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What Is Low Heart Rate Training?

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Heart rate training is exactly what it sounds like. Your workout is dictated by what your heart rate is during your workout. If you have used or read about zone training, you likely know an awful lot about the different zones and what types of workouts are within the different zones. However, there is an entirely different type of heart rate training and it has to do with all workouts being done keeping your heart rate low: the low heart rate training.

Maffetone Method

Although many people feel that training at a nice easy pace is a sign of weakness, there is a different school of thought on that. Also known as the MAF 180, in this method you take your age and subtract it from 180. This is your target heart rate for training. What your goal is during training is to stay within 10 beats per minute of your target rate.

Maffetone method 2
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There are other variables that come into play with the MAF 180 method. For example, if you have not exercised regularly in a while you will subtract an additional 5 from the number.  If you are overcoming an illness or injury, you subtract 10 from that number.

Conversely, if you have been exercising for two years without problem or incident, you can add 5 points to that number.

So at 50 years old, if I have not had any major problems in training nor major injuries, my calculation would read as follows:

180 – 50 + 5 = 135

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The goal would be to keep my heart rate as close to 135 as possible, but always within 10 beats per minute.

That Seems Awful Slow…

You’re probably thinking that the calculations seem awfully slow. If you feel that way, you’re not alone. In fact, many people who start this type of training find that they cannot hit these heart rate goals without walking some.

Another thing to consider is, “who said walking had to be counterproductive?”. People seem to think walking is a weakness. Here is the thing. If it helps you meet your objective, it is a training plan.

Benefits of Building Maximum Aerobic Function

Maximum aerobic function, or MAF, trains your body to be a fat-burning machine. In other words, your fat-burning systems start to perform at a more efficient rate. Yes, you are burning fat for fuel.

Another huge benefit is that while training at a less intense level, you are less likely to have injuries. In addition to that, the lower-key training pace may help you to enjoy your training sessions more. The fact of the matter is that while training this way you may find buddies with whom you can chat away while passing the miles.

Also ideal for new athletes, MAF training helps your body to acclimate to the tasks you are asking of it. Triathletes tend to do a lot of training this way, also known as Zone 2 training.

Eventually, many athletes find that through training slower, they start to race faster. Physicians have even stated that this type of training can help you to prevent significant hormone imbalances. This is a result of putting less stress on your body.

Can Low Heart Rate Training Make You Faster?

Although it sounds counterproductive, running slower can actually make you faster. Relying on low heart rate training can, and often does, help to produce faster runners. Certainly, it does not happen overnight. However, as you invest time into this type of training many people are pleasantly surprised by the results for a multitude of reasons.

In addition to all of the things we discussed prior such as it being easier on your body and mind, there are other benefits. Through this type of training, you tend to be able to run many more miles than if you were training at a breakneck pace.

heart zone training
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Running slowly helps you to improve your aerobic capacity.  When you engage in low to moderate-level activity exercises, your body makes adjustments. Your muscles get their energy from a combination of oxygen, carbohydrates and fats.  If you can train your body to metabolize and run more efficiently, you can increase your aerobic capacity.

Although many, many people sing the praises of high-intensity interval training and speed work as the only way to get faster, there is great truth to the fact that you can slow down to speed up.

Slow, Steady State Cardio

Known as slow and steady-state cardio, this is when you exercise for a longer period of time at a consistent and easy pace. This means that your heart rate is staying low and steady, and so is your oxygen consumption. For years people have said this is the key to fat burning and weight loss. However, athletes are also finding performance benefits also result.

slow steady state cardio
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As you challenge your body to work out for longer periods of time, as opposed to just worrying about the pace and high intensity of your time on task, the cells in your muscles that are tasked with respiration and producing energy grow.  You guessed it. This maximizes your efficiency.

As your muscles get more efficient at using oxygen, your performance improves.

SSS For Recovery

Although slow steady-state running will help many athletes to improve their times and run faster, it is this coach and avid runner’s opinion that the improvements will reach a standstill without more workout and training adaptations.

If you are looking to run faster, balance seems to be the key to success. Slow, steady-state running is a great way to ease back into running after a hiatus,  is excellent for between hard workouts, or is a nice change of pace for recreational running days. In fact, most runners do not spend nearly enough time running nice and easy.

However, if you are hoping to make gains on a high level, you probably need to incorporate some speed and hill training, in addition to these longer and easier runs. In addition, adding strength (including core work) is another integral and key component.

When it comes down to it at the end of the day, every runner needs to evaluate and analyze what his or her goals are. Your level of effort and/or training needs to match your objectives to help you find success. Remember: you get what you work for, not what you wish for.

Happy running, friends.

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