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Specificity of training and functional versus age-predicted maximal heart rate

Many novice exercisers find that they are like many masters athletes who have a much higher functional maximal heart rate (HRmax) than their age-predicted heart rate max.

Most people have an actual HRmax that is higher than the predicted values used by the machine used for the testing calculated in its calibration equations. Even though the age-predicted equations are commonly used they, as I write about in Fuel Up on pages 144 - 146, have a margin of error of + 12 to 15 beats per minute.

Finding your functional maximal heart rate - the highest heart rate your body can attain - can be found using a heart rate monitor and recording how high your heart rate goes during training. If it is higher than your age-predicted values than it lets you know your HRmax calculation is low and under-estimates your capabilities.

The assumption the age-predicted HRmax (220-age for males and 226-age for females) makes is that for every year we age our CV and heart function decreases. The major limitation with the age-predicted HRmax is the assumption that the drop in CV function is due to aging.

The drop however does not follow for individuals who have been active their entire life. I have masters athlete friends who have been active and competitive for five and six decades and more who have HRmax values well above their age-predicted value. One friend who began racing at age thirteen and has won three masters World championship titles and is still racing in his late fifties has a HRmax above 190.

Often for active seniors who have been athletic their entire life their HRmax is higher and proves that while the age-predicted HRmax works for the general public the drop in CV function is more due to their sedentary lifestyle than due to aging. In fact, with an active lifestyle and healthy diet you can slow much of the age-related drop is physiological function seen with advancing age. But I digress.

Possibility number two is that you were tested on a bike while your main focus of cardiovascular training presently is walking and in the past was running. The theory of specificity of training basically states that the form of training you perform will elicit the greatest adaptations and the highest fitness level compared to other activities from the same fitness category.

Even though both cycling and walking or running are cardiovascular, aerobic endurance activities the muscles used and how they are used are quite different. So while both cycling and running train your heart (cardiovascular system) the muscles are recruited (used) differently in each activity and therefore your VO2max would be high in walking / running activities and tests than in cycling. Cycling under-predicted your lactate threshold and therefore your LT heart rate.
Written by Dr. Sternlicht for www.jeffshealthclub.com on
2.07.06