I recently joined a gym, with the sole purpose of getting fit. In my induction I had a checkup and had a resting heart-rate of 99. After a few months I'm down to 64, which is far more normal of course. However, when I'm exercising it shoots up incredibly high.

While cycling or on the cross trainer I can work pretty hard with it remaining about 150-160, which is probably still a bit high, but considering I was told around 140 as an ideal rate, I'm hoping as my fitness improves I can remedy that. But I started doing a couch to 5k program, and that's where the bigger figures came from.

So far I am only in to week two, currently running (it's not flat out, 9kph on the treadmill), where I have to run for 90 seconds then rest for 120. After the run, my heart rate is way up above 180, once almost 190. After resting for the two minutes it's usually back down to the mid 160s. I told this to my advisor and he said that's too much, especially considering my family actually has a history of heart problems (my dad had a heart attack in his 30s, angina, etc).

I am 28, 6'2" and 250lbs, so obviously I need to lose around 50lbs, but while running I don't feel I can't manage it. Yes it's quite hard work, but I can do it. But obviously I don't want to wreck my heart! I read this: Is this heart rate too high for a beginner runner? and read about how in some schools of thought it should be between 60% and 90%, so I'm wondering if it's still possible to run, as the couch to 5k program only last about 20 minutes per session?

My question is this: I trust my advisor, and I will probably take him up on the offer of some personal training for some more in-depth advice on how to best push myself without hurting my heart, but has anyone else been in, and overcome, a similar situation before? Is it a case of dieting and doing exercises that don't max my heart out for a while until I'm fitter so that I have less weight and can run without it peaking so much?

The main thing I think that's confusing me is that when I stick to the heart-rates suggested to me, I just don't feel like I'm working hard at all. I don't want to be a body-builder, I just want to lose weight and improve my fitness, with a long-term goal of being able to run 10k in one go. Any advice or links to reading so I can further expand my (admittedly minimal) knowledge before I fork out for PT would be most gratefully accepted.

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    You may want to note the 2nd answer of the question you linked. Age is by no means an accurate way of estimating maximum heart rate, and if that isn't accurate, the rest of your numbers aren't worth anything either. The old 220-age nonsense has such a large amount of error it's basically worthless. The "best" (not "good", but probably the best you'll get short of a CST) equation 191.5-(0.007*age^2), which has an error of about ±5 puts your max at somewhere between 180-190.
    – Compro01
    Commented Mar 13, 2014 at 14:35
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    @Compro01 - I'm confused. You say that age is not accurate way of estimating MHR, then you recommend a formula using age as a metric? (Although you are completely correct on the 220-age tripe).
    – JohnP
    Commented Mar 13, 2014 at 14:52
  • @JohnP - Age isn't a good method, but it's about the only one available short of a CST, so we use what we have.
    – Compro01
    Commented Mar 13, 2014 at 15:15
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    @Compro01 - Granted, good point. :) Although, I might recommend 205.8 − (0.685 × age), as that was deemed the least objectionable in a 2002 survey study. ( uni.edu/dolgener/cardiovascular_phys/Electronic%20Articles/… )
    – JohnP
    Commented Mar 13, 2014 at 16:07
  • My assumption would be that 190 for 90 seconds isn't a dangerous HR for a 28yo, but it would indicate being near your maximum exertion, which does depend on your fitness level. Since this is an old question, can you give some feedback on how did this work out in the end? Did you notice improvements as your fitness level was improved?
    – vgru
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 13:42

2 Answers 2


It's not clear what training your advisor has, but it would be a great idea to consult with your physician, especially if there is a family history of heart problems. If you physician has concerns, she might order an exercise stress test to look for possible cardiac issues.

As for your question, if you are just starting an exercise program, it's a good idea not to work out too hard when you start out. If your heart is healthy, you aren't in danger of hurting your heart, but you can easily overuse the rest of your body. I'd also be careful about run hard / walk intervals when you are just starting out.

However, you have said that when you are exercising at the suggested heart rate, you don't feel like you are working hard. That suggests to me that your maximum heart rate may be higher than average. A lot of exercise programs are based on a perceived exertion scale instead of heart rate to avoid this problem.

I agree with the others on the values of typical equations for heart rate training. The best way to set heart rate ranges is through an actual field test (something like a 20-minute all-out effort), but that's overkill for what you are doing.

My advice is just to see your doctor, and then stop overthinking about your heart rate and go based on how you feel. People did that for a long time with good results.


I think you may be overdoing the run, even considering your weight and training history. When they say run in the typical couch to 5k (c25k) program, they merely mean a jogging pace. If you ARE doing nothing more than a jogging pace and still hitting heart rates that are that high, I would go for an actual clinical stress test. (That's probably not a bad idea anyway, with the family history).

On a personal note, I am not a fan of training by heart rate. I don't believe that people should base training on a metric that can change dramatically by what you ate or drank the day before. If your heart rate is elevated 10 beats because of stress and dehydration, you aren't working as hard as you think you are. I much prefer perceived exertion, i.e. how hard you feel like you are working.

As far as your advisor, I would be interested in his clinical background, to where he can confidently assert that he can train you without hurting your heart. If you haven't already, I would highly encourage you to get a physical and talk over your concerns and family history with a medical doctor. That way you KNOW you have a clean bill of health to be working out.

  • Maybe so, but if I went any slower it would just be a fast walk I feel. Maybe that's the point though as I said - I'm not in the condition to run at all yet? And no maybe heart rate isn't great, but if I'm hitting 190 for extended periods this can't be good, surely, even if I feel ok? Thanks for the answer - some great points. Commented Mar 13, 2014 at 16:02
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    @LeonardChallis - It's all relative, I have extended periods on the bike or doing long runs where I'm at 170+. Since you are at the slow jog/fast walk and still hitting those HR's, I would emphasize the need for a doctor physical and clinical assessment, especially considering your personal and family history.
    – JohnP
    Commented Mar 13, 2014 at 16:08

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