Heart Monitor Training for Athletes

By January 24, 2016Podcasts

Dr. Phil Maffetone discusses using heart-rate monitors to help athletes tune in to their optimal fat-burning levels to achieve better health and fitness.

14 Comments

  • Lorenzo says:

    Dear Dr. Maffetone, I have been following your advices about “slow running” for quite a long time. When I started I was running around 7 min/Km with the HR under or at 136 ppm ( I am 53 now and always practising some type of sport, since more than four years ago running and swimming). My time has gone down to around 5:40 min/Km but just don’t improve. I have been doing some high intensity training for a few week to see if I was able to run even faster but I think it is still at the same point. Do you have any idea of what I can do to improve further my speed at the same HR?

    • Lorenzo:

      The biggest reason people stop improving is because they have too many stressors around them (lifestyle, light pollution, poor sleep, incorrect nutrition). By taking an inventory of your stressors and slowly working on removing them, you’ll effectively make the aerobic system more and more trainable—it’ll respond better to your aerobic workouts.

  • Daryle says:

    Can someone tell me why max heart rate plays no part in Dr. Maffetone’s approach? Seems like a certain aerobic bpm number would mean more in the context of someone’s maximum. Thanks in advance.

    • Daryle:

      Thanks for commenting.

      The Max Heart rate is largely a measure of how hard your heart can pump. What the MAF HR is trying to get at is when your body decides that it can’t fuel itself mostly with fats (a reliable, slow-burning fuel) and has to turn to sugar to do so. While the HR MAX and this change from fats to sugars both have to do with increasing intensity, the MAX HR is more of a cardiovascular measure, while the MAF HR is more of a metabolic measure.

      Let’s suppose that you have a very low MAX HR for genetic reasons, but over time you have cultivated a very powerful aerobic system. The rate at which your aerobic muscle fibers are able to oxidize fats (and which your lungs are able to bring in fuel) may coincide with a much higher percentage of HR MAX than with some other person. However, if the 180-Formula puts out a number that is >80% of your known HR MAX, the stress on the heart that this represents may be enough to kickstart anaerobic function, even when theoretically you could be burning fuels completely aerobically.

      (This is also the reason that the 180-Formula subtracts age from 180: since the heart’s ability to pump decreases with age, the point at which stress levels start to inhibit aerobic function correspond to a lower and lower heart rate as you age).

      But the reverse doesn’t hold true: someone with a very high HR MAX may have an incredible ability to pump blood through their body, but that cardiovascular ability just can’t be matched by their aerobic system: The heart rate rises due to the presence of stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol), which reduce aerobic function and increase anaerobic function. So, having a very high HR MAX doesn’t mean that you can oxidize fats at a higher heart rate; it means that you can push your levels of stress hormones that much higher past your aerobic hear rate before the the heart’s ability to pump maxes out.

      If we were to calculate the 180-Formula on this person, we may be calculating their MAF HR as far higher than it should be.

  • Dave says:

    Hi, I’m starting to use the MAF method / calculation for my max heart rate (134) while exercising. I know it will vary per individual, but is there an average amount of time it takes for the body to adjust and start burning fat as fuel? And when can I expect to see my speed increase while keeping my max heart rate in check? (I’m 5’10”, 175 lbs., 46 years old.)

    If I adhere to my max heart rate while running, am I destroying my efforts (to train my body to burn fat as fuel) by also going to spin class and increasing my heart rate up into the 170’s?
    Thank you!

    • Dave:

      Just to be clear, the MAF HR is the heart rate at which you reach your maximum rate of fat-burning. Your MAX HR is the fastest your heart can pump.

      Doing spin class won’t hurt you, as long as spinning (and the sum of any other activity above the MAF HR) consists of ~10-20% of your total training.

  • Craig Parsons says:

    Hi, This past Sunday I did a short mountain bike race of about 1.5 hours, during which my average hr was 149 my MAF rate is 133. I was thinking of running later in the evening to actually practice running at MAF on tired legs . Then I started wondering if doing this would be counterproductive since I had not recovered from the mornings bike ride. I keep hearing that when doing MAF any time at all above the MAF rate can basically ruin the workout for MAF purposes. SO my question is would if it been a good thing or a bad thing to run or even walk for about an hour at say 130 HR? Or would of it done more harm than good? Is there a rule of thumb for recovery time after a MAF workout or a workout of higher intensity? Thanks for all the great info.

    • Craig:

      After any race, recovery is important. Typically, I rest completely for at least 24 hours after a race, more if I need to. Walking or light hiking after a race, however, is great for recovery, provided that you remain well hydrated and fueled throughout.

      It really all depends on the workout. My rule of thumb is to rest until I no longer feel stressed out by the workout.

  • Matt K says:

    Hi Ivan,

    I’ve been reading about the benefits of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) compared to the steady pace training and how the studies suggest some greater benefits from HIIT compared to the steady pace method that Maffetone prescribes. For the record, I focus on endurance races (mostly running from 5k-21k). I know that the best endurance athletes put on a lot of miles especially for developing a greater aerobic capacity. I wonder why we don’t see these athletes running fewer miles per week in exchange for more interval workouts?

    • Matt:

      Because HIIT has very specific benefits. Think of the body as sort of a hybrid car engine. Training HIIT is a lot like upgrading a turbocharger—great for high speeds for a low duration. And although you could theoretically use the turbocharger for powering a roadtrip, it’s not really designed for long-duration in mind. What putting in a lot of miles at a low-intensity does for you is to upgrade all those less sexy (but more essential) parts of the engine like the fuel injection system, the cooling system, piston rings and valves, etc.

      This metaphor really goes a long way: training HIIT may increase the turbocharger, but it does so by using up those small, overlooked systems. In essence, when people say that HIIT has benefits, they are really talking about benefits to the turbocharger, not the machine at large. The reason why we end up overlooking the machine is because modern fitness trends have basically guided us to measure that: how fast and powerful we get, without considering the state of the machine after prolonged use of the turbocharger.

      Which brings us back to long miles: endurance is essentially training “prolonged use.” What this means is that it not only lets you use the machine for long roadtrips (read: endurance races), but it also makes the machine more resilient to the use of the turbocharger.

      Putting this back in fitness terms: yes, there’s no question that HIIT will make you faster quicker than MAF training. In fact, HIIT will impact your maximum strength and power while MAF training won’t. This means that HIIT training is an important component of training. But if you compare HIIT to MAF in terms of their relative benefits to what we call “fitness,” you’ll miss out on the fact that you can’t do HIIT for a long time without negatively impact your health, which in the medium term leads you to lose fitness. So, studies that find benefits to HIIT observe disproportionate benefits because (1) they look at “fitness,” not health, and (2) they are too short-term to observe the negative impact on fitness that deteriorating health has, due to constant HIIT training.

      In essence, this is what those athletes are factoring into their calculations. Let me put it to you this way: the more elite and more healthy, the more likely it is that the preponderance of an athlete’s training regimen is aerobic.

      • Matt K says:

        Hi Ivan,

        Thank you for a very prompt and thorough reply! In 2014, I ran my personal best in the half-marathon and even though I kept up my mileage and continued to do interval workouts afterwards, my times did not improve because I would frequently burn out in the middle of a race. I’ve been doing the MAF method for the last two months and will continue to do so. I’m eager to see where this better aerobic base will take me!

  • Sherry D says:

    I am not in the league of your commentors but I am trying to understand where my heart rate zone should be. I am 72, female, one bionic knee so I can’t run, other knee is getting cranky but I still walk 2-3 miles several times a week. I am also, doing as a beginner, DDPYoga. I am not new to yoga (traditional) but love the energy and strength, and stability I am gaining (slowly)! Only been at it about 2 months. I think but would like some guidance on where I should keep heart rate. Seems like I belong anywhere from 103 to 113. Can you please provide some guidance? Thank you!

  • Sherry D says:

    Thanks Ivan1 Will shoot for that!

Leave a Reply