Maximum Heart Rate

How hard should you push yourself during tennis or any cardio exercise?  Some experts espouse an accepted maxim that may – or may not – be true.

Don’t Push It!

Talking with a cardiologist as he reviewed my echo cardiogram a few years back, he said I should STOP playing singles, especially in the Florida heat and not let my heart rate go too high.  “What are the signs I should look for?” I asked.  “You will die.”  was his reply.

When I asked how high I should let my heart rate go during exercise, he used the “accepted” formula …

  • 220 minus your age
  • (for me, at the time, 220-70 = 150)
  • Multiple by 85%  (for me 130-135)
  • And that equals your “maximum heart rate”

True and Accurate?

So I hopped on Amazon and ordered a heart monitor, which I wore in my next singles match.  After a long rally (where I was not breathing hard at all), I checked my heart rate … 160!

On the changeover, I checked again and saw that it had immediately dropped down to under 100.

So I did some online research and found that the “accepted formula” was MADE UP by a cardiologist while flying to a conference to give a speech.  And that Olympic rowers, for example, will push their heart rate upwards of 220 beats per minute.


I am not a doctor and do not recommend what anyone else should do; but for me, I now know that I can push my heart rate into the 160s for short bursts and, as long as it quickly drops back down, I am safe.

Like most maxims, they are general rules that apply differently to different people.  You can’t tell me that MY maximum heart rate would be the same as that overweight, 75 year old guy at the bar drinking and smoking a cigar!

What do YOU think?

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4 thoughts on “Maximum Heart Rate

  1. I have some experience with this but do not suggest anyone follow my example without checking with your doctor first. I had my first two coronary stents put in 13 years ago at the age of 49. I was in otherwise very good health. Not overweight, low cholesterol, and very active playing tennis and working at my farm. Just a victim of bad genes (my father died at the age of 51 from heart disease). My cardiologist put me on a beta blocker to regulate my blood pressure and heart rate. I immediately noticed that I would hit a wall playing singles where I could not push myself to play above a certain level of intensity. I had to live with that frustration until this year when my cardiologist retired and the new guy took me off the beta blocker completely. He said he wasn’t worried about my heart rate spiking for short periods, especially with my overall level of fitness. I have a nuclear stress test every two years, so I guess that gave him a level of confidence to make that change for me. Again, we are all different and should check with our doctors before making major changes to our protocols.

    Jim, great example of “listen to YOUR body.” thanks, george

  2. I agree with you, George. Everybody is an individual with a unique resting heart rate and and a maximum heart rate during strenuous exercise.
    The heart rate during exercise depends upon previous conditioning and the size and strength of the heart. Long distance runners have enlarged hearts and their resting pulse rates can be in the high 40’s or low 50’s. Their heart rates may remain below 120 at maximum exercise.
    Playing any strenuous sport in the heat can be taxing to the heart, more so as we age. It is wise to discontinue play if there are signs of chest discomfort, shortness of breath, dizziness, or any symptom which makes you feel uncomfortable.
    Although there may be standards for acceptable heart rates, individuality and conditioning factors makes specific numbers a poor determiner of when to begin or to stop exercising.

    Doc, thanks for the good cautions … yes, we should push ourselves to our own max; but be ever watchful for signs to slow down or sit down! thanks, george

  3. I agree that you must know your own body, Many doctors just look at numbers and not the individuals which upsets me. When my endocrinologist saw my glucose was a little high, he immediately put me on a low carb diet. I said “Do you know what I do for a living?” (tennis pro) He basically ignored my question, When I called him 10 days later and told him I lost 7 pounds, he freaked out saying that certainly wasn’t what we wanted. I repeated “I told you what I do for a living!!” You need to know your own body.
    That being said, other than on a tennis court, I can think of only one better way to go!!

    Steve, 🙂 george

  4. George, One of the problems with the formula that was cited and most often used is it is depends what your resting heart rate is. For example, my resting heart rate is 48-51 (marathon runner). Therefore, it is almost impossible for me to get my heart rate to 130-135, which would be my max hr. Also, family history, weight, and level of fitness would all come into play. One factor to consider is how you recover from activity. To address that, you need to take your resting heart rate prior to getting out of bed the next morning. If you are back to normal, you know you have completely recovered. As stated previously, I agree that it is a very individual situation.

    Larry, exactly! My resting heart rate is similar to yours (even without the marathons) and by the end of the week at Newk’s camp, it is usually elevated by nearly 20%, showing how fatigued i am. thanks, george

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