Before I begin, I do want to point that if you are just getting into running and haven't had a physical in a few years, this might be the time to do it. Before beginning any exercise program, you should just make sure that you do not have any condition that would preclude you from increasing the effort of this training. Now that I have that disclaimer out of the way, let's discuss heart rate maxes and resting rates.
The best way to determine Maximum Heart Rate (MHR) and Resting Heart Rate (RHR) is by having it read professionally. Most health clubs have some type of program that can do this for you. I have a membership at Life Time Fitness and they use the New Leaf program that will read your heart rate while performing stress tests at different speeds and inclines on the treadmill. You can also have this done at running expos or hospital outpatient or same day surgery centers. The running expos are probably not the perfect set up and the hospital is probably the highest cost. But any of these methods are more accurate than doing the poor man's method (described below). I highly recommend checking your local health club to have this done to get the most accurate reading. It will give you the anaerobic and aerobic thresholds that are invaluable for your training program.
If you cannot afford or do not wish to pay for the accuracy of these readings, here is the poor man's method. After putting on your heart rate monitor, warm up for 15 minutes and find a hill with a 10% to 15% incline that is at least ¼ to 1/3 a mile long. The object of this exercise is to get you to run up the hill for at least two minutes at you full all out. So after your 15 minute warm-up, run up the hill for at least two minutes as quick as you can without losing your running form. Your should be gasping for air when you finally reach the two minutes. Jog back down for two minutes before your next run. Watch your heart rate reading at least one full minute at the end of your run. Sometimes the heart rate monitor takes time to read what your heart rate's beats are. After four trials, you should have a good heart rate max, your top reading. If you can't find a hill [live in Kansas City for example] you can use the incline on a treadmill as they usually will incline up to 15% on most health club machines.
For resting heart rate, this exercise is a lot easier. After waking, put on your heart rate monitor [on the nightstand next to your bed that you put there the night before]. Stay vertical for at least 5 minutes, checking once each minute. Your lowest reading is what your RHR is.
Tomorrow's blog will give you a step-by-step formula for calculating your heart rate zones for your running program.