maxium heart rate stress test for runners

Maximum Heart Rate Stress Test for Runners

Why do you need to do a Maximum Heart Rate Stress Test?

An essential part of every runner’s plan is knowing how fast or slow to run for any particular exercise session. This is learned from experience – “what does this level of effort feel like?” – and guided by heart rate training zones. One of the most common ways to determine heart rate training zones if a runner doesn’t have access to a lab (which is most runners!), is via a Heart Rate Zones Calculator, which requires you to know both your Maximum Heart Rate and your Minimum Heart Rate.

If you have access to a reliable heart rate monitor, it’s really easy to measure it properly with the Maximum Heart Rate Stress Test. Although perhaps “straightforward” would be a better word than “easy”, because as you can imagine, getting your heart rate to top out requires a fierce effort. If you don’t have a chest strap HRM, it’s worth having one for this test, or ask around – someone you know may let you borrow theirs. Wrist based HRMs often have trouble locking on to pulse at the highest effort levels.

If you don’t have access to a heart rate monitor, you’ll be restricted to guessing your maximum from the general average of {220 – Age}. So if you are 40, the maximum is on average around 180bpm, but this can be way off for some people. For example when I was 45, my maximum via the stress test on this page was measured at 189, but the {220 – Age} would suggest 175bpm. As you can see it’s best to get a proper chest strap heart rate monitor to determine your maximum heart rate via a stress test.

If you would like to home in on your Zone2/Z2 heart rate for optimal fat burning adaptations and are comfortable with running for 75+ minutes, then also do the Heart Rate Drift Test soon.

Before you perform a Maximum Heart Rate Stress Test

Before you do a maximum heart rate stress test, you should stop and think about your health and safety. You need to be in good shape and have been running for a while. Beginner runners, especially older ones, should just guess their maximum heart rate.

Hitting the upper limit of what your heart is capable of is called a stress test for a reason. If you have been ill recently or are tired from general lack of sleep or recovery from racing or a tough training block, now is the not the time to do a stress test. It won’t give you the right information and risks your health. Save it for when you are prepared. Plan it for when you have an easy week of running leading up to it. Agreed?

How to perform a Maximum Heart Rate Stress Test

There are various versions of this test – I’m sticking with one that anyone can do, regardless of where they live, since it doesn’t require a hill.

Warm up.
Run 400m pretty fast.
Run another 400m flat out.
Check MaxHR!
Warm down.

First, warm up. You want to be properly ready for this. Run for 2 minutes easy and then 10 minutes at a medium pace, gradually letting your heart rate rise. You should be feeling relaxed, warm and ready to run fast.

Run 400 metres at a fast pace – remember that you have to do 800 total!

Run another 400 metres flat out. When you feel yourself starting to fade, glance at your watch / heart rate and hang on in there as long as you can. You’ll no doubt slow in the final 100 metres.

Catch your breath for a few seconds and then warm down for as long as you want.

Save your activity and check your maximum heart rate. If you are super fit, you may have to do the 800m bit again before warming down to find your true highest reading. Plug the number into our calculator to determine your heart rate training zones.

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