Aerobic Base Training

Aerobic base training is the first step to make after the athlete has made the physiological shift to burning fat as fuel. For athletes new to this approach the time to begin is after the lethargy and hunger cravings of inducing carb restriction has worn off. For an athlete who has been practicing OFM, this can be after performing a 3-5 day “Metabolic Reset” of carbohydrate restriction generally timed after a big event or at the end of the training/racing season. For someone making the switch for the first time this may last a week to 10 days and sometimes 2+ weeks.

This is lower intensity training to condition the athlete’s physiology and provide enough physical stress for a hormetic response to up-regulate fat-burning hormones and enzymes, stimulate muscle cell and mitochondria synthesis and stimulate the liver to produce ketones and glucose to meet the energy needs for physical activities. Once this robust aerobic conditioning is in place only then can the training step up in intensity. To reach your athletic performance potential this applies to virtually all physical endeavors not just endurance sports. The only sorts of exceptions would be Olympic Power Lifting or the 100 meter dash.

OFM Tweaking of The Maffetone Method: “The Modified Maffetone Method”
Dr. Phil Maffetone’s, “Maffetone Method”, was developed in the 80’s when carbohydrates reigned unchallenged in the dietary realm of athletic performance. In developing the OFM program we noted with the dietary fat-adaptation and using VESPA the Maffetone Method could be tweaked upward in HR to help yield the unconventionally high rates of fat-metabolism seen in OFM athletes.

At this point we suggest 2-3 weeks of lower intensity aerobic base training before incorporating higher intensity training. For a conventional high carb athlete we continue to feel the standard Maffetone Method Low HR Training (MAF) approach is an excellent tool for their base and recovery training, however, based on athlete feedback and new data is has become clear to us the 180 BPM minus chronological age needs to shift with a fat-adapted athlete and here is why: The Maffetone Method was developed using athletes who were using a relatively high carbohydrate diet. Without enough carbohydrate restriction to induce Nutritional Ketosis the HR threshold for triggering a sharp increase in carbohydrate utilization during exercise is much lower than that of a fat-adapted athlete. One can see this from the emerging science on fat-adaptation graph on crossover point and this is consistent with what fat-adapted athletes have said regarding their training.

Thus, our thinking has shifted from following the Maffetone Method, Dr. Phil Maffetone’s, The 180 Formula Low Heart Rate training Protocol to what we will term as a Modified Maffetone Method (MMAF) for fat-adapted athletes.

Calculating Your Maximum Aerobic Heart Rate using MMAF:

A. Subtract your age from 200 (200 – age)

B. Modify this number by selecting one of the following categories:

  1. If you have a history of a major illness, are recovering from any surgery or hospital stay, or if you are taking any regular medication, subtract 20.
  2. If you have been exercising but have an injury, are regressing in your efforts (not showing much improvement), if you often get more than one or two colds or flu a year, have allergies or asthma, or if you have not exercised before, subtract 10.
  3. If you have been exercising for at least two years and four times a week without any injury, and none of the above items apply to you, subtract 0.
  4. If you are a competitive athlete, have been training for more than two years without any injury, and have been making progress in both training and competition, add 10.

For example, if you are 30 years old and fit into category “2”:

200 – 30 = 170, then 170 – 10 = 160 beats per minute

The result of the equation is your maximum aerobic heart rate. In this example, exercising at a heart rate of 160 beats per minute will be highly aerobic in a fat adapted athlete, allowing you to develop maximum aerobic function. Exercising at heart rates above this level can quickly add a significant anaerobic component to the workout, and stimulate your anaerobic system, exemplified by a shift to more sugar-burning and less fat-burning.

If you prefer to exercise below your maximum aerobic heart rate, you will still derive good aerobic benefits, but progress at a slightly slower pace. It always pays to be conservative, so if your resulting number is lower, it’s also safer compared to guessing it may be a higher number.

The only exceptions for this formula are for people over the age of 65, and those under the age of 16, as follows:
For seniors in category “3” or “4,” you may have to add up to 10 beats after obtaining your maximum aerobic heart rate. That doesn’t mean you must add 10 beats. This is such an individualized category, getting assistance from a professional would be very helpful.
For children under the age of 16, there’s no need to use MAF or MMAF. Instead, use 165-175 as the maximum aerobic heart rate.

If you’re used to exercising, when you first work out at your maximum aerobic heart rate, it may seem too easy. Many people have told me initially they can’t imagine it’s worth the time. I tell them to not only imagine it will help, but to understand how the body really works. In a short time, exercise will become more enjoyable, and you’ll find more work is needed to maintain your heart rate. In other words, as your aerobic system builds up, you’ll need to walk, ride or dance faster to attain your maximum aerobic heart rate. If you’re a runner, your minute-per-mile pace will get faster; bikers will ride at higher miles per hour/wattage at the same heart rate; and so on.

After the dietary transition, a base building phase of 2-3 weeks using the MMAF is utilized to establish an aerobic base where fat is all or almost all of the energy used for exercise. This not only allows the athlete to tap into a virtually unlimited energy source for aerobic exercise but stable blood sugar for focus, coordination/motor skills and rapid recovery. Another key benefit of this training in conjunction with carbohydrate restriction helps condition the cardio vascular system for optimal vascular dilation of the arteries, veins and capillaries. This sets the stage.

At this point the athlete can begin to actually ramp up their intensity and HR including some training at maximum HR. A good rule of thumb is the 80/20 rule…..80% of your training will be done at or below the maximum Maffetone Method HR while 20% will be at a significantly higher HR including some maximum HR bouts. This has the observed effect of pushing the fat-burning capabilities further up the aerobic envelope so when you come back down to your MMAF HR your performance metrics are significantly improved.

Now to make this work consistently well a couple of key points to note:

1) Always do a Long Slow Warmup (LSW) before beginning the higher intensity workouts.
2) Be sure to schedule these workouts at times and frequencies when you are rested and recovered so you feel like pushing yourself rather than “hanging on”.
3) It is recommended to use VESPA for these workouts to drive high fat metabolism at high intensity and to optimize recovery.

OFM Capillary Conditioning: If your sport involves more traditional strength & conditioning exercises with weights and gym workouts MMAF also applies. We termed this “Capillary Conditioning” to maximize the ability of the capillaries to deliver blood in and out of muscle cells to prepare the athlete to be able to lift more weight, with more repetitions/work by stimulating development of Type llA Fast Twitch Muscle Fiber (Fast Oxidative/Glycolytic or FOG) and less buildup of bulky muscle tissue which is poorly conditioned for aerobic capacity (Type llX Fast Twitch or FG muscle fiber). Capillary Conditioning requires extreme patience from the athlete because the culture is so conditioned to fast results but the long-term payoff is huge.

Capillary conditioning is basically MMAF training for 2 weeks using super high repetitions with each rep performed in rapid succession, using low weight and full range of motion. This approach will seem counter to established norms for strength & conditioning training until well into the strength building phase where the athlete has the capacity for more reps and greater overall strength, flexibility and faster recovery.

Once the base training phase is accomplished then the athlete can begin to push higher weights for greater reps but always using a LSW prior to prime the muscles for using as much aerobic capacity as possible.