Running test to find your max heart rate

Heart rate training is becoming increasingly popular with many types of athletes, and for good reason. Heart rate training provides clear metrics to different training paces and can prevent runners from under or overtraining. However, for heart rate training to be successful, the athlete must know their maximum heart rate. Many estimations of max hr, like 220 – age, are inaccurate. Heart rate is highly individualized and if an athlete isn’t 100% sure about their maximum heart rate, their training can be derailed.

Explaining the VO2 Max Test:

One of the most common tests of maximum heart rate is a VO2 Max test. This test is conducted on a treadmill in a lab that is overseen by exercise scientists. It can be carried out in a variety of ways. Most of the time the athlete runs on a treadmill for 3-minute bouts with either the pace or incline to increase to slowly increase their effort. If the incline stays constant and the pace increases, then the treadmill is set to a 1% grade at the start of the test to simulate outdoor conditions. In between each 3-minute bout, there is roughly a 10 second rest period where the scientists will prick the athlete’s finger for blood to test the concentration of lactate acid. Throughout the test, the athlete will wear a mask that measures the amount of oxygen they are consuming, and a heart rate monitor connected to a watch. The VO2 Max test is a procedure that is designed to be completed to failure. In other words, until the athlete can’t run any longer and has to drop out. This test allows the exercise scientists to collect three measurements: lactate threshold pace, max heart rate, and VO2 max. Since the test is an all-out effort, the athlete’s maximum heart rate is achieved. While the VO2 max and lactate threshold measurements require advanced equipment, the maximum heart rate measurement can be easily replicated outside of a lab setting.

In its simplest form, the VO2 Max test is an all-out effort, which is what is required to reach maximum heart rate. This means that if an athlete can produce an all-out effort, or close to it while wearing a heart rate strap then they can achieve the same results. Keep in mind, however, that not every all-out effort is the same when it comes to heart rate. For example, while a marathon is a grueling ordeal, an athlete will likely never reach their max hr during the race because it is simply too long for that sort of stress to be sustainable. In an 800m race though, it is long enough but intense enough that the athlete will reach their max hr.

The Field Test:

What you’ll need:

  1. Heart rate strap
  2. Watch that can read heart rate strap
  3. A long steep hill, preferably one that can be run for 1-2 minutes


  1. Start with your normal warmup for before a race or workout
  2. Do 10 minutes at tempo pace to elevate your heart rate
  3. Run up the hill at a fast pace
  4. Jog down
  5. Run up the hill at a pace where you feel like you wouldn’t be able to sustain it if the hill was any longer
  6. Jog down
  7. Run up the hill at as hard of an effort as you can for as long as you can, even if you can’t finish the hill
  8. Stop the activity and check your watch for your maximum heart rate during the run, this is your overall max hr