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What is Max Heart Rate and How Do I Adjust It?

Your max heart rate is the greatest number of beats per minute (BPM) your heart can possibly reach during all-out strenuous exercise. In this article, we’ll cover the basics of max HR, its impact on WHOOP data, and how to adjust it.

What is max HR and how does WHOOP calculate it?

Maximum heart rates vary from one person to another, and while it is not an indicator of physical fitness, knowing your max HR can be very useful when deciding what types of workouts or training you want to do.

WHOOP uses Gellish’s non-linear formula (192 - 0.007 × age²) to create an initial estimate of your max HR. You may notice that you are able to hit a higher max HR during a really hard workout. If this is the case and you believe that value to be accurate, you can now update it in the app.

Importance and impact on WHOOP data

Calculating max HR is necessary for heart rate training and understanding what your heart rate zones are. With that insight, you can calibrate the intensity of your workouts and better understand their impact on your health.

Impact on strain

Strain is calculated by the duration of time you spend in each of your personal heart rate zones, each established from your max heart rate. 

Each heart rate percentile range has a different weight impacting how much strain will increase. For example, if you walked casually throughout the day, your strain would most likely remain low because despite being active, your heart rate and cardiovascular load did not elevate.

Note: The longer your heart spends at an elevated rate, the higher your strain will be.

For more on strain, check out WHOOP Strain.

Viewing and adjusting your max HR

To view your current max HR, open the WHOOP app and navigate to the member profile by selecting your profile icon in the top left corner of the screen. 

In your member profile, select the all time tab to view your total number of activities, max HR, and peak day strain:

view_profile.png

To adjust your max HR, select the menu  menu_icon.png  icon from the bottom right corner of the navbar.

Next, navigate to activity settings, located under the account and settings menu:

settings-menu.png

In activity settings, select max HR to open the adjustment slider. Once you’ve adjusted your max HR, select save:

    
activity-settings.png    adjustment-wheel.png

Note: Max HR can be set to a minimum value of 120 and a maximum value of 220 BPM. If you aren’t sure, you can select calculate my max HR.

Once you’ve selected your max HR, WHOOP will alert you if your chosen value is unusually high or low based on an average range of members like you.
 

max_hr_high.png

 

Your chosen max HR may be a bit high. Recommended: select calculate my max HR on the previous settings screen.

 

Your chosen max HR may be a bit low. Recommended: select calculate my max HR on the previous settings screen.

 

max_hr_low.png

Finding your true max HR: Testing methods

The most accurate (and safest) way to find your max HR is through a VO2 max laboratory test. However, for individuals with a solid aerobic foundation and those who have experience with more intense bouts of fitness, a field test is another option

Note: We do not recommend this option for beginners. Beginners should stick with their existing estimate.

For optimal results, it’s best to perform this test when your body is fully recovered and well-rested.

Option 1: The 20-minute test

We recommend starting a WHOOP activity using Strain Coach to record your max HR during any testing option.

  1. Run for 20 minutes at a moderate to hard pace (for well-conditioned runners, the goal would be to run a 5k).
     
  2. Pick up your pace in the last kilometer (or about half of a mile). If you’re not running a full 5k, start to increase your pace during the final 3 minutes.
     
  3. For the last 200m or final 30 seconds, push yourself as hard as you can.
     
  4. The max HR recorded should be your absolute max HR.

Option 2: The 4x2 test

We recommend starting a WHOOP activity using Strain Coach to record your max HR during any testing option.

  1. After a thorough warm-up, do 4 repeats of 2 minutes at maximum effort with a 1-minute rest interval.

    Note: These intervals can be performed with whatever activity you’d like to use to set your max. Common activities include: running, swimming, cycling, and rowing.

  2. By the third set, you should be close to your absolute max HR.

Common questions 

Why doesn’t WHOOP use the 220 - age formula for max HR?

There are a number of formulas out there for calculating max heart rate. The most commonly used one is to simply subtract your age from 220.

However, this formula's widespread adoption is attributed to its ease of use rather than its accuracy. It was derived in 1971 from research on a very uniform population and has been shown in more recent and scientifically thorough studies to not be the most accurate estimate for the whole population.  

Instead, WHOOP uses the Gellish non-linear formula which has been shown to be more accurate across a more diverse population.

Is my WHOOP max HR my true maximum heart rate?

Your WHOOP max HR should be your max HR. That said, we are always refining our algorithms to be smarter and better because certain factors can change this and other metrics slightly.

How often does my max HR change?

Unlike your resting heart rate, which tends to decrease as cardiovascular fitness levels increase, your max HR remains relatively unchanged. 

Max HR does naturally decrease over time, so it’s worth retesting it every 3-5 years.

 

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