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Understand the Maffetone Method

Deepthi Velkur looks into a popular method that runners around the world are adopting to get leaner and fitter.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit” – Aristotle.

I want to get better. I want to be fitter and leaner. I want to train right without feeling drained out or being injured. I’m sure we have all had these thoughts and questions in our head. Is there a way we can actually achieve this?

The answer is – Yes, we can! The reason for you not seeing any improvements, feeling burnt out or prone to injuries is not only a problem with your training, diet or your shoes. It could be your aerobic base or the lack of it. For an athlete to perform well and overall have good health it is important to have a solid aerobic base. This can be achieved by following the Low-Heart rate training also popularly known as the Maffetone Method.

So what is the Maffetone method?

The MAF Method is a philosophy developed over the course of 40 years by Dr Phil Maffetone which helps individuals take charge of their health and reach their performance potential.

The premise of the method says that by developing your Maximum Aerobic Function(MAF) where you improve your aerobic base, become fat adapted, improving your energy levels, losing body fat, improving athletic performance, minimizing injuries and ramp up your performance potential.

It is a style of training where one focusses mainly on their aerobic running using a heart rate formula of 180- your age. “Most people do not develop good aerobic conditioning as it takes time and one needs to be consistent. Such people end up with poor metabolism and aerobic physiology. In order to build your aerobic fitness, you need to make sure the heart rate does not exceed this threshold and by doing that you’re expending the fat for fuel and not sugar. When you run aerobically you tend to feel energized and don’t have the need to nap or require an energy gel to replenish your carb stores.

Most runners tend to use this method during their base training phase by not allowing their heart rate to spike more than this “aerobic maximum”. You can measure this using a heart rate monitor each time you run so that you don’t exceed the limit and stay 0-10 beats below it. Once the heart rate goes beyond this threshold, the aerobic muscles start to function less efficiently and the anaerobic muscles take over. It’s good to note that Aerobic muscles use body fat and oxygen for energy consumption whereas anaerobic muscles use the glycogen stores within the anaerobic muscle cells which do not last more than 2.5 or 3 mins.

Benefits of using the 180 formula

You have to train at a low heart rate in order to build your aerobic base, a relaxed pace where you are able to make easy conversation. Finding the right heart rate is an individual process. After several evaluations of many athletes, Dr Maffetone came up with this formula to determine an optimal heart rate training zone.

The main benefits of using the 180 formula are that your body is trained to burn more of the stored fat for energy consumption. It also enables you to run, cycle or do other activities much faster over a period of time without overtraining. This happens with sustained practice where your body becomes efficient over time to perform faster with better stamina while maintaining the same training heart rate.

Using the Maffetone Method to build endurance

  • Determine your Maximum Aerobic Threshold: Using the 180 formula, figure out your threshold heart rate
  • Keep a heart rate monitor handy: Get yourself a good heart rate monitor which beeps or vibrates indicating your heart rate has spiked above your aerobic threshold.
  • Train right: Phil Maffetone recommends you to run at your threshold aerobic heart rate. By doing that one trains the aerobic muscles to function at its maximum making you run more efficiently and burning the fat to fuel energy instead of having to rely on the anaerobic muscles. Over time your pace increases while keeping your heart rate below the specified threshold. The training plan should be individualized based on the years of experience as a runner. Do not train in groups as each person’s capabilities are different and vary from one person to another.
  • MAF test: It is necessary to track your progress and course correct along the way. This provides you with the required motivation to push and also to make changes were needed. Always start with a warm-up and run a distance of 5 Km at your maximum aerobic heart rate and record it. Repeat this test at the same time and route every month from now to check how you’ve progressed. You should notice a marked improvement in the MAF timings and subsequently in the race timings as well.
  • A warm-up is must: This is a definite deal breaker with respect to this method of doing a 15min warm-up. We tend to slip warm-ups but by doing that you are spiking up your heart rate and it becomes difficult to bring it down. Hence a gentle warm-up will gradually increase your heart rate and you can see good results.
  • Controlled breathing: By breathing through your nose, you can keep your pace and heart rate under control. You might find it a bit hard at the beginning, but it takes time for the results to show and over time becomes easy to run at slower paces.
  • Maintaining running form and cadence: Running at a slow pace tends to affect your posture and cadence and incorporate one or two workouts after the initial 3 months to work on this.

Challenges and pay-offs

While there are huge followers of this method, there are people who disagree with the method of training. The pace you follow in this method is excruciatingly slow leading to boredom and results take time.

Conclusion: The MAF method covers a lifestyle concept encompassing diet, nutrition, exercise and stress management. Results take about 3-4 months to show. Joining a Maffetone facebook group or a running buddy can help immensely and keeps you motivated to push on.

Be patient, repeat it and the results will follow.

You can read about Ajit Thandur‘s and Pallavi Aga‘s experience with the Maffetone Method.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Deepthi Velkur is a former sprinter who is trying her hand at various sports today. A tennis fanatic, who believes that sleep should never be compromised.

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My experiences with the Maffetone method

Pallavi Aga is a Doctor, a Nutritionist and a Lifestyle Management Consultant and the Founder of Mind-Body Wellness Clinic, discussing her experience with the MAF method.

At present, I am pursuing preventive health in the form of nutritional counselling for sports as well as lifestyle diseases. I strongly believe that we should focus on the right nutrition as opposed to dieting fads.

I always considered myself a tad invincible (given that I am a doctor and all) but ever since I crossed 40, I have had a few health scares.

Initially, it was weight issues that bogged me down and then I became borderline diabetic and hypertensive. I obviously did not want to live a life dependent on medications so I took up running in 2015 to get healthy and stay fit.

As time went on, running no longer was just a means to stay fit but it became a passion and started participating in a lot of races. Though my pace had improved, I had low energy levels, injuries started creeping up on me and my weight-loss plan reached a plateau.

Combining my training with medical knowledge

I started reading a lot of research articles in order to see where I went wrong and that was when I came across the Maffetone method. Dr Phil Maffetone recommended a unique method of training in which the aerobic base has to be increased using the formula “180-age”. The more I read about it, the more I was convinced about the integrity of the method. I decided to give it a shot and see if it helped me reach my goal.

The MAF method documents that the major part of your running should be in the MAF heart rate zone and as the body gets adapted, the pace will go up at the same heart rate. As running at this zone utilizes fats as fuel hence the need for carbohydrates will reduce and the muscles will work more efficiently.  This method requires a lot of patience as results take time but I used the slowing of the pace to lay the emphasis on posture and cadence.

Implementing the MAF method

I decided to go with this method 2 years ago and assumed it to be easy. I was so wrong. I realized that my heart rate was reaching levels of 160 and above as opposed to 135 (my recommended Maffetone Heart Rate).

I had to make a few changes like incorporating walk breaks into my run, training on fasting, reduction in my intake of carbohydrates, grains, dairy products and adding good fats in the form of seeds and nuts to my nutrition plan.

The journey

It wasn’t easy getting used to this method. I had to run alone with no music so that I could focus on my cadence and correct my stance into a mid-foot strike. My earlier heel strike led to disturbed posterior chain kinetics which had resulted in a bad hamstring sprain.

Despite not many people believing in this strategy and asking me to run faster and add the pre-run carbs back, I never gave in and carried on with the plan. My biggest challenge was ‘fasted running’ as it made me very giddy and nauseous. During the summer, I worked on this area and trained harder keeping my electrolyte balance and hydration in check.

The effects of the MAF method

This method really worked well for me and I saw an increase in my energy levels. My weight dropped and I felt fitter and full of life. The feeling of totally being drained out went away and I started really enjoying my runs. It was exhilarating to feel free and one with nature. Gradually my pace picked up and I was back to my previous pace with the heart rate under control. My MAF pace is 6:15 now. I hope to improve it further with more dedication.

My experiments

A couple of months before my ADHM event, I wanted to increase my pace. So, I did an experiment of training at a higher pace and adding pre-run carbs before interval, tempo and long runs.

I realized that in less than a month, my immunity levels dropped, I felt bloated and I was tired all the time. My pace went up temporarily but I started falling sick, took me longer to recover and my old hamstring injury started acting up again. Ultimately, I suffered a total set back in my running and lost out on the fun of my runs.

I decided to change back to the MAF method and all was good again. I completed the ADHM with a time of 1hr52mins which was 3mins shy of my PB (1hr49mins) last year. I was able to manage this because I moved back to my low heart rate training 15 days prior. I did a day of pre-marathon carb loading and managed to finish the race comfortably despite my health issues.

The current status

Currently, I do all my training runs at a MAF pace and always keep my heart rate in check. Also, I do all my runs including the long runs (2+ hours) while fasting and I don’t really feel the need to eat immediately. I ensure I stock up on complex carbs and most of my calories come from protein and fat. With my energy levels up, I feel like it’s reversed my ageing.

I don’t participate in a lot of events because for me running is my meditation and I like to do only a few events as the competitive nature stresses me out.

In conclusion, I feel the Maffetone method has been a blessing in my life and has helped me reclaim my health. With the knowledge, I have of this method I am confident that I will run injury free for a long time.

My mantra to life was always “Say No to Medicines”!!

Learn more about the Maffetone Method here.

ABOUT THE GUEST COLUMNIST

 

Pallavi Aga is a doctor by profession and an avid follower of eating clean and green with a holistic approach to health and diet. She is actively helping the society towards walking down the path of health through Facebook live events and also with media groups like India Today, Dainik Jagran and Pinkathon.

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Maffetone Method

Marathoner Ajit Thandur speaks about the Maffetone Method that is aimed at reaching full human potential.

In my previous article titled Endurance and the Indian Runner, I had spoken about how amateur endurance running has so rapidly evolved in India over the last 15 years. The quest for fitness, weight loss, and good health has turned into a quest for speed and better timing, be it in running, bicycling or swimming.

Being an amateur runner and swimmer myself, I have often tried several techniques to improve myself. One method stands apart, I have found the Maffetone Method to be the most effective for me for the following reasons:

  1. You train your body to predominantly use aerobic muscles for energy during the endurance activity. Doing this helps to effectively use your body fat feed energy for the activity. In other words become ‘fat adapted’.
  2. With prolonged 180 Formula-based workouts, people who set out to do some form of endurance exercise for weight loss will benefit immensely.
  3. With this method, you can stay away from injuries due to excessive straining.
  4. Most importantly, as amateurs, we can keep ourselves fresh and agile through the day to work for our living and not feel lethargic or exhausted.

So, what is the Maffetone Method? How does one go about settling into the 180 Formula? How does one track development and be sure the training is right?

The MAF Method is a philosophy developed by Dr. Phil Maffetine over the course of 40 years of scientific research and clinical practice to help individuals of all ages, athletic abilities, physical issues, and personal goals reach their human performance potential.

Maximum Aerobic Function Test or the MAF Test is a key tool to keep track. The concept is simple, straightforward and easy to understand and follow.

How does it work? After determining your Threshold Aerobic Heart Rate, choose a convenient stretch along your favourite running route. Do a warm-up run of about 1KM, then using your HR monitor run 3KM keeping your HR at the Threshold Aerobic Heart Rate and record your pace for the distance.

Note this down. Typically it should look like this.

MAF Test dated:          at Threshold HR of:

Km          Pace

1               6:45

2               6:48

3               6:53

Repeat this test in the same format on the same route once every month. Ideally, you should do this for 6 months, though you might start seeing results as early as 3 months. The results I refer to is you achieving a faster pace at your Threshold Aerobic HR.

A few things to bear in mind:

  • The best way to achieve optimum results through the Maffetone Method / 180 Formula training is to do it alone because each of us have different thresholds.
  • If you’re doing it in as a group, you will tend to stay with the group and not required Heart Rate you need to be at.
  • Do not get upset when you start with this training, as you will not be able to maintain the same pace you have been running so far because you will invariably run at a lower heart rate than you have been running until now.
  • Happiness will dawn on you when your pace starts to get better and better at your constant Threshold Aerobic Heart Rate.
  • Most important of all, be patient!

There are certain factors other than just your pace that can affect your heart rate on certain days. It could be stress, lack of sleep, change in location/weather, lack of hydration, the unsuitable or irregular food you had the previous day. Always remember – 8 hours of sleep, rest and recovery after long runs/rides are of great importance.

What I have covered is a brief insight into the essence and benefits of the Maffetone Method and MAF Test. To know more and understand it even better, please go to this link:

https://philmaffetone.com/maf-test/

In conclusion, the Maffetone method is not a definitive step-by-step process to follow for faster results, instead, it is an approach that if followed well will help us make a healthier version of ourselves.

GUEST COLUMNIST

Ajit Thandur is an entrepreneur and amateur endurance runner/swimmer based in Mysuru taking a keen interest in injury-free training and nutrition. He also conducts Thonnur Swimathon, Tri Thonnur and a run race Chamundi Hill Challenge in Mysuru.

 

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