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Slowing training down to go faster in the long term – Nick Croft

In an earlier article I wrote last year for AT I looked at masters athletes training and how to get the most from your time available and the methods you should look at implementing the changes you need to make as you age to keep progressing and limiting the aging process taking its toll on your performance.

Part of the article touched briefly on the recommendation to get a Heart Rate Monitor (HRM), learn how to use and establish your Maximum Aerobic Function (MAF) Heart Rate. Many triathletes (not just masters) train too hard a lot of the time in doing their long runs and rides when they should be more aerobic and when it comes time for higher intensity training on the bike and swim sets may be too tired to lift and get the benefit that these more intense efforts provide.

Preparing the body well for the hard work at the right time by developing a good base, getting the muscles and joints strong and then progressively building the intensity needs to be done over time. This brings us to going too hard too soon – especially running. I am turning back the clock a little to discuss a very simple Heart Rate formula to ensure you can stay aerobic and not into go into the red for those long rides and runs and forgo the important benefits that these endurance sessions provide.

There are many, physiological adaptations the body makes in order to meet the physical demands of endurance training and racing and slowing down is the way to get the most from these. These changes can’t just happen overnight. The process is stimulated when the demands of training are greater than what the body is able to handle. When we overload the body in gradual, increases, it responds by becoming stronger. If we overload the body too quickly it doesn't have time to adapt and we usually suffer with below par performances, illness and injury. Some of the physiological adaptations the body makes are as follows -

  • New capillary’s are built which allow for greater efficiency of blood flow to get oxygen and nutrients to working muscles and increase the capacity for waste removal.
  • The heart becomes stronger which lowers our resting heart rate.
  • Stroke volume, which is the amount of blood your heart can pump per beat, improves greatly over normal levels, allowing your body to move more blood with each heartbeat.
  • Training improves the endurance of your muscle fibers by increasing the number of mitochondria within your muscle cells. Mitochondria are the "powerhouse" of the cell because they are responsible for producing the energy required for muscle contraction.
These are just some of the many physical changes that are occurring within your body during endurance training.

The 180 Formula
The 180 Heart Rate Formula was developed by Dr. Philip Maffetone who mentored triathlon great Mark Allen (6 time Hawaii Ironman Champion) and one of the 90’s short course stars from the USA Mike Pigg. I have used this formula for the last 20 years in my coaching and for my own running and cycling endurance phases and it still holds up.

The 180 Formula
To find the maximum aerobic heart rate (MAF):

Subtract your age from 180 (180 – age).
Modify this number by selecting a category below that best matches your health profile:
  1. If you have, or are recovering from, a major illness (heart disease, high blood pressure, any operation or hospital stay, etc.) or you are taking medication, subtract an additional 10.
  2. If you have not exercised before or have been training inconsistently or injured, have not recently progressed in training or competition, or if you get more than two colds or bouts of flu per year, or have allergies, subtract an additional 5
  3. If you’ve been exercising regularly (at least four times weekly) for up to two years without any of the problems listed in a or b, keep the number (180 – age) the same.
  4. If you have been competing for more than two years duration without any of the problems listed above, and have improved in competition without injury, add 5.
For example, if you are 50 years old and fit into category 4: 180 – 50 = 130, then 130 + 5 = 135.

During training, create a range of 10 beats below the maximum aerobic heart rate; in the example above for the 50 year old, train between 125 and 135 staying as close to 135 as possible. To develop the aerobic system most effectively, all training should be at or below this level during base building. As the aerobic system develops, you will be able to run faster at the same maximum aerobic heart rate.

The MAF HR ends up being for most athletes in a mid to high Z2 HR so about 82-88% of your threshold HR figure. Once a great aerobic base is developed, an athlete can develop the anaerobic system if racing and doing performance based training with intervals, if desired. Maffetone also points out in his book that MAF is MAF whether cycling or running so your cycling MAF will feel more intense than running based on a normal threshold bike to run comparison being up to 7-10 beats difference – with bike being the lower figure for most.

One other major benefit of using the 180 Formula is the biochemical response. Production of free radicals is minimal at this training level compared to training at higher heart rates all the time. Free radicals contribute to degenerative problems and inflammation. As important as finding the correct aerobic training heart rate is the process doing a MAF test to plot your progress and efficiency over time. A major part of the aerobic base building is the ability to run faster at the same effort, that is, at the same heart rate. A heart monitor can help measure this progression.

Perform the MAF Test on a track, running at the maximum aerobic heart rate. I use a 3k / 5k or 8k distance for the test depending on the athletes current health, fitness, what they are training for. The test should be done following a 15 minute warm up, and be performed about every 4-6 weeks through base training then periodically through the whole season. Keep in mind climatic conditions with heat and humidity will affect HR by up to 10-15 beats so summer testing will be slower then winter for almost all doing this.

A common complaint will ‘’l will be walking the hills running at that MAF figure’’! Yes you may well be initially but time you won’t me once your body slows down and as a triathlete are also getting the cross training benefits of swim and bike as part of your training. The story goes that even a young Mark Allen had to slow his runs right down and walk occasionally up hill in his early days of switching to MAF training.

I had an athlete in his early 50’s training for Ironman Melbourne a couple of years back and he saw an improvement of 7 minutes at MAF HR over 6 months (I had him do a favourite 10k loop he used to do around Noosa) from his first MAF test to the last he did pre Ironman. He was also carrying some niggles that prevented him doing any faster runs above Zone 3 HR or 80% of max so MAF training was perfect for his running to keep it in check and benefiting from the bike / swim as well for overall endurance and strength at lower hear rate training.

So if you are stagnating a little and find you are running or riding too hard on weekends and getting to your more intense during the week sessions unable to lift look at doing your long steady endurance training to your MAF and you’ll find you’ll have more energy and recover quicker and over the longer term perform better come your race day.

Slow Training Down
 |  Stretching for Triathlon  |  Stretch for Swimming  |  Deep Water Running  |  Heart Rate Monitors
Core Fitness  |  Long Course Nutrition  |  Bike Strength Training  |  Swim Faster Exercises  |  Training with Power

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