Monday, December 31, 2012

Personalized Training

...or how I modified Phillip Maffetone's training regimen without even giving it a chance.

The title of this post is a take-off on the phrase "personalized medicine", a phrase describing one of the most important ideas in contemporary medicine. The motivating concept of personalized medicine is that different people have different responses to the same drug or treatment. With that in mind, medical research is devoting great effort to learning how to determine for each person which drug or treatment is best.

The premise of this post is that, just as people's medical treatments need to be customized, people's training regimens do as well. (This is certainly not a new idea!) This post reports my results to date with Phillip Maffetone's aerobic training regimen as described in his book "Endurance Training and Racing" and explains why I have modified it after only a few weeks of experience.

Heart Rates

Having decided to undertake Dr. Maffetone's aerobic training regimen, the first step was to determine the heart rate at which I should train, a heart rate Dr. Maffetone calls "Maximum Aerobic Heart Rate." Dr. Maffetone gives a formula for determining that heat rate, and using his formula, I calculated a heart rate of 112 to 122 beats per minute (BPM), depending on how I evaluated my prior training. When I acquired a heart rate monitor and began noting my heart rate under different conditions, this estimate seemed unreasonably low. Given Dr. Maffetone's assertion that base training should seem exceptionally easy at first, should I not have ignored my misgivings and given his approach a chance?

To explain why I chose not to accept Dr. Maffetone's formula for determining the heart rate at which I should train, I need to talk about the use of heart rate in training. There are several relevant heart rates:
Maximum Heart Rate
The highest heart rate it is possible to attain.
Heart Rate at Lactate Threshhold
The highest heart rate it is possible to maintain in a 30 minute time trial.
Resting Heart Rate
The heart rate measured first thing in the morning.
Heart Rate Zones
Various heart rates defined differently by different training programs to describe different kinds of training. (Heart Rate Zones are discussed below.)
Maximum Aerobic Heart Rate
The heart rate Dr. Maffetone recommends for base training. This probably corresponds to one of the above heart rate zones.
Many heart rate zones are calculated relative to the Maximum Heart Rate, making this heart rate important to know. Maximum Heart Rate does not change with exercise, varies from person to person, and for any one person, decreases with age. Unfortunately, it is difficult to determine. The general recommendation is to have it determined by a cardiologist as part of a cardiac stress test, with medical personnel and a defibrillator standing by. Given the age of my heart, I doubt very much if my cardiologist would approve such a test. There are formulas for estimating Maximum Heart Rate which take into account age but which cannot, of course, take into account person to person variation. Using the different formulas for determining Maximum Heart Rate, I estimate values for my Maximum Heart Rate of between 157 and 163 BPM. According to Wikipedia, the person to person variation in Maximum Heart Rate is 60 BPM, such at if the average Maximum Heart Rate for a man my age is 160, my Maximum Heart Rate could vary between 130 and 190. Since I can ride for several minutes with a heart rate of over 160 BPM with no great discomfort, I have to assume that my personal Maximum Heart Rate is greater than average. It is generally reported that, whereas it is difficult to achieve 100% of Maximum Heart Rate, most people can achieve 95% of Maximum Heart Rate by riding at a subjective effort of "as fast as I can go for a short time." That I did and measured a heart rate of 173 BPM. I could well imagine this is less than 95% of my Maximum Heart Rate, but it is hard for me to imagine it is more. Thus, if I assume 173 is 95% of my Maximum Heart Rate, then my Maximum Heart Rate can be extrapolated to be at least 182 BPM.

The Heart Rate at Lactate Threshold does vary with training and is typically between 75% and 85% of the Maximum Heart Rate. Generally, the more fit you are, the higher your Heart Rate at Lactate Threshold. Heart Rate at Lactate Threshold can be measured relatively easily as the heart rate measured during the last 20 minutes of a 30 minute time trial. This is a measurement I hope to make in the future, but based on the experience described in the previous paragraph, I am estimating my Heart Rate at Lactate Threshold to be 160 BPM. The highest this would likely be is 85% of Maximum Heart Rate giving an minimum estimate for my Maximum Heart Rate of 188 BPM.

Given the above two estimates, I am estimating my Maximum Heart Rate is 185 BPM.


Periodization seems to be almost universally recognized as a valuable structure for training. Periodization consists of four phases:

BaseProvide a foundation for later training
BuildMaximize fitness for selected event
TaperRegain energy for the event
TransitionRecovery between events and between one season and another

That said, there seems to be two major schools with regards to what constitutes base training. To use training for a 200k brevet as an example, one school would include mileage increases in base training with the longest ride during base training reaching 150 km. According to this school, the Build phase would add high speed interval training to the regimen. The other school would argue that base training consist of relatively constant, relatively easy training rides and save the mileage increases for the Build phase. Dr. Phillip Maffetone is clearly in the second school, and that is the approach I am currently testing.

Training Zones

Different training regimens have different numbers of training zones. In the following table I have tried to merge zones or interpolate between zones to compare three common training regimens:

AuthorBurke & PavelkaABCC/BCFFriel
Base Training120(137)111138130142
Aerobic Training(138)155138151144149
Lactate Threshold157174151164150158
Interval Training176185165185160185

Burke & Pavelka is "The Complete Book of Long Distance Cycling" (ISBN 1-57954-199-2). Burke & Pavelka calculate only 4 levels. From my reading of the book, I inferred they merge Base and Aerobic Training, and so split these, interpolating a value (shown in parentheses) half way in between. ABCC/BCF is taken from the Association of British Cycling Coaches/British Cycling Foundation Calculator. Based on their description of what the levels were, I merged the 7 levels calculated into the 5 levels shown here. Friel is from Joe Friel's blog.

Adjusting Dr. Maffetone's Heart Rate

What is Dr. Maffetone's Maximum Aerobic Heart Rate?  It is logical to assume it corresponds to Base Training in the above table, given how it is used. Another way to infer what it might be is to take advantage of the fact that it is calculated based only on age similarly to how Maximum Heart Rate is calculated:
    220 - age = Maximum Heart Rate
    180 - age = Maffetone Maximum Aerobic Heart Rate
If I do a reverse calculation using the HR of 185 BPS I estimated for my Maximum Heart Rate to calculate a "personalized age" of 35 years and then plug that personalized age into Dr. Maffetone's equation, I determine a Maximum Aerobic Heart Rate of 140, consistent with the HR values for Base Training in the above table. Based on these two lines of reasoning, I am now training at a HR of 140 BPS.

Training Results to Date

During my first month of using the Maffetone training regimen, I increased the heart rate of my Maffetone training from 125 to 130 to 140 BPM. I did two types of rides:

  1. A 45 minute ride (after warm up and before cool down) at heart rates of 125, 130 BPS or 140 BPS.
  2. A 14 mile (just over 1 hour) ride (after warm up and before cool down) at heart rates of 125, 130, or 140 BPS.
If I record the number of miles ridden in 45 minutes, any ride of the first type can be a MAF test. If the Maffetone training is working, then the speed for MAF tests should increase, "within two or three months". These are my results so far:

There is a lot of day to day variability some of which is due to the amount of wind that day. Given that Dr. Maffetone recommends waiting for two to three months before passing judgement and given the large day to day variability, this almost certainly is not enough data to draw a conclusion. I will continue to collect and post data.

More subjectively, I feel like my heart rate has trended lower over this first month of training. I notice this the most during warm up. I also notice that my heart rate tends to drift up over the course of a training session. I notice this in two ways. First, when I hold my heart rate constant over a 45 minute ride, my speed tends to drop. Second, my heart rate is significantly higher on the cool down ride after training than during the warm up ride before training. One final subjective point: even at 140 BPM, I feel like I am holding back, and that I am riding at more slowly than if I were riding at a comfortable pace on a ride lasting several hours.

In summary, I am guardedly optimistic about this training regimen so far. Although there are not enough data to draw objective conclusions, my subjective impression is that my performance is increasing at a constant heart rate. Finally, the regularity of this routine is resulting in my riding on the order of 400 miles each month, a relatively high number of miles for me, giving me some confidence that this is enough training to be of value.

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