The calculation of the heart rate is a very common used method to determine the training intensity. But it represents a very general approach that doesn’t consider individual aspects of the respective athlete. The following lines will explain why it is not possible to determine the training intensity with heart rate calculating formulas.
Heart rate calculation – common formulas
For the heart rate calculation there are different formulas, like the ones from Karvonen and Baum/Hollmann. According to Baum/Hollmann the target training rate is equal to 180 – Age. A 30 year old person would then have a target training rate of 180 – 30 = 150 beats per minute.
According to Karvonen the target training rate is calculated as:
Resting heart rate + (maximum heart rate – resting heart rate) x intensity +/- 3 beats.
The resting heart rate can be determined after a 10 minutes resting period in lying position or 5 minutes after waking up lying in the morning. For the maximum heart rate we need another formula that varies among different kinds of sport. For running we would have to calculate 220 – ½ of the age and for cycling it would be 220 – the age.
Now the 30 year old athlete would like to go running at an intensity of 70% and calculate the heart rate for the training. The resting heart rate of the athlete is 70 beats per minute. The calculation would be:
70 + (220-15-70) x 70% +/- 3 beats = 164.5 +/- 3
According to the formula the athlete should run at a heart rate of between 161.5 and 167.5 beats per minute.
Heart rate calculation – problem
Both formulas don’t consider that the maximum heart rate is a very individual property that varies among each and every one. Even people of the same age have different maximum heart rates (also see optimal exercise heart rate). We can’t work with fixed values in that matter. To determine the individual maximum heart rate the respective athlete would have to do a maximum capacity test and measure the frequency. This would mean we would have to go to our individual limit what usually should be avoided. But in terms of training evaluation it could be a helpful measure. And if not performed too often it can be accepted. Here you learn how to determine your maximum heart rate.
For example if the 30 year old athlete had a maximum heart rate of 220 beats per minute and would be working out at a rate of 150 this would represent an intensity of 68.2 %. If he just had a maximum heart rate of 170 beats per minute he would work out at an intensity of 88.2 %. This represents a huge difference and shows that general values cannot be applied for the calculation of the heart rate.
There are much better ways to determine the intensity level without the calculation of the heart rate. We could either measure the heart rate and compare it to our maximum value or we can use the rate of perceived exertion. Experts recommend to even work with both methods complementary.
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