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What is Low Heart Rate Training During Exercise?


by Matt Weik BS, CSCS, CPT, CSN

Running by heart rate has gained popularity as a training method to assess workout intensity. The higher your heart rate, the harder you’re apparently working. However, some runners experience limited progress in terms of running faster at lower heart rates. Low heart rate training, on the other hand, focuses on enhancing the efficiency of the heart and aerobic system.

The approach to low heart rate training aims to enable runners to maintain faster speeds for longer durations with reduced effort. While transitioning to low heart rate running may challenge one’s ego, many runners discover it to be the breakthrough they need to advance their fitness levels.

In this article, we will dive deeper and learn everything you need to know about low heart rate training and whether it’s something you should consider trying.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to treat or diagnose any condition. It is recommended that you speak with your doctor before starting any exercise program.

What is Low Heart Rate Training?

Low heart rate training, also known as Maximum Aerobic Function (MAF) training, simplifies your workouts by focusing on lower-intensity exercises.

The key concept involves setting a maximum heart rate threshold for all workouts. By ensuring your heart rate remains below this threshold, you optimize your training.

Adapting to true MAF training involves adjusting lifestyle factors like nutrition and stress management to complement the low heart rate approach.

You might wonder how running at lower intensities can enhance performance. Surprisingly, research supports this counterintuitive approach, suggesting that maintaining a lower heart rate can lead to improvements in running ability over time.

The Low Heart Rate Training Guide

To determine your maximum aerobic function (MAF) heart rate for low heart-rate training, you can use the 180-Age Formula. Here’s how it works:

  • Start by subtracting your age from 180.
  • Adjust this number based on certain factors:
  • Subtract 10 if you’re recovering from an injury, overtraining, or have a chronic illness.
  • Subtract 5 if you’re overweight, currently injured, have allergies or asthma, or are new to running.
  • Add 5 if you’ve been consistently training for over 2 years without injury.
  • The resulting number is your MAF heart rate, which serves as your maximum heart rate during low heart-rate training sessions.

Remember that your MAF heart rate may change over time, especially as you make progress in your training or if your health status changes. Tracking your MAF heart rate and adjusting accordingly can help optimize your training regimen.

Benefits of Low Heart Rate Training During Exercise

Below are some of the most important benefits of low heart rate training.

1.   Better aerobic exercises

Low heart rate training offers a significant advantage by allowing you to engage in aerobic activities at your usual pace while maintaining a lower heart rate. This not only reduces strain on the heart muscle but also enhances endurance over time.

According to a 2019 study, researchers compared two training methods: focused endurance training (FOC) and polarized endurance training. The FOC group focused on higher-intensity workouts with elevated heart rates, while the polarized endurance training group primarily exercised at a slower pace with lower heart rates.

Results showed that both groups experienced similar improvements in fitness, but the FOC group achieved these gains in a shorter duration. This suggests that while low heart rate training may take longer to yield results, it can still be effective for enhancing overall fitness and endurance.

2.   Prevents injury

In addition to supporting heart health, low heart rate training plays a crucial role in injury prevention. If you experience discomfort or soreness while running, it may indicate inadequate oxygen and nutrient supply to your muscles, highlighting the potential benefits of low heart rate training.

By adopting a slower pace, you reduce the impact on your joints and can concentrate on refining your posture and technique.

These adjustments not only help prevent common running injuries but also facilitate quicker recovery between workouts.

3.   More fat burning

Low heart rate training encourages your body to rely more on fat as a fuel source, leading to numerous health benefits, including weight loss and enhanced race performance.

By tapping into your body’s vast fat stores, aerobically trained individuals can maintain energy levels throughout a race, outlasting competitors who may experience fatigue due to depleting carbohydrate reserves. This efficient fat utilization not only supports sustained endurance but also contributes to improved overall health and race outcomes.

Why is Low Heart Rate Training Ideal for Runners?

As you turn towards low heart rate training, it may require some adjustment, but the benefits are substantial, particularly for runners returning from injury, experiencing fatigue, or seeking enhanced performance.

Regardless of your experience level, increasing VO2 max, a key marker of aerobic fitness, can be achieved effectively through low heart rate training. Unlike high-intensity interval workouts, this method offers similar improvements in a lower-intensity, sustainable manner, making it accessible and beneficial for all runners striving for long-term progress and success.

Give low heart rate training a try and see what results you can achieve!

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