What if you go over your max heart rate during exercise?

ANSWER… It depends how far over you go!

Pretty much every app we use asks us for our max heart rate to work out or track our training zones so it’s an important bit of data. Most people decide to use the 220 minus your age for max HR, eg; I’m 37 years old, so 220-37 = Max HR of 183.

However when checking TrainingPeaks at my peak data, I managed to maintain 185bpm back in May for at least 5 seconds. So above my Max HR. What happened when I went over? Nothing really… I was probably pretty miserable and wanting the run to end at that point! 

When I started cycling and was introduced to the “smash yourself every second on the bike” mentality I was forever spending time above the 220-age number. Sometimes on a hill climb I’d go light headed because I couldn’t get enough oxygen into my body for the effort, which could be dangerous and is not advised! 

Takeaway: If you used 220-age it’s not going to be precise. We are all individuals with unique bodies and unless you’re massively above that number (I cover that shortly) I really wouldn’t worry, however if you’re concerned please go see your doctor and discuss with them. I highly recommend a Kardia device to do manual ECGs which a GP can use to diagnose a condition if you have one.

What is the best way to calculate max HR?

Assuming it’s to track your training zones for heart rate training, the best way is to test out your heart rate in a max effort session. This can be done in several different ways depending on the athlete.

One of the easiest ways I prefer to track Max HR (I’m not a fan of testing!) is to use the 5 second peak performance data analysis in TrainingPeaks. This will locate your highest heart rate peaks so you can analyse those runs/rides to make sure the data is valid. It’s just an easy way of tracking without needing additional tests adding into a training plan. 


max heart rate 210bpm

What if you go Really Far over your max HR?

As you can see from the image above, on this particular run (full details are on Strava if you’re interested here) I reached 210bpm. And it’s a solid line rather than jagged like the rest of the HR data. Many coaches would assume it’s a glitch, however that is true data (sort of). My Apple Watch I was using at the time was only able to record 210bpm at max, so my HR was actually higher than 210bpm.

What happened when my heart rate went to 210+bpm? Well that was a pretty horrible run when it happened, I could no longer run and started to walk. I thought it had returned to normal so tried to run again which is the second flatline. I gave up and began walking home however towards the end I wanted to just sit down and I had to ring my husband to meet me. I wasn’t far from the house but I was getting concerned I’d potentially pass out.

That run however is not standard for most people. Until this summer (2022) I had suffered with Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT), which basically means my heart had an extra electrical pathway which I was born with. Occasionally the electrical impulse in my heart would short circuit and spiral round out of control. In July I had the pathway burned away in a procedure called ablation, so I should never have an episode again!

If you think your heart is beating over it’s max of 220-age, if it’s a handful of beats then it’s most likely absolutely normal and nothing to worry about, however you can always see your GP if you’re worried. If your heart is beating way higher like mine was, then see your GP. It’s not necessarily anything sinister and is quite likely something similar to what I had and can be fixed with a simple procedure or medicines. 

Good luck!


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Jen Coppock
Jen Coppock
run & Triathlon Coach
llangollen, North Wales