The Problem with the 220 Minus Age Formula for Maximum Heart Rate

In this video, Coach Lindsay Parry from discusses the common practice of using „220 minus age“ as a predictor of maximum heart rate. He explains that this formula is actually unknown in terms of its origin and is considered arbitrary. Research has shown that there can be a significant error of 20-40 beats when using this formula. Instead, Coach Parry suggests using threshold heart rate, which is determined through a hard sustained run. He explains how to calculate training zones based on threshold heart rate and emphasizes the importance of using accurate heart rate monitoring devices for reliable readings.

Author Icon

Our Summaries are written by our own AI Infrastructure, to save you time on your Health Journey!

How does this happen?

Key Insights:

  • The formula of 220 minus age is commonly used to predict maximum heart rate.
  • The origin of the 220 minus age formula is unknown and considered arbitrary.
  • An error of 20 to 40 beats can occur when using the 220 minus age formula.
  • Heart rate drops as we age due to a loss of elasticity, but being active and training can minimize this impact.
  • An accurate measurement of heart rate is crucial, preferably using a chest strap for better reliability.
  • Threshold heart rate is preferred over age-related formulas for more personalized and reliable results.
  • Threshold heart rate can be determined through a hard sustained run and used to calculate training zones.


220 minus age is a common way for people to predict their maximum heart rate. I’m Lindsay Parry from, where we help you get fitter, faster, and stronger. Today, we are going to unpack whether 220 minus age is a useful predictor of maximum heart rate and if you should be using it.

So, where does 220 minus age come from to determine that maximum heart rate? I might ask you to sit down for this one because you might be shocked. It is actually unknown. No one really knows where that calculation or formula came from, and it is probably one of the most arbitrary numbers that has actually been derived for a physiological value.

There seems to be evidence that there was a small study done many years ago where they determined roughly that 220 minus age would give you a close ballpark figure to what your max heart rate should be. However, years later, those numbers were crunched, the data from that study was analyzed a little bit deeper, and it was actually found that there could be an error of anything between 20 to 40 beats in that particular value.

Now, let’s go conservative and think of 20 beats. If you had to do the calculation and you’re 40 years old and you work out that your max heart rate, according to this formula, should be 180, you now work out that that range with that error could be anything between 160 and 200 beats. So, think about how wide that range actually is and why we say that the 220 minus age is actually an extremely arbitrary number.

So, at, we really don’t like to use 220 minus age. In theory, our heart rate drops as we get older because of a loss of elasticity in the circulatory system and the cardiac muscle. But the more active you are in your life and the harder you train in your life, the less of an impact that has. In other words, particularly if you are, but not limited to, if you are active through your whole life, 220 minus age is going to become increasingly inaccurate as you get older.

We’re talking about values, we’re talking about target numbers. Yes, we do play around in ranges and zones, but all of this is only important or only really works if you are able to measure your heart rate accurately. So, how do we go about doing that? Everyone has a heart rate monitor, fancy devices. There’s a difference between a wrist-based unit and wearing a chest strap.

Now, I know a lot of people don’t find the chest straps the most comfortable. However, obviously, newer technology, newer chest straps allow for more comfort. But why that is important to have an accurate reading is just to make sure that an error, for example, doesn’t come into that reading and fits into that zone a lot better than erratic readings that you are going to get off a wrist strap.

Your wrist unit, if it is not tied properly, if you have hairy arms, for example, any of that sort of movement and friction on your wrist makes those heart rate readings quite erratic versus the chest strap that is a lot more accurate. There’s better contact, and your readings that you’re getting from that are a lot more reliable.

Alright, so now you know everything that we can teach you around age-related formulas to working out your maximum heart rate. You understand how to work it out, you understand the science behind it, and you also understand why we don’t necessarily like to use age-related heart rate max in here at coachperry.

So, what do we prefer to use? We prefer to use threshold heart rate. The reason that we prefer to use threshold heart rates is for a number of reasons. The first is that it is an absolute relative result for you specifically. So, ideally, again, you’re using a chest strap to measure this, and we’re running this threshold or you’re working out this threshold heart rate by doing a hard, sustained run, inevitably, a 3K or 5K time trial, or 5 mile or 8K time trial.

So, where you’re running for a hard, sustained effort for 30 to 40 minutes. From there, you’re going to get your average heart rate during that test, and that essentially would then be defined as your threshold heart rate. So, then work out your zones from that. Your zone two, in particular, we then take 80 to 85% of your threshold heart rate, and that is where you would be sitting to work into your zone two.

We have done an entire video on this, and so if you are interested in finding out a little bit more about threshold heart rates, you can click on the video on screen now. Thanks for joining us. Don’t forget to subscribe and hit the like button if you want to learn more about how to calculate training zones and how to use them. Click on the video on screen now.