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World renowned speed coach Bill Begg shares his vast knowledge of skating every week in his "Ask Bill Begg!" column on the Inline Planet.

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March 17, 2010

Is My Heart Rate Too High?

QHi, Bill: Recently, I was skating with some cyclists, and they were shocked to hear the readings from my heart rate monitor. Over a two-hour skate, my average heart rate was in the upper-160s, and my maximum heart rate was 190 (during some sprints and hill climbs). They were concerned that my numbers were too high. I am 38-years-old in relatively good shape, but I do have a tendency to go out a little too strong sometimes. When is an average heart rate during exercise too high? Should I ever hit 190 beats per minute at my age? They didn’t think so. Thanks for your help! - Jamie, Waco, Texas

Hi, Jamie from Waco: For starters, it's important to remember what maximum heart rate is: it's the maximum number of times your heart can beat in one minute.

The number varies from person to person and from sport to sport. Some elite athletes have maximum heart rates over 220; others, below 160.

Genetics is the main factor in determining maximum heart rate. But fitness and age also play roles. As we age, our maximum heart rate tends to decline, although less so if we stay in shape.

The popular formula for determining maximum heart rate is:

HRmax = 220 - age

In that case, you would be exceeding your maximum heart rate (220 - 38 = 182).

But don't pay much attention to this formula. It's full of beans. It approximates the average maximum heart rate for the population. But many people are no where near the average — nor should they be.

When heart rate monitors first appeared, I worked with two young skaters who averaged 206 and 208 bpm for more than an hour on a training skate. The prevailing wisdom was that the numbers were much too high and that these athletes should be in serious trouble.

But they were fine. In fact, one of them went on to race in eight World Championships.

Another of my skaters — an 18-year-old from Colombia — had a maximum heart rate of 160. It was so low that he couldn't complete a PWC170 cycling test, which requires subjects to reach a heart rate of 170 bpm.

He went on to win a world championship.

To a normal person, you're maximum heart rate may sound high. But don't let them slow you down — unless, of course, you have concerns about your heart. In that case, see a cardiologist. He or she can give you a cardiac stress test to determine your maximum safe heart rate (maximal heart rate).

My feeling about heart rate monitors is that they can be useful, but are not really necessary.

My daughter Nicole is certainly one of the fittest female speed skaters in the world. Yet she has never worn a heart rate monitor.

She has won medals at the World Championships in distances from 300 meters to marathon and she has earned the overall title for the last four years. But we have no record of either her resting or maximum heart rate.

Cheers, Bill

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