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.