Thursday, July 17, 2008

Maffetone Heart Rate Training

I've decided to try some heart rate training this summer. I get in these phases of following a training schedule, using a HR monitor, timing every run...and then reverting back to Luddite ideas of no stop watch, minimalist shoes, and "just run as you feel." We'll see how long this HR training phase lasts. I have promised myself to make it through Farmdale 33 miler in October using the Maffetone training ideas. Here is a short article ("Want Speed? Slow Down!") describing the Phil Maffetone method. This article is just a start--I encourage you to get one of the books I list below if you really want to pursue heart rate based training.

Unlike many other HR plans, Maffetone uses a very simple method for determining heart rate zones. He has three main zones (I am combining Maffetone with Stu Mittleman advice). For the main MEP zone ("Most Efficient Pace"), you start with 180-age and make slight adjustments based on past injuries, illness, and conditioning. I'm allowed to add 5 heart beats to my calculation since I have remained fairly injury and illness free for quite some time (and I have been doing fairly heavy aerobic exercise). If you are new to aerobic exercise, have been injured, have frequent illnesses (colds, flus, sore throats, etc) then you will need to subtract from the base calculation. For me, I have 180-42+5=143 as the top of my MEP zone. This limit keeps me working efficiently, but still almost all aerobic. I subtract 10 to create an MEP target zone (133-143). Once you have the MEP figured out, you develop two new target zones by adding & subtracting 20 from your MEP. That gives me three zones:

  • MAP (Mostly Aerobic Pace) = 113-133 <= very easy pace
  • MEP (Most Efficient Pace) = 133-143 <= moderate pace
  • SAP (Speedy Aerobic Pace) = 143-163 <= speed & tempo runs
The paces in each of these zones may seem too slow. Give it time. Stu Mittleman provides great examples of what each zone should feel like and encourages runners to adjust the HR limits based on several kinesthetic indicators. Once you begin using the zones, you will find yourself running faster with the same heart rate. That's the point! The same energy exertion is now moving you faster (but not over-training you because you are still using the heart rate zones to limit your overall efforts). You are becoming fitter! Most workouts should be done in the MAP and MEP zones with just a bit of the SAP thrown in after developing a solid aerobic base. Even in peak training, the MAP & MEP zones should be predominant. A reasonable number of runs per week in each zone would be 3 MAP-2 MEP-1 SAP. If you want to break them up based on time or miles, then 75% MAP, 20% MEP, and 5% SAP are good approximations. Compare this to what you have done in the past--you were probably running too fast, too often! One of the coolest running tests for judging progress and fitness is called the MAF test (Maximum Aerobic Function). Maffetone has you warm up and then run 5 miles at close to your maximum MEP heart rate (for me, about 143). Don't exceed that limit during the test, but keep close to that number. Easiest to do this inside on a track or treadmill so you'll have consistent conditions to monitor changes. Take splits at each mile. Your splits should go up slightly as you become a bit fatigued during the 5-mile test. Over time (test every 3-4 weeks) you should see your overall time and splits coming down. He gives some nice examples in his books. Also, Maffetone has a table comparing your average MAF test pace with predicted 5K race times. By tracking your MAF test progress (or plateaus & declines) you can alter your training and racing plans. Here are three books I recommend regarding heart rate training (from the Maffetone perspective):
  1. Training for Endurance (Maffetone, 2000)
  2. High Performance Heart (Maffetone, 1996)
  3. Slow Burn (Mittleman, 2001)
And a great general book about training at easier paces (kind of Lydiard-style): Van Aaken Method (Van Aaken, 1976).

I'll try to give a few updates on my Maffetone style training over the next few weeks. I have three good test races coming up in August, September, and October: Howl at the Moon 8-Hour, Rock Cut Hobo 50K, and Farmdale 33 Miler. If my new heart rate monitor gets me across the finish lines of those races in good shape, I may just stick with it. My running buddy and "coach" Jeff has been using a modified Maffetone and Mittleman approach for quite some time...don't hold that against Maffetone or Mittleman! Jeff's slow times have more to do with injuries and weight than training regime. ;-)


Pheid said...


I'm a HR monitor geek, so I'm looking forward to your assessments after your next few races.

I've employed several different methods over the years, including Maffetone, and I sprinkle Lydiard here and there into my program as it suits me.

Yet just another experiment of one am I,

Connie :)

2012 Mississippi Blues Marathon said...

i just started the maffetone method 2 weeks ago. i am interested in your results and opinion.

Chris said...

It's worked well. Have run many ultramarathons and set a few PRs. Less injuries too.

Andre Cruz said...

Chris, tks for your amazing post.
But, how did you develop your training plan? Maffetone doesn´t talk about that on his book.

Chris said...

My training plan is a collection of other coaches. Basically I try to do low-level aerobic for most runs, then toss in a little "speed" work in the higher aerobic zones. Stu Mittleman has some good ideas based on Maffetone style training and HR zones.

Andre Cruz said...

Tks Chris !!!
Where do I find Stu Mittleman ideas? In his book or site?

Chris said...

Got Stu Mittleman stuff from his "Slow Burn" book. Very reasonable prices at Amazon. Can usually find used if you want...and now even Kindle version!

Andre Cruz said...

Tks Chris.

Anonymous said...

Great!! Very interesting!

Roberto - ITALY -

Kris said...

How did this method work for you? I'm just going to start it.

Chris said...

It's worked well, but you need to be patient. It takes time (weeks, even months) to really see the benefits. You will get faster and fitter without injury.

Anonymous said...

I never run barefoot and I do most my sessions in vo2max, threshold and tempo, very Little time is spent in slow pace.

My PBs?

10k: 30:18
1/2Marathon :1:06
Marathon: 2:24

Born to run? nah, I am just an amateur.