McMillan running calculator states that your heart rate for speed work should be +90%maxHR. My heart rate takes about 45 seconds to rise from resting during track workouts.

  • Should it peak at +90%maxHR by the end of a 200 meter repeat that is 35-45 seconds?
  • Should it peak or average at +90%maxHR for longer distances?
  • Should it peak or average during the first repeats of a workout or later on?

Heart rate monitors are easy to use for a 20 minute tempo run but what about these shorter times?

Im asking about the dynamic change in heart rate at the start of a repeat like below. The 100m sprints arent even long enough I think to use heart rate...right? Here the maxHR is 184 bpm so 90% starts at 165.6 and Im just getting to that at the end of each 400m. Initially I thought 90% was closer to 170 bpm. Basically Im trying to hit 92-95% maxHR and Im wondering if Im chasing a ghost?

Heart rate during speedwork on the track

3 Answers 3


It means that, for example:

If resting heart rate is 50bpm and VO2 Max HR is 200 bpm (easy numbers), then your 'working heart rate' for the majority of your speed work should be 90% of your VO2 HRMax, (90% of 200 = 180 bpm).

Working heart rate is your average heart rate during the exercise. If you have a watch-style monitor readout then if you checked it during the sprints you would expect to see around 180bpm.

Using something like Strava Premium (paid service) or Garmin Connect (free with a Garmin HR Monitor) can help you understand how your heart rate changes through the exercise, eg:

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  • I added a picture to make the point that my heart rate isnt ramping up fast enough to use as you describe on the track. Thanks
    – Jason
    Sep 29, 2016 at 0:27
  • The more you do these workouts the flatter the peak will become, your heart rate will rise faster and peak at a lesser height. At the moment your body doesn't seem used to these workouts and is responding oddly. I'll do a interval session tonight and show you to compare.
    – John
    Sep 29, 2016 at 6:49
  • Have you done an interval session so that you can post a plot? Im interested in seeing it. Thanks
    – Jason
    Oct 20, 2016 at 0:39

This is what I've learned from reading a few books and researching online, but still have to experience using this theory for myself. I think using HR properly should allow you to improve your running and adapt to different running conditions - like the great running antoganists heat and high humidity.

One note on max HR. The value changes with fitness and actually lowers the better your cardiovascular system is. I suspected this for a few reasons of my own and finally have some confirmation here which points to a paper by Zavorsky, G.S. 2000, Endurance and possible mechanisms of altered maximum heart rate with endurance training and tapering. Sports Med 29(1):13-26

During sprint workouts according to Greg McMillan (2) you should not reach your max HR. One of these reasons appears to be the short nature of the workout. I think the HR curve over time during each sprint should be the same given the same effort and other physical conditions. This could probably be used to find your actual maxHR for running and can be used for targeting HRs for all other workouts.

This also makes sense for using a 12 minute test instead of a shorter time since an 8 min or shorter race should be at or above VO2max pace which will require being at an effort that should eventually reach maxHR. Reaching maxHR is probably a bad thing to do when testing physical fitness, and Im not sure if this means you will faint once reaching it or after staying at it for some amount of time.

For speedwork on the track the average HR should not be used due to the fact that maxHR cant be reached during sprints. The HR curve should level off given a minute or so and that level should be between 90-100% of your actual running HRmax. The actual HRmax is not the "220 - age" HRmax and I am doubtful that it is the HR that causes you to pass out regardless of the exercise used to come up with a number. Also it seems the HR curve levels off only approximately - not sure.

(2): YOU (Only Faster) Ch 19 Sprints, somewhere in the first few paragraphs


The % of your peaks and averages ccompared to max and resting HR may change over time. If you're in great shape and have been sprinting for two years on a regular basis, you may not see much of a change if your intensity has been the same.

If you take it after your first and then your final sprint, you'll get a good understanding how your HR is for that type of activity.

If you have a heart condition and are monitoring for health, then a Dr. Would likely recommend to measure at different times during the day... and then take it (and other tests) professionally in their office while in a controlled environment/circumstances.

  • This doesn't answer the question.
    – John
    Sep 27, 2016 at 9:09

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