For decades, athletes have used maximum heart rate as a way to figure out which zones they should be training in. The most common wisdom was to subtract your age from 220, and—voilà!—you had your estimated max heart rate, a figure representing the greatest number of beats per minute your heart can achieve safely. Then, from that number, you could, in theory, calculate your recovery, fat-burning, lactate threshold, and anaerobic heart-rate training zones.

However, it’s a rudimentary system—like, “might as well use an abacus as a bike computer” rudimentary, says Cherie Miner, M.D., a sports medicine physician at Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center. “It’s been the standard for years, but there are a lot of variables that can throw off your max heart rate.” She adds that how fit you are, how hot it is, and how much stress you’re under can all affect your max heart rate at any given time.

Like the 220-minus-age rule, there are a lot of other myths surrounding max heart rate. Here, we debunk the worst of them.

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