Q+A: Is my heart rate too high in my steady runs?

Our experts answer real-life questions

Posted: 9 September 2000
by Joe Beer

Q Following your advice, I did a treadmill test using a heart rate monitor to work out my maximum heart rate. The result was 177bpm. However, during 40-minute steady runs my pulse easily reaches 165bpm, about 94 per cent of max! Am I training too hard? (It doesn’t feel like it.)

A Heart rate monitors should, in theory, be easy to use and a great tool for runners. This isn’t always the case in practice, however. While heart rate monitors are all pretty similar, runners aren’t, and that can lead to some anomalies.

I suspect that you are a ‘high beater’. This simply means that your heart muscles beat at a faster rate across the various levels of exercise and training than your peers’ do. This isn’t a ‘bad’ thing, merely a personal idiosyncrasy that needs to be taken into account when planning and assessing your training.

The results of your treadmill test were interesting. If you really did reach your maximum effort at 177 heart rate then yes, you are training too hard every run. As you say, 165 is 94 per cent of 177, and an effort of 94 per cent of your MHR for 40 minutes or more would be incredibly debilitating, if not near impossible.

In fact, it’s best to get away from the idea at working at a percentage of your MHR anyway, and think instead about your working heart rate (WHR). You still need to find your maximum, but once you’ve got that, subtract from it your resting heart rate. To find the rate to run at – for example 75 per cent effort – simply multiply your WHR by 0.75 and add the resulting figure to your resting heart rate – that’s the rate to aim for.

However, I’d be surprised if you found your actual maximum during the treadmill test. While doing such a test your heart rate should reach its max during the second of two three-minute runs. However, unless your monitor actually logs your max – and not all do – you can miss it. One suggestion I’d make is that you try a proper lab-based maximal exercise test. In such conditions you should reach your real ‘max’, although it’s a pretty unpleasant feeling!

You could also try only breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth when running. This will automatically set you to an appropriate moderate intensity. Note your heart rate at this comfortable level, and use it as the basis for the majority of your running training.—Joe Beer, sports scientist and level-two triathlon coach

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heart rate, MHR, zones

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I measured my Max HR a couple of years ago via the 3x3min maximal thing. the answer was 182. I found that many of my training runs felt very easy (long slow runs at snail's pace and recovery runs almost walking).

Then one day I wore my monitor during a 5K race and discovered my HR reached 192. I adjusted my runs accordingly and they felt immediately more sensible.

Why is the advice always to set it on a treadmill (where there is no real incentive to run into the discomfort zone) rather than in a race (where there is?)

Posted: 27/11/2002 at 10:32

Presumably because not everyone who wants to establish their max HR wants to run competitively.

I would guess from your 192 reading that your max HR may in fact be slightly higher (mid 190s?).

In general, a race of length between 3K and 5K is ideal for a max HR test though. Especially if you've got some particular incentive for doing well - like trying to beat your mate, who's there just 10 metres ahead of you with 400 to go......
Posted: 27/11/2002 at 11:00

Only common sense advice on this was from our dear freind John Parker. you max HR is what you see. Tests are designed to flush this out, but they don't always succeed.

I thought that a maximal test was DESIGNED to get you into a seriously discomforting zone so not clear about yr comment. Reasons for using a treadmill:

you set the speed objectively, and increase it accordingly
If done in a gym there are others around in case of cardiac failure!

My max of 190 has been seen twice:
At the end of a 2k relay leg
during a full tilt 9for me) effort at a 400m after a club interval session.

I get to about 184 in a 10k

BTW my max HR is some 13bpm above the "formula"
Posted: 27/11/2002 at 11:05

My point is that for a maximal test the definition of 'flat out' is left to you - how do you know if you're really running to your limit? For me (at least) think there's always a bit more juice in the prune which can only be squeezed out in a competitive scenario.

For the last 7 or 8 miles of my last marathon I only just managed to keep in sight of the pacer I was trying to follow despite being desperate to catch him and crack the time I was aiming for. I failed, but I was running to the limit of my ability at that time - I know I could have gone no faster if my life depended on it. Without that incentive (the pacer) I could not have kept up that pace. So in a test against myself, being asked to run flat out, I simply don't think I'm capable of reaching my maximum.
Posted: 27/11/2002 at 11:35

I guess that we're saying about the variuos scenarios we describe - the last sprint to the line to catch some other runner really does push you. Only the Heart's too tired after a marathon or long session to reach its max - hence the need for a short run.

On a treadmill you need an unemotional scientific type to keep upping the speed - not just until you complaina bout dropping, but until you actually do!!!!
Posted: 27/11/2002 at 11:51

Highest heart rate I've ever recorded is 209 (which is pretty scarily high). I've reached that twice in the sprint finish at the end of a 10k race.

I've got close before, maybe 204 or so, just by running slowly up a steep hill in hot weather.

Posted: 27/11/2002 at 11:54

Not sure what a 3*3 treadmill test is, but if it's only 3 intervals it sounds too short to get your heart to its max. I'm not surprised you couldn't get your pace up at the end of a marathon, as you wouldn't expect to during such an endurance test.

I had mine measured during a so called graded exercise test where the speed of the treadmill (haven't been one since, thank god!) was increased every 3 mins, starting at 8km/hr and finishing at 15km/hr since that was as much as I could tolerate at the time. Got a max of 206 which I think if reasonably accurate as I've never gone above it; I've only reached it a few times like sfh legs, at the end of a 10mile race, and 5 k race, though the club interval sessions usually get me to around 200.

I think you're right in that having someone else or a group of people to push you along (most likely in a race I suppose) is more likely to generate your absolute flat out pace, but if you weren't well rested at the start, ill etc the reading you get could still be below your true max.
Posted: 27/11/2002 at 14:13

I have found that I am running alot faster since wearing my winter training coat that covers up my HRM while I am running.
During the summer I was too conscienous of going about 165\170 but now I am just running I have been hitting rates of 185 on fast bursts.
My resting HR is about 50 which is naturally quite low (I think).
Posted: 01/12/2002 at 13:10

I am 38 years old male.
Resting hr 58 appx.
my 3*3 test gave max hr 183.
Last 5k race maxed at 199.
regular steady runs ave 175 appx.
Have experienced sudden brief jumps to 206
calculations of what is within normal paramiters is confusing.
Are these rates normal or do I need to be checked out.Am worried the docs may decide just to put me to sleep.
Any advice welcome.
Posted: 24/04/2004 at 22:46

Good grief Gerry - where did you find this thread?
Posted: 25/04/2004 at 00:50

Gerry, it's not unusual to get odd readings (such as "sudden brief jumps to 206"). It is important to know what your max is though. Either way, the average of 175 for steady runs seems a bit high to me. A max of 199 with your RHR of 58 means your ave of 175 is about 80 - 85%. You may need to check that the chest strap is wet enough before you set off. I mention this because sometimes my monitor gives odd readings if I don't wet it thoroughly with my tongue. Also, make sure the strap is tight (not just comfortable) on your chest.
Perhaps you would like to try again to see what your max is.
Good Luck.
Posted: 25/04/2004 at 10:37

Ah, finally found a thread which says I am not abnormal (well ish).

Not done a max test yet but

43 years old
almost ex smoker
running 6 months
Resting HR 68
Regular steady around 165
Maxed at 205 after sprint at end of 2 miles
201 at end of last nites 5K, my first under half an hour
Did 10K bike then 3.6K run straight after. 140 on the bike but kept having to stop on the run as going through 190 even at crawling pace ie 12 min mile.

When I started Resting HR was around 100.

RUn your finger under the tap and wet the strap first though.

Hope the info is useful to anyone else.

Seeing cardio for extended palpitations of late, not so bad if off the booze and fags.
Posted: 29/04/2004 at 17:38

So if I, a terminally unfit 33 year old, jogged a ten and a half minute mile wearing my new HRM, strap thoroughly moistened, and managed to hit 232 while averaging 173 is that OK too? I'm clinging to the idea that it might not have been working properly, though this seems unlikely as I can get to 170 just walking with haste up an incline int he gymn.
Posted: 02/01/2007 at 12:48

This is an interesting thread for me, as I was talking a friend about HR zones yesterday.

I have a resting of 48 bpm, but I have no way of finding out my max(by that I mean I have done no tests and my HR monitor only gives average, not max). I have noticed, though, that on easy runs when I start off I get a reading of 230 sometimes! I'm sure there is something wrong with the HR monitor (I have made sure it has been wet and tight to my chest) but I noticed something when I take my resting HR - my heartbeat will go fast for 5-10 beats, faster than 1 beat per second, and then ease off to less than a beat per second.

Would anyone happen to know if this is normal?
Posted: 02/01/2007 at 16:13

The 232 sounds like a blip caused by an external source, like a power line, rather than a real HR reading. Mrs W's HRM blips at 230 and her max isn't anywhere near that.
Posted: 02/01/2007 at 19:09

I'll have to try it again tomorrow. I do remember looking down towards the end and seeing it very high. I suppose they're far from foolproof.
Anyway, it's a good motivation to pull ont he trainers.
Posted: 02/01/2007 at 19:21

I am not in a very good shape - life tends to leave no time for excercise. I am trying to get stamina for desert motorbike racing and general health reasons.

I run on treadmill and have a fancy Suunto T6 heart rate monitor that stores a log. My heart rate is ridiculously high. I'd like to know if I should ease up (if its dangerous or unhealthy) or just keep excercising and hope that it will start coming down.

For example today I ran 47 min which included 2 min walk to warm up 2 min to accelerate and like 8 last minutes to slowly bring it down back to a walk.

I run at steady pace and by minute 20 my heart rate was over 190 till like minute 43 min when I had alreadt slowed down quite a bit.

The highest heart rate was 198 (!)
Tonight was in no way exceptional - HR is often in these high numbers when I run - I did push a little longer today but didn't feel bad or anything. As I can keep the pace for 40 min it is not like I feel like I am killing myself.

Am I a freak of nature with a small heart or something and am I safe to keep doing what I am doing?

My rest heart rate is somewhere around 70 maybe lying down 65.
My stats are 29 yo, male 210 lbs or so 6'4"
Posted: 01/02/2007 at 22:57

Nice to know that I'm not the only one with this problem.

I've been running for just under 2 years now and find that whenever I know I'm being monitored (either by someone else or me) my HR goes up dramatically.I can feel myself thinking about it. Normally my blood pressure is on the low side but healthy and resting heart rate about 58, GP has confirmed I'm fine.

It was something I really used to monitor when I started running on recommendation of Personal trainer (He used to go a funny colour when my HR hit 190, even though I felt fine and it would go up to about 195). On recommendation of another trainer I've been told its just naturally the way I am, as long as my HR comes down when I work at a lower rate then not to get too tied up in it all.

I've been told to run at least twice a week without any monitoring as part of running should be knowing whether you feel comfortable in yourself. I can still tell when I've worked my backside off or had an easy run but I'm not getting too caught up numbers. I've improved dramatically since last year and from personal experience would recommend not getting to caught up in the whole numbers thing as with me it definately made me worse not better!!!

Plus I work in financial services so to be able to go running and not think about numbers is bliss!!

Posted: 04/10/2007 at 13:08


Can any-one help me.

I'm a beginner after ten years or more out of running, and I need to lose weight and get fitter to do the Great North Run in 2008.

I'm a 36 year old male, 5' 9 and 13 stone, I have already lost nearly 2 stone but my body fat is still high at 22% and my VO2 max tested at 31 which is low fitness.

The test was done on a heart rate moniter which leads me to the question about how best to train. I have tried running two miles as fast as  I can where I only stop when I'm out of breath and my heart rate go's above my 100% or a longer 3.5 mile run at 60-80% of my max heart rate but I find I'm walking more than i'm running and I find it a little bit easy.

Any comments are welcome, thanks

Posted: 03/12/2007 at 14:15

Hi Jason,

 I wouldnt bother about the HRM thing at the moment. I'd just try and get out and run at a pace that you could hold a conversation.  Do this maybe three times a week at a distance you are comfy with and try and increase it by say 10% each week - but listen to your body.

Get some base miles in and then think about the HR stuff.

Posted: 03/12/2007 at 14:40

Very pleased to hear others have the same problem - we can't all be about to have cardiac arrests? - I have been running for 6 weeks, trying for a 10 k in June and given an HRM for Xmas. First run I used it was amazed to find my max was 192 and average 169. Can't get past walking if I stick to 70% MHR and run comfortably for 20 mins at 90% MHR. And my fitness has definitely improved since starting out in November. So I think I'll ditch the HRM once in a while and just listen to my body - but use it to check progress from time to time (I started wearing it round the house and I am 64 bpm RHR generally, but can increase to 100 bpm just getting ready to go out for a run. v. strange.....). Comments from Dr's or other more experienced runners v welcome.
Posted: 05/01/2008 at 22:03

doesnt sound too far from the norm really - as you say dont worry too much about the heart rate.
you will find that as you get fitter - your heart rate will be less for the same pace . So your resting heart rate will fall too.
Posted: 05/01/2008 at 23:40

The rule-of-thumb formula doesn't bear any resemblance to my findings over the last few years.  I have been running since April 2005, and over the years have discovered that I have a max heart rate higher than predicted.  Here are my stats:

  • 38 years old, male, 176cm & 81kg
  • Resting HR 39
  • Max HR recorded 204

I first got hold of a HR monitor in late 2005 and started to find that my readings were well above what any general guidance suggested (mid 180s).  As my dad had just undergone a heart bypass op, I was almost at the point of going to the doctors to see whether it was doing me harm when I came across a Q&A on this site that seemed to address my concerns (http://www.runnersworld.co.uk/news/article.asp?uan=723).  After I read that I concluded that instead of being worried I should actually be quite pleased.

Hopefully I haven't drawn the wrong conclusions, but after 33 races to date I am still alive and improving my times year-on-year.

Posted: 17/07/2008 at 16:02

I have also been concerned over my heart rate during training. I've been using my HRM for a few years now, but haven't really trained to it, as following the formulas for what my  % effort should be leaves me with ridiculously low numbers that would preclude me doing anything more exciting than lacing up my trainers.

I'm 29, F, and overweight (though nearly 2 stone less than when I started running, so progress).My resting HR is 55-60bpm, but during my speedwork, it tops out at 220. 

Long runs or easy runs (which, I should point out, are exceedingly slow, around 13 min miles) give me an average of 155-165bpm which I can pretty much sustain over the marathon distance, but according to the normal figures of 220-age or even the Karvonen method, it's way too high for a long slow effort.

I've run a few half-marathons, lots of 10Ks and am training for my second marathon, but I need a medical certificate for this one, and my concern is that when I show my Doc my training stats, he/she is going to freak.

Is my heart rate too high? Or is this just my own idiosyncrasy which is perfectly normal and I shouldn't worry? Can anyone here reassure me?

Posted: 21/10/2008 at 10:14

I've been using a basic Polar HRM only occasionally for over a year now, mainly because I found its data on my cardiac performance depressing in light of how slowly I was running.  Just received a Forerunner 305 for Xmas and went out this morning to eagerly run 10K (well...9.8 Km).  I stuck to 11:30 min/mile as my LSD pace and felt great, no sign that effort was anything approaching 'high'.  I've just downloaded my data onto the Garmin training centre software, and seeing my heart rate plotted over time in front of my eyes has given me renewed cause for concern - started at 75 BPM, shot up to 160 over the first Km, topped out at 186, avg 173.  Forty-eight min of the run was apparently spent in HR Zone 5!  I'm willing to accept that I and the others on this thread are outliers from the general population -  I'm no hypochondriac and I'm generally healthy, but one thing that would be welcome on the thread is some proper medical comment regarding when one should be worried about these figures....I don't want to waste my GP's time over a non-issue.  Nevertheless, I'm going to do a max HR test this week.

My details: male; 31 yo; 87Kg; resting HR ~60; Predicted max 185; current weekly mileage around 12-15; Training for marathon next May! 

Posted: 26/12/2010 at 14:04


I'm not a medic and I expect medics have more important things to do than monitor all these threads by people worrying about MHR. Either ignore the formula and test your own figures or use it along with the accompanying text. For example the one on this site actually says, for men,

214 - (0.8 x age) +/- 24

That's PLUS OR MINUS 24. I make that 165-213 for you. Phew!!!

The formula is almost completely useless and I'm baffled why this site keeps peddling it.Mind you a lot of medics peddle it too and equally often omit the error range bit at the end...

Posted: 26/12/2010 at 15:10

I had been a competitive rower at a national level as a junior. Had always had a higher HR than my crew mates. Now I started running after a 22 years of doing nothing. Now get this. Twice did I hit 240 bpm! No HRM to blame. I used my mechanic chronometer to count my heart beat. I couldn't believe my eyes. The third highest HR I've ever scored was 192 bpm - not nearly as high as 240. I have no idea what might have caused that high of a rate. How can one survive it at all! I must be some god-damned alien, or somethig...

Posted: 27/07/2011 at 20:38

Yuri M, you might google "Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT)" and consider visiting a doc.
Posted: 27/07/2011 at 21:50

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