What Is Low Heart Rate Training? [MAF Training Guide]

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There’s a misconception that you must get your heart rate up to run, swim, or bike faster.

However, doing this all the time leads to overtraining, which puts you at risk of injuries and other illnesses.

Luckily, low heart rate training provides people with a safe and sustainable alternative. It’s a great way to build up your fitness base without burning out fast. 

But what is low heart rate training?

Low heart rate (MAF) training is a safe way of developing your Maximum Aerobic Function. Essentially, this method entails training at your MAF heart rate to develop your aerobic system. In addition to aerobic exercise, nutrition and stress management are key components of low heart rate training.

Here we’ll take a look at how to implement MAF training, and how to maintain your running form while using this method. 

What Does Low Heart Rate Training Entail? 

What is low heart rate training?

In its essence, low heart rate training is a form of training focused on lower-intensity workouts. Low heart rate training is also known as MAF training, which stands for Maximum Aerobic Function – and provides an important clue as to the function of this training. 

Dr. Phil Maffetone, a researcher and clinician in exercise and sports medicine, pioneered low heart rate training as we know it today. MAF training was founded on the principle that athletes could improve their aerobic fitness without overtraining or using high-intensity workouts

It’s a similar theory to the widely shared 80/20 running plan, but with an even greater emphasis on low intensity work.

Unfortunately, there’s a common misconception that training or running at a lower intensity is a sign of laziness or weakness. However, Dr. Maffetone’s MAF Method has proved that this is not true – but what exactly does this method entail? 

To build their Maximum Aerobic Function, people using this training method need to exercise at their MAF heart rate.

To calculate this, the trainee needs to subtract their age from 180; the resulting value is their MAF heart rate. Essentially, this is the heart rate users should be training at. 

However, it’s important to note that your MAF heart rate may vary depending on certain factors.

For instance, if you’re recovering from a major illness or using a chronic medication, you’ll need to subtract 10 points from your MAF heart rate. When calculating this, users must modify their MAF heart rate according to the guidelines.

By training in this manner, athletes of all abilities can develop their aerobic systems before attempting harder work.

Improved aerobic fitness means people can burn fat more effectively, which is turned into fuel. Low heart rate training is ideal for anyone who wants to achieve optimal health and fitness in a safe, sustainable manner.  

Athletes use heart rate monitors – which are widely available and easy to use – to facilitate their MAF training. Using a heart rate monitor will allow users of the MAF method to ensure they’re training at their MAF heart rate. 

To truly go the extra mile with low heart rate training, you’ll also need to address certain factors and habits that affect your heart rate training.

Dr. Maffetone breaks this down into three pillars: exercise, nutrition, and stress. By addressing each of these pillars, athletes can properly develop their aerobic system. 

The Three Pillars Of Low Heart Rate (MAF) Training 

MAF Training Guide

By considering the three pillars of MAF training, you’ll have a better understanding of what low heart rate training entails. After all, low heart rate training is a holistic method that weaves together exercise, nutrition, and stress management

Exercise 

In terms of exercise, MAF uses low heart rate training to build your aerobic system. However, you can’t focus on developing your aerobic system without accounting for nutrition and stress, which are the remaining two pillars of this training method.

Nutrition 

In addition to exercise, nutrition is an important component of MAF training. Overall, this pillar focuses on carbohydrates, vitamin D, folates, and inflammation. When fully committing to the MAF method, athletes need to modify the foods they eat.

Stress

The stress pillar in MAF training focuses on stress, as well as your brain and aging. The MAF method allows athletes to analyze physical, mental/emotional, and biochemical stress.

By combining this with the other two pillars, you can develop your aerobic system safely and sustainably. 

Is Low Heart Rate Training Beneficial For Running? 

Many people find the premise of low heart rate training counterintuitive – how can running slower help you run faster?

However, MAF training has yielded great results for those who use it!

Let’s look at three of the main ways low heart rate training is beneficial to runners. 

Increase Your Aerobic Capacity 

One of the main benefits of low heart rate training is that you can develop your aerobic system without the risk of overexercising.

By developing your aerobic system this way, you’ll be able to effectively burn fat for fuel. In turn, this increases your overall energy and endurance, allowing you to run faster for longer periods. 

Prevent Minor Injuries And Illnesses 

In addition to allowing you to run faster for longer, MAF training sustainably improves your health and fitness. Due to this, it helps athletes prevent injuries and burnout issues. Furthermore, you’ll have faster recovery times when you are injured. 

Achieve Your Race Pace With A Lower Heart Rate 

When all these elements are combined, you’ll be able to achieve your standard race pace with a lower heart rate.

Due to this, low heart rate training is particularly beneficial to runners. Generally, you’ll start to see signs of improvement after three to six months of MAF training. 

Implementing Your Low Heart Rate Training Plan 

Now that we’ve explained what low heart rate training entails and the benefits of the MAF method, you might be wondering how to implement a MAF training plan.

This implementation process can be broken down into five steps.

Step One: Calculate Your MAF Heart Rate

Firstly, you’ll need to calculate your MAF heart rate, which is only applicable to those over the age of sixteen. Your MAF heart rate can be calculated by subtracting your age from 180. Once you’ve done this, you’ll need to modify your MAF heart rate using the provided guidelines.

Step Two: Get A Heart Rate Monitor

As we’ve established, the core principle of this training method is exercising at your MAF heart rate. To do this, you’ll need to track your heart rate. Luckily, heart rate monitors are widely available.

In fact, most smartwatches have optical heart rate monitors built into them. 

Step Three: Complete An MAF Test 

Now that you’ve calculated your MAF heart rate, you’ll need to complete a MAF test. Essentially, this test will be a benchmark figure to use for your training. You’ll need to walk, run, or cycle at your MAF heart rate for twenty minutes.

During this test, you’ll need to record your distance. 

Step Four: Train At Your MAF Heart Rate 

Once you’ve completed the benchmark MAF test, it’s time to train at your MAF heart rate. While engaging in low heart rate exercise, you should give yourself sufficient time to rest and recover between sessions.

While training, it’s essential that you track your progress, which we’ll outline in the last step. 

Step Five: Track Your Training Progress 

While using the MAF method, you’ll need to track your training progress. To do this, you’ll need to repeat your MAF test from Step Three every month. When repeating the MAF test, you should ensure you use the same course.

By comparing your new results to that of your first benchmark test, you’ll be able to track your training. Generally, your aerobic system will take between 3 and 6 months to improve. 

How To Maintain Your Running Form During Low Heart Rate Training 

Naturally, it will take runners some time to adjust to training at their MAF heart rate, especially when you’re not used to this type of training. During this adjustment period, runners may struggle to maintain their running form. 

To run at your MAF heart rate, you’ll need to run slower at first.

However, most runners don’t shorten their stride enough when slowing their speed down. To maintain your running form using the MAF method, it’s crucial to shorten your stride at first. Your stride will gradually increase as your speed increases – leading to a better cadence.

To maintain your running while engaging in low heart rate training, you’ll need to start with a slower running pace and a shorter stride.

Over time, you’ll be able to increase this while still maintaining your form. Before you know it, you’ll be running faster than ever with a lower heart rate! 

Our Verdict on MAF Training

Pioneered by Dr. Phil Maffetone, MAF training is a way of developing your health and fitness safely and sustainably.

Also known as low heart rate training, this method entails lower-intensity workouts performed at your MAF heart rate. By implementing this training method, you’ll be running faster with a lower heart rate in no time! 

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