I'm 52 years old.

My heart rate when I wake up is usually around 50 bpm. After getting out of bed my resting heart rate is around 60-65 bpm.

If I calculate my max heart rate (220-52) I get 168.

I recently used an Apple watch to get my maximum heart rate while doing jump burpees under a Tabata timing (20 sec. work/10 sec. rest) and the highest heart rate registered was 176.

168 and 176 are close, but I can feel a difference in intensity when the rate difference is around 10 bpm, but to be truthful, I'm thinking of something more like the difference between 155 and 165, where 155 feels much more sustainable.

Anyway, my question is whether I should use 168 or 176 for setting target heart rate for exercise. I'm specifically thinking of Tabata where I understand I should be getting up to the 90% of max heart rate range.

My taskmaster self says use the higher range. My over the hill self says the lower range stays out of the miserable range and probably will give me the training effect I want: stay fit as I age and have a descent 1 mile running pace when winter ends and I can get out to run.

  • What are your goals here? It's hard to make any sort of recommendations without knowing what your overall objective is.
    – Thomas Markov
    Mar 10, 2023 at 0:07
  • Last summer my pace for a 2 mile run was 8 min. per mile. I don't run in the winter so I'm doing the burpees inside. I would like to start up running again when the weather is warm, and have my 1 mile pace at least maintained at 8 min. or improved. Mar 10, 2023 at 13:57
  • In other words I don't want to loose my running improvements from the summer while waiting out the winter with no running. I'm trying to maintain or improve my cardio level over the winter. Mar 10, 2023 at 15:10
  • And do you think that targeting 168 vs 176 might make the difference between losing your fitness and maintaining it?
    – Thomas Markov
    Mar 10, 2023 at 15:15
  • Yes. That's in my question. And the part "168 and 176 are close, but..." explains why I would ask in the first place. Mar 10, 2023 at 19:14

1 Answer 1


First let's dispel a myth. The first maximum heart rate (MHR) formula was actually 212 - (age x .77). When the 220-age equation was questioned and investigated, it was found that the person who created it sampled ~ 11 studies and unpublished references and made it up. It got repeated because it was simple, but has a huge error rate.

Simply put, your MHR is as unique to you as a fingerprint. I'm 56 now and I can spike my HR into the high 190's when doing plyometrics and intensity exercises.

The best way for you to determine your MHR is to do a few different step or fitness tests and record your maximum heart rate, and then calculate your zones from that. There is a pretty good summary on BikeRadar that gives some guidance and better formulae, although they note even those have a lot of scatter. They also note that MHR is also somewhat mode specific, i.e. swimming will be different than running and so forth.

If you really want HR data to dictate your training, I would calculate from a few different formula and see what the difference is between that and your measured data and calculate from there. On a personal note, I am not a big fan of HR based training. HR can vary with what you ate or drank the day before, and it takes many seconds to minutes for a HR to react to stimulus. You also have HR drift, or the HR rising over time in long workouts. Same effort, but towards the end your HR says you are working harder, which may or may not be the case.

  • 1
    Yes, I read some articles about different HR calculations and something like +/- 15 bpm between all of them and an actual fitness test. I get the impression you would say 168 or 176 max hardly makes a difference. FWIW, I'm not checking HR during the workouts. I just did some tests to get baseline max and check the age formula versus reality. During workouts I go by feel. I back off the effort it took to get up to 176 to the feel that was around 160. Mar 10, 2023 at 19:30
  • @MichaelCurtis - Cool. I never use HR in a workout either, but I'm old school. Never trained with it, now it just seems strange.
    – JohnP
    Mar 11, 2023 at 13:36

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