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Date of last update: 10/20/2017.

Forum Name: Miscellaneous Cardiology Topics

Question: Reaching Max Heart Rate during exercise - Dangerous?

 jayoru - Tue Jan 13, 2009 1:35 pm

I'm a 44 year old man that is in o.k. shape. Usually at this time of the year, I pull my bicycle out and start training for some long distance rides that I do with friends in the spring. For Christmas my wife purchased a heart monitor for me. I was very surprised at the high heart rates that I reached during my initial 10 mile training rides. As best I can tell, my maximum heart rate is right around 176. For much of my ride, I was approaching 90% of maximum. I was rarely under 80%. On some of the hills I hit maximum heart rate (176)for at least a few minutes. I'm pretty sure that was my maximum, because it definitely wasn't going to beat any faster. I was pushing hard, but I didn't think I was pushing myself THAT hard.

Is it dangerous to hit my maximum heart rate during these training rides? Am I at risk of doing damage, or should I just keep training hard? I need to train farely aggressively to be able to do the rides and keep up with my friends. I assume this will happen less often as I get more training rides under my belt.

Thank you!
 John Kenyon, CNA - Wed Jan 14, 2009 9:29 pm

User avatar Hi there -

While there is nothing inherently dangerous in or wrong with reaching one's maximum heart rate during workouts (and this certainly is a workout), and some people actually routinely reach or exceed their maximum (the formula is flawed in that it is designed as a "one-size-fits-all" measurement), it's never a bad idea to have at least a cursory cardiac workup and clearance from your doctor before embarking on a serious fitness or athletic regimen. We try to promote this for high school and college athletes, so it shouldn't seem unreasonable for an apparently healthy 44 year old.

Again, everything else being equal, there's nothing harmful or wrong in being able to hit these high rates, although generally they tend to come down with time and persistence. Not always, however, as we are all different, some more different than others. Still, it might be prudent for anyone, prior to starting out on such a program (or at the beginning of any given "season" of sport or fitness) to have a doctor clear one before going in head-first.

On the up-side, you seem to be tolerating this very well, which is a slightly less scientific way of determining if there's a weak link anywhere in the system.

I'd be remiss to just tell you to go ahead and do this without the medical clearance, even though it may seem moot at this point. It sounds as though you're in pretty decent condition and will likely only get better. Still, humor me with this, if you would.

I hope this is helpful. Best of luck to you. Oh, and I hope you thanked your wife for the heart monitor. It's a really useful piece of equipment all throughout your training and competition phases.
 jayoru - Wed Jan 14, 2009 10:40 pm

Thank you for the response.
About 9 months ago I had a full stress test including the "fun run" on the treadmill and an echocardiogram. I passed all of the tests, so I should be good to go. BTW, I had the stress test done because I was feeling some kind of irregular heartbeat on occassion. Of course it didn't happen when I was on the treadmill or when I was wearing the 24 hour heart monitor prior to the treadmill test. Oh well.

The doc said my heart looked good and that I can feel comfortable getting on the bike.

Thanks again.
 John Kenyon, CNA - Thu Jan 15, 2009 12:14 pm

User avatar Then you, sir, are all set! Happy biking!
 fitsenior - Sat Jan 24, 2009 9:22 am

My question develops this one. I am a fit 63 year old woman. I attend the gym about 4-5 times a week, doing Bodypump x 2 and cardio work on the treadmill x 3. 80% of my maximum heart rate is 126bpm, but this does not feel like hard work. If I push it up to 90% (140) will I keep my heart younger, or wear myself out and be wasting my time? I really like reaching 100%(say 150bpm) for odd bursts, but am I likely to improve or damage my heart? This is of course the trouble with one size fits all formulae. This is really puzzling me and I would be grateful for an opinion. Thank you.
 John Kenyon, CNA - Sun Jan 25, 2009 2:25 pm

User avatar For fitesenior:

It sounds like you are in very good condition and so have raised the threshold of your exercise tolerance quite a bit. While I don't see any great problem with shooting for 90 per cent of maximum heart rate, and while hittin 100 per cent for short bursts is unlikely to, in itself, cause any harm, you can reach a point of diminishing returns, and when you operate at 100 per cent the problem is that you have no aerobic "headroom" left; you begin to build an oxygen debt which can actually detract from the improvement you might otherwise be gaining. I'd feel more comfortable knowing you keep your workouts limited to 90 per cent of maximum even if you feel find pushing farther. At some point you have to hit a limit, and at that point everything feels relatively the same -- good.

I hope this answers your question. Good luck to you and keep up the great work!
 fitsenior - Tue Jan 27, 2009 4:30 am

Thank you very much for this helpful reply.

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