Monday, 3 December 2012

Maffetone Method Part 2: The Practicals.

So, are you intrigued yet about how to actually apply this method?
Well, as mentioned in the previous post, the Maffetone method is not a rigid program such as Couch to 5k which tells you what to do every workout of the week. Rather, it is a set of principles for how to approach exercise (as well as diet and lifestyle, but here I’m going focus mainly on the exercise component).
But, that doesn’t mean you can’t develop a practical application. In order to create a program, you need to include two aspects in order to be considered suitable by Maffetone standards:
1.     The majority of your exercise program should be focused on developing aerobic fitness.
2.     Every exercise program needs to involve ongoing testing to evaluate its effectiveness and to identify when problems start to arise.

Aerobic Fitness = Working out at your Maximum Aerobic Heart Rate:
If you google Dr. Maffetone, you will find quite a bit on his 180 formula. This is a method for working out your maximum aerobic heart rate.
As mentioned in the series on heart rate, a lot of programs are based on exercising within particular heart rate bands, usually based on a percentage of maximum.
However, Dr. Maffetone suggests that instead of working on a percentage of maximum, which can be difficult to work out and is very variable between individuals, you should work out within a 10 bpm range of your maximum aerobic heart rate, worked out by his rough formula:
180 – your age, then:
-       Minus 10 if you are recovering from serious injury or illness or have been on long term medication.
-       Minus 5 if you haven’t exercised regularly for the last few years, have been exercising with an injury, have been regressing in training or have more than 2 colds per year 
-       Stay at this number if you have been exercising regularly for a few years without any problems.
-       Plus 5 if you are a competitive athlete who has been improving and had none of the above problems.
(Though note that over 65 or under 16 this needs to be individualised as the formula breaks down a bit).  
So, for me it would be 180 – 29 and minus another 5 as I get colds all the time = 146.
Then take 10 to give you your range. So, the majority of my workouts should be between 136-146 bpm.
Now, if you go and try that, you will find out why the theory has been considered with some skepticism: 140 can be a walk for a lot of people. I went through a really annoying stage where the range was just in between a jog and walk, so I did this sort of shuffle thing when outside, or just put up the incline and walked when on a treadmill.
However, the claim of the program is that if you continue to do this, you will get faster, but your heart rate will stay the same, demonstrating an increase in your aerobic fitness.
In turning this into a work, he includes a long warm up and cool down of 15 minutes each, slowly building up to the required heart rate and then building down again. This can result in a ‘workout’ of only 15 minutes at the require heart rate, or for beginners it might even just be a warm up and cool down.
In developing a long term program, he recommends spending 3-6 months doing nothing but aerobic work, and only after that, once you have a suitable base, can one or two anaerobic sessions can be added.

The second important aspect of the method is constant measurement in order to tell if you are actually improving.
As the method claims to focus on building aerobic fitness and increasing the body’s fat burning, he suggests two tests that should be done on a monthly basis to ensure everything is on course.
1.     Fat Burning: Obviously if you increase your fat burning ability, this should be seen in a decrease in body fat content. While this can be worked out using complicated measurements, he suggests just using a waist to hip measurement ratio to see if the program is working.
a.     So once a month (not more often) you should measure your waist at the height of your belly button, and again at the widest part of your hips.  Then work out your waist to hip ration: waist/hip.
b.     He argues that if your aerobic system is developing properly, this ratio will gradually diminish, along with your excess fat.

2.     Speed: Similarly, Maffetone recommends conducting a Maximum Aerobic Function Test (MAF test) once per month. The test requires maintaining the same heart rate over the same distance or time, and repeating the test every month.
a.     For example, I would try to maintain a heart rate of 145 over a distance of 1 mile and ideally every month my time would improve. Or I could test myself for 10 minutes and see how far I got in the same time.
b.     He starts with examples of 1 mile, but does mention that some prefer to do a longer distance such as 5 miles to add an element of endurance. Either is fine, though with the 5 miles he notes the time for each mile for comparison.
c.      He argues that if your MAF test results start to worsen, it is an indication that there is a problem such as excess stress, dietary/nutritional imbalance or a physical problem.
And that’s it. Work out at an aerobic heart rate and keep measuring yourself to make sure you are improving.
So, your challenge for this week:
Work out your Maximum Aerobic Heart Rate range, and then do initial tests to work out your waist to hip ration and baseline MAF test score.
Next post, I’ll look at some of the critiques of the method and general verdicts.

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