During a training session, your heart rate is a very reliable indicator of your personal performance level or training load. This is why it is extremely important that you know your pulse at rest and your maximum pulse.
It’s quite easy to measure your heart rate at rest at home by feeling your wrist or with a heart rate monitor while still in bed after a good night’s sleep.
What about the maximum pulse? Well, you can visit a sports physician or use a heart rate monitor to measure it. You can do a test alone in your favourite sport. After 15 to 20 minutes of warming up, do two or three maximum intensity work cycles of about 3 to 4 minutes, and recuperate between them for about 30 seconds. If it is difficult to reach a high intensity in your favourite sport (for instance biking, cross-country skiing), you can carry out the maximum intensity sessions on a steep hill. The highest measured reading you can get is a good estimate of your maximum pulse.
Your heart rate is a very individual characteristic, and therefore comparing heart rates with others isn’t useful. Maximum pulse is under no circumstances a reliable fitness indicator, because it can vary wildly between people with the same fitness level and age.
Be aware that tests performed in different sports mostly point out your maximum pulse in that given sport, and not necessarily an accurate and absolute value. For instance, many people’s pulse is 10 to 20 beats per minute lower when biking than when running – and even lower when swimming; whereas when cross-nation skiing, it’s usually slightly higher than when running.