate does not appear to be 187.

As for speed training: tempo runs and tempo long intervals are a great way to gain extra speed for the long distance runner.
I hope those types of running training sessions will help make you a stronger runner.

Kind regards,
Dominique (website-owner)

Aug 08, 2008
Again from Estonia
by: mehike

I don't know exactly my max heart rate - 187 is what I can see in my Polar RS800sd HRM.

I'm 37 years old and if I calculate my heart rate, then this must be 183, I think. I started my running training when I was 13-14 years old and my base is good.

But I don't do my trainings continuously, several breaks here and there. Sometimes a year or two when in my life there were some times vicissitudes.

In this winter I was 10 days out from running, sick, and after that then I start again running, then I see my maximum heart rate was 170, some training days (and in one competition 6,3km, then I run 1 and 2km 3:30min/km and then my legs was heavy and after that 4:00min/km tempo to end, but my heart rate was 168-170 all that time, in the end smaller)

And I do all time easy-hard way my trainings and three hard week and one easy week. Like is advised everywhere. Right now I think I must do some more speed work, intervals and tempos (but I must think that my max HR is 170?). I feel that in my legs is more power and speed but I cannot realise my full potential.

I do some changes in my training plans and do more speed, I think. Absolute speed I have a little, but I must do more LT trainings and tempos I think?!

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