Sports Coach Logo Sports Coach Training Principles Fitness Components


Maximum Heart Rate Stress Tests Heart

Many athletes with a history of sports since their early teens have a higher maximum heart rate than the mathematical calculation of their maximum heart rate based on age. A stress test should be conducted to determine your maximum heart rate.

Maximum Heart Rate Stress Tests

Anyone who has undergone a stress test will know that it is not easy. Although relatively short, a stress test requires you to push your body and your heart to the very limit. Before undertaking a stress test, you should be sure of the following:

  • you have not suffered from any cold, flu, stomach bug or other illness in the last six to eight weeks. In this period, the body could still be fighting the last of the infection, and the effort of a stress test could leave you prone to a more severe condition. If in any doubt, check with your doctor
  • you have not raced in the fourteen days before a stress test and at least four to six weeks following a marathon or more if you have not yet fully recovered from your efforts. A tired heart and body will not achieve the maximum
  • in the final week before a stress test, it is crucial to recovery run - that is 70% maximum of your current age-adjusted heart rate

Do not undertake a stress test:

  • with any hint of an injury. Ensure all old injuries are fully repaired before deciding to conduct a stress test
  • if you have less than one year of running experience and are sport active for less than three hours a week, you will not be fit enough to take the strain of a stress test, let alone achieve a reliable result

I hope you get the idea that a maximum heart rate stress test is not easy. It is the limit of your heart and body's capability and should not be treated lightly. Anyone overweight or over 35 is advised to see a doctor before a stress test.

The tests will require you to wear your heart rate monitor (HRM) and preferably one capable of recording your heart rate. For both these tests, it is essential to warm up thoroughly. It is best to record your heart rate as often as possible - preferably every second or every 5 seconds. If your HRM does not have a recording facility, it will be necessary to keep glancing at your monitor to find your highest heart rate.

Stress Test 1

For this test, you need a good hill. The hill needs about two minutes to run up and sufficient gradient to ensure you are breathing hard at its summit. The test begins around five minutes of running time from the hill. Gradually accelerate towards the hill achieving 85% HRmax (for the first time) at the base of the hill. As you hit the hill, maintain your speed by increasing your effort. Your heart rate will rise, and you will tire. Without falling over, keep an eye on your monitor and make a mental note of your highest heart rate as you work towards the top of the hill.

Stress Test 2

For those unfortunate enough to live in an area lacking hills it is possible to carry out a test on a flat piece of road or at your local running track. The plan of attack is to run 800 meters very quick. For the first 400 meters run at up to your current 90 to 95% HRmax (to be achieved by the end of the first lap), and for the last 400 metres, go for it. During this second lap, you must work at 100%. Very fit athletes may have to repeat this test after a few minutes of active recovery to achieve a true maximum. This test is very reliable.


A stress test should be conducted every six months to ensure your training zones' ongoing accuracy. Many athletes do not achieve their actual HRmax initially as they are either not fit enough or are running tired.

It is worth noting you will have other maximum heart rates for different endurance sports, such as cycling. This is due to the number and size of the muscle groups used. Running uses the largest muscle groups in the body and has the highest heart rates associated with it. Cyclists will need to carry out a maximum stress test for that sport to obtain their cycling maximum.

Having determined your maximum heart rate, it is now possible to calculate your heart rate training zones.

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (1997) Maximum Heart Rate Stress Tests [WWW] Available from: [Accessed