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Understanding Zone Training

Deepthi Velkur discusses the popular training method, Zone training for marathoners.

Have you ever heard about the “zone”? That term has been thrown around fairly causally nowadays but let’s try and understand what it is.

The “zone” is a state of absolute focus that assists athletes across sports to perform at their peak potential. It’s the point when your mind fully processes only the thoughts and visuals needed to help you achieve your goal.

As an athlete, we often have one recurring question – “what’s the optimum training intensity level I need to be at?”.

Let’s try and break that down to understand it better. In training, there are pre-dominantly 3 key variables – Frequency, Duration, and Intensity.

To be able to achieve your best, you need a good training plan and a good training plan needs to have an amalgamation of different workout routines – some with shorter durations but higher intensity, some with longer times but a more relaxed intensity and so on. A mixed bag really and this variation brings about greater performance improvement.

Just so you know, high-intensity workouts are designed to help you improve speed and stamina while lower intensity workouts help achieve better endurance levels and overall toughness.

All of this leads to the next question – “how do I measure the intensity of my training”?

To answer that question,  you first need to know what are training areas or intensity zones.

Intensity zones are the best indicators to show how hard your body is training during a workout.

For each of us, we have a personal resting heart rate, a minimum heart rate, and a maximum heart rate – between these values lie the different heart rate zones that correspond to the intensity of training and the benefits you reap from that training.

These heart rate zones are linked to your aerobic and anaerobic thresholds and the idea behind this type of training is to prepare your aerobic system without having to overstrain your muscular and skeleton systems.

There are different ways to identify your heart rate zones and the simplest one is to define them as percentages of your maximum heart rate.

So, how do you arrive at that magical heart rate zone?

There are various formulas to calculate your maximum heart rate(MHR). The MAF method promotes the 180 – formula in which you subtract your age from 180. You could further add or subtract 5 – 10 based on varying factors such as pregnancy, returning from injury or training competitively (subtracting for the former, adding for the latter).

The different heart-rate zones

There are 5 different heart-rate zones and every training plan can include workouts that cover each of these zones.

Here is a breakdown of what each zone means in terms of your heart rate and the benefits of training in each zone.

Zone 1: <70% of MHR:  This is the low-intensity zone. Training in this zone helps in fast recovery and gets you prepared for training in the higher heart rate zones.

Zone 2: 65 -75% of MHR: This is a light zone primarily aimed at the aerobic base building. It is used for long easy runs and you can hold a conversation with your training partner.  This zone helps in stabilizing your performance levels, improving basic endurance levels, training of fat metabolism and technique optimization. This zone is essential for every runner’s program.

Zone 3: 75-85% of MHR: This is a moderate zone that still keeps you in the aerobic range. It is effective for improving the efficiency of blood circulation in the skeletal muscles and the heart. Training in this zone is also used to stabilize your performance levels as well as training of glycogen metabolism and prepares you for higher intensity workouts.

Zone 4: 85-95% of MHR: This is the zone where the going gets tough, breathing will be difficult and your running in the anaerobic zone. Training at this intensity improves your speed endurance and the body uses carbohydrates as an energy source and you can withstand high levels of lactic acid in your blood for a longer duration.

Zone 5: 95-100% of MHR: In this zone, your heart and respiratory system will be working at their maximum capacity. The lactic acid builds up in the blood at this stage and after a few minutes, you are unable to continue at this intensity.

Each zone serves a purpose, and how much time you spend in each zone depends on your training goals. Intensity zones are used in sports because training at different intensities stresses your body in different ways, leading to different physiological adaptations and resulting in different benefits.  If you’re just starting out or have only been training for some time or returning from injury, you probably shouldn’t train at a high intensity. If you’re a professional athlete, look into incorporating interval training into your training plan for peak performance.

Reaping the benefits of zone training

The biggest hurdle with heart rate training especially for advanced runners is holding back. People often feel they are doing something wrong if they are running at a slow pace – this often leads to frustration. The benefits of this training is to stay consistent, be patient and your pace will automatically improve.

Try and mix different workouts as variety is good, vary the intensity and duration of your training sessions and don’t be stuck running the same distance every time.

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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Training Comments Off on Understand the Maffetone Method |

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.

Read more