The Secrets of Low Heart-Rate Training

What is Low Heart-Rate Training?

Low heart-rate training was pioneered by running coach Phil Maffetone, who found that it was a very efficient form of running training that improves the aerobic fitness of athletes without over training. Its benefits have already been shown by world class athletes who improved their performance  while using the low heart rate training.

Benefits of Low Heart-Rate Training

  • It increases your aerobic capacity without the strain caused by over training.
  • Eventually you will be able to run close to your race pace with a much lower heart-rate.
  • It means you will be able to maintain your training without the minor injuries and illness that can come from over training.

Running Slower to Get Faster

I discovered low heart rate training a few years ago. One of my friends bought a heart rate monitor and I tried it out on one of my daily training runs. I was shocked to find my heart rate was around 180 on even my easy runs. I felt no strain while running but on reflection I realised I would often feel tired during the day and would regularly get colds and flu-like symptoms.

Around this time I discovered Phil Maffetone, a running coach who had trained the famous triathlete Mark Allen (six time winner of the Hawaii Ironman) and was one of the pioneers of low heart rate training. Triathletes often overtrain because of the volume of training they have to do.

Maffetone had discovered that many athletes were very fit but at the same time unhealthy owing to overtraining. So after much research he came up with a form of low heart rate training which improved aerobic function without overtraining.

Maffetone’s Low Heart-Rate Training Plan

The formula Maffetone came up with was 180 minus your age. You do all your training runs at this heart rate.

So I decided to try this training. I was 55 at the time so it was 180 – 55 = 125. Also there was a further modification: if you get more than two colds a year (showing your immune system was under stress) you should take off another 5 so that made 120.

So I tried to train at this new low heart rate. I had been warned that you need a lot of patience at first and this was indeed the case. I was only able to run for a short distance before my heart rate would jump up to around 180. I needed to be really self-disciplined at this point and I decided not to give up and to plough on regardless.

This continued for a couple of weeks of walk/run and was quite frustrating. But with persistent effort, after about a month, I was able to run more consistently at the low heart rate. My pace was very slow but my heart rate seemed to reset itself at this new lower heart rate after a while. Each month I got faster and after 3 months I was able to run at my normal training pace.

My Heart Rate Gets Lower as I Get Fitter

Whereas my heart rate had been around 180 at this training speed it was now 120 for short runs. Gradually each month I was able to run for longer and to keep my new low heart rate. This also meant I didn’t feel so tired during the day and didn’t get so many colds etc.

Does Low Heart-Rate Training Really Work?

Maffetone found that most of his top triathletes were able to gradually increase their speed each month until they could get close to their race speed while still maintaining their low heart rate.

As a running coach I have encouraged some of the runners I coach to try the low heart-rate training. They have all had good results and after the initial slowing down to adjust to the new low heart rate they were gradually able to increase their training speed back to their normal level or even faster while maintaining their new low heart rate.

One triathlete I recommended the training to was very pleased with the results. He was training with a group and he maintained a better level of performance over the season than the rest of the team, most of which were younger than him. I have also recommended the low heart-rate training to some beginner runners that I coach so that they could develop their aerobic fitness without over-training. To get the full story, including all the modifications according to your level of fitness and health, I suggest you check out Phil Maffetone’s website