Question: I’m 28 years old, and according to the formula, my maximum heart rate should be 192. I’m in good shape from cycling, hiking and rock climbing, but in spinning class I struggle to reach even 80-85% of max HR. Then I feel sick and almost throw up. What’s the matter with me? — Kay M.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: I’m puzzled about why you would want to reach max heart rate in an exercise class. There are more effective ways to improve fitness — and they don’t hurt as much!
The “220 minus age” formula (assuming that’s what you’re referring to) for predicting maximum heart rate is next to worthless for most individuals.
Max HR can vary dramatically among people of the same age. If you’re feeling ill and about to lose your lunch, that’s probably saying you’re very close to your max. Or, maybe you’d better avoid pastrami on rye 30 minutes before class.
If you really want to train by heart rate, you should find your true max HR in a lab or on-bike test. Then you can set up exercise zones.
One other point: Too many endurance athletes have become dependent on heart monitors and power meters. We obsess over the numbers we see on the little screens without really knowing what they mean. It’s a kind of “measurement fixation.”
If your training program says to do 20 minutes at 85% of max heart rate but you can’t force yourself to last that long at that intensity, it tells you some important things.
It may be a sign that the exercise zone is wrong or your max heart rate is incorrect. Or maybe you’re just having a bad day. It’s crucial to learn how to interpret these feelings and then adjust your workouts, rather than blindly forging ahead.
In short, just because we can measure something doesn’t mean it’s important.