Building Endurance to Tackle Life

Follow my journey to learn endurance sports with a sane and healthy approach.

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Training Healthy Part 1

Posted by Grundle on November 14, 2010

My main goal when I decided to start this training plan was to be more healthy.  I wanted to have more energy, lose weight, and feel better about how I was spending my time.  Because I didn’t want to get hurt I decided to do some research on why people get hurt so often when they are training amateur sports, and more specifically  endurance sports.  I came to two very interesting conclusions that I think every new  runner/triathlete should consider.  I would also recommend this strategy to the returning athlete that hasn’t trained in several years.

  1. Use Heart Rate Training – This article will continue and examine HR training more closely.
  2. Work on Running Technique – Part 2 will take a closer look at this.

Since both topics are fairly dense I have decided to break this discussion into two part.  For the remainder of this article I will only discuss using Heart Rate Training.

What is Heart Rate Training?

At it’s simplest Heart Rate Training is simply forcing yourself to exercise at a certain HR limit.  For a triathlete it is used to train endurance.  According to Dr. Phil Maffetone there are two different types of training, one being anaerobic and the other being aerobic.  Most people are familiar with anaerobic training where they do speed drills and intervals, etc.  Through his research Dr. Maffetone discovered that you can get greater speed gains if you build an aerobic base first, but usually that means you have to run, swim, or bike slower than you are used to.

There is a term he coined called the Max Aerobic Heart Rate where if you train in that range you will be building your aerobic base.  What was most astounding about his studies is his results on the aerobic system vs. workload.  He found that roughly 95 – 99% of the energy used in endurance sports comes from the aerobic system.  If that is true, then why do so many endurance athletes spend so much time working on “speed drills”?

How Do I Calculate My Max Aerobic Heart Rate?

There is a fairly simple formula to calculate this number if you aren’t able to do a treadmill test.  It is called the 180 formula, and once again it is provided by Dr. Maffetone.  The following is cited from his article Want Speed Slow Down.

The 180 Formula

To find the maximum aerobic heart rate:

  1. Subtract your age from 180 (180 – age).
  2. Modify this number by selecting a category below that best matches your health profile
  • A.  If you have, or are recovering from, a major illness (heart disease, high blood pressure, any operation orhospital stay, etc.) or you are taking medication, subtract an additional 10.
  • B.  If you have not exercised before or have been training inconsistently or injured, have not recentlyprogressed in training or competition, or if you get more than two colds or bouts of flu per year, or haveallergies, subtract an additional 5.
  • C.  If you’ve been exercising regularly (at least four times weekly) for up to two years without any of theproblems listed in a or b, keep the number (180 – age) the same.
  • D.  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.

So using Dr. Maffetone’s formula above I was able to calculate my own MAHR (Max Aerobic Heartrate).

  1. 180 – 31 = 149 bpm
  2. This is where you have to check your ego.  I originally wanted to say I fell into category C. but that was because I already thought 149bpm was kind of slow, but the truth is I fall into Category B.   So ego checked I subtract another 5.  149 – 5 => 144.

That is my MAHR, so if I want to get the best aerobic benefit I should keep my efforts in the range between 134 – 144 bpm.

Why Should You Use This?

I think that this training is vital for new athletes because it gives them a chance to know where their body is at.  For someone who has never trained an athletic discipline seriously they don’t know what they are capable of, but more importantly for them to start right in with speed work sounds like a disaster waiting to happen.  HR training forces someone to start much slower than they thought was necessary, but this is a perfect way for the body to adjust to the new exercise effort and more importantly for the new athlete to work on their technique!  Technique is vital for avoiding injury in all sports, including running, and HR training allows an athlete to go slow enough to focus on these things.

For a returning athlete I think this approach is even more important.  I remember all of the interval sets, and speed work I used to do in cross country and I am convinced that if I had tried to do those sort of workouts from the beginning, that I would be sitting here injured.  My body wasn’t ready for it and I also hadn’t run in over 10 years.  Sure my body remembers how to do it, but muscles certainly aren’t prepared which means that my joints would bear an unnecessary load and I would also deteriorate to sloppy form very quickly.

Did I mention that when you are in the aerobic range you burn fat instead of glucose?  That is correct!  For anyone whose main goal is to drop weight, then you should only do aerobic HR training since that is how you train your body to burn fat during exertion rather than a quick burn of glucose.


Remember that we are training to be healthy, not to be fast.  Speed will come with the correct type of training.  I am amazed that so many people are obsessed with speed and get hurt in the process of trying to obtain it.  Once they heal up from that injury they go back out, frustrated that they missed some days of training, and reinjure themselves.  Meanwhile, someone who has embraced the approach I am suggesting will be injured less, so they won’t have to go through that down time and rising frustration cycle.

There is also another effect that you will notice with HR training.  I have just completed my second week of training with roughly 70 miles per week, and 8.5 hours each week of swimming, biking and running.  I actually feel good and “fresh” after each of my workouts.   When I used to seriously train I would be exhausted after every workout, and I thought that this was how I could quantify that I had “trained hard”.

There are quantifiable results to this training.  Read about the MAF test that Dr. Maffetone describes in his above article.  I can also share my own short, but positive gains.  Before I adopted this strategy fully, I was using a different type of HR training on the bike.  That training asked me to do a 75% (156 bpm) effort for 1 hour and 20 minutes.   I ended up cycling a total of 25.75 miles.  This weekend I had the same workout planned, but I decided to use my MAHR as my target.  I ended up cycling 27.54 miles!  That means I went farther, and faster, with a lower HR.  What does that tell me?  My aerobic base has increased in these last two weeks!  I have quantifiable results, which means I know I am getting faster and yet I don’t feel like dying at the end of my training.

I consider HR training as a method where we listen to what our body says and respond accordingly.  Most triathletes and runners are doing distance workouts, so why should they try to sprint them every time?  Why should they try to risk injury and go faster than their body is ready for?  Have you been nagged by injuries, and a slave to your “pace” for all of these years?  Why not try something different and let your body tell you how to train!


One Response to “Training Healthy Part 1”

  1. bunny said

    Hi Grundle,

    Thanks for dropping by and leaving a note! You’ve got some great info on your blog with the right approach. I am definitely going to make sure that I build in more sets that are at a slower pace. I really like the idea about building the aerobic foundation before working on the anaerobic stuff. Thank you again for the info. I’ll be sure to come back and check on your progress!

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