The Secret of Low Heart Rate Training For Running

The Development of Low Heart Rate Training

Runner and coach Phil Maffetone saw a need to help his runners achieve a high volume of running training without overtraining. When athletes overtrain they can hit a wall of exhaustion during or after performance, or become riddled with injury. 

Maffetone devised the heart rate training plan and found that it was a very efficient form of running training that improves the aerobic fitness of athletes without overtraining. The method has been validated by the performance improvements for elite world-class runners who implemented low heart rate training.  

The Benefits

  • Become an aerobic champ: LHRT increases your aerobic capacity and creates a solid aerobic base for training.
  • Running faster with less effort: It works towards the goal of maintaining lower heart rates while working at a higher capacity. (EG, you will be able to race at a faster pace without your heart rate skyrocketing). 
  • Prevent overtraining: LHRT can support a higher training volume while decreasing injuries by keeping the physical strain of a large volume of training lower.
  • Lean Up: Burn fat for fuel at lower heart rate zones.
  • Metabolic Health: Maintaining hormonal balance because less intensity can have less metabolic stress on the body.

How Does Low Heart Rate Training Work?

Your LHRT zone can be calculated quite easily. The formula is simply 180 minus your age. So, if you are 37 years old, the formula is [180-37] = 143. According to the Maffetone Method, if you do your heart-rate training runs at or below this rate you will be able to develop your aerobic fitness without overtraining, without experiencing other injurious effects of chronic high heart rate training. At this lower heart rate, the effects have been shown to boost metabolic and aerobic benefits. 

NOTE: This is one discussion around an effective training tool for long-distance or endurance athletes. However, there is a huge benefit for other goals in terms of using high intensity interval training and other heart-rate domains. This is not a substitute for all forms of training, but rather a conversation around the benefits of LHRT. 

How to Track your Heart Rate and Implement LHRT

This raises the question of: how can you track your heart rate during fitness? The heart rate tracking technology is very sophisticated, and also provides a large variety of tools. If you prefer to wear a chest strap for heart rate monitoring, that is one tool. Most smart watches, or fitbits track heart rates automatically. Then, there are other tools like the whoop or Oura ring that track your heart rate among other metrics. 

Another takeaway from engaging in LHRT and the type of heart rate tracking that goes along with it, it helps you to understand more about your own cardiovascular function. Within the realm of heart rate monitoring, there are a few data points to understand and how they relate to your health, and your training. After all, heart disease is one of the leading causes of sickness in the US. Understanding your heart and its performance is a great step in understanding your health and performance! 

Below are a few terms to be familiar with when it comes to heart rate: resting heart rate, recovery heart rate, maximum heart rate, and heart rate zones

Resting Heart Rate

This is exactly what it sounds like—the rate your heart beats at while you’re at rest, like when sleeping for example.  This number typically varies from 60 beats per minute (bpm) to 100 bpm. Endurance athletes often have resting heart rates that are under 60 bpm. Factors such as age, fitness level, gender, and even medication you’re on, can influence your resting heart rate. Resting heart rate should lower as fitness-level improves. An idea to see the long-term impacts of LHRT on your resting is to track your resting heart rate over a few months. If you see your resting heart rate is in the 70s upon waking in the morning when you start observing it on your heart rate tracking device, and then you employ a fitness regimen. If you recheck it after about 2 months at the same time of day upon waking, perhaps you’ll see the beats per minute decrease. 

Recovery Heart Rate

This is the time it takes for a heart rate to go from being elevated from vigorous exercise to a resting heart rate. This heart rate is the number of bpm the heart rate drops from a high rate after one minute post-activity. If the heart rate drops 50-60 bpm one minute after exercise, that is considered a good recovery heart rate. You can improve this value through exercise and LHRT. This is another value that is good to measure for improvement over time as you implement your LHRT. 

Maximum Heart Rate

Your maximum heart rate is the maximum rate at which your heart can beat in a minute. The simplest way to get an idea of your max heart rate is the formula: [208 – (0.7xage)]. So if you are 37, your maximum heart rate would be  [208 – (0.7×37)] = 182. 

One additional formula is adjusted for those with a higher fitness level and is [ 211 – (0.64 x Age)]. The same age would yield a slightly higher max heart rate to illustrate the higher fitness level: [211 – (0.64×37)] = 187.

This is a very general number, which can vary based on other factors such as health, fitness level, or medications you’re on. So, if you’re interested in a precise max hear rate measures, there are lab-run stress tests that are very accurate or DIY max heart rate tests you can try as well. 

Heart Rate Zones

The last term to review are heart rate zones. These are zones that have been defined to correlate with a percentage of maximum heart rate during exercise (3)

Based on our sample athlete who is 37 years old, she has a maximum heart rate of 187 bpm, but her LHRT heart rate is calculated from the Maffetone formula as 143 bpm. The heart rate of 143 bpm is roughly 75% of 187 bpm, so then this would be considered Zone 2 of heart rate training zones. This athlete would do her training in Zone 2 of heart rate to achieve the benefits of LHRT. 

Rock Your Race

The LHRT method is a great option to try if your training has been riddled with over-training related exhaustion or injury. As a matter of fact, if you have the discipline to run in a lower zone, you might see a leap in your performance. It’s definitely counterintuitive, but give it a try for your next race. Or, even if your next target race is coming up, try to infuse some LHRT runs in your regimen leading up to race day! 

However, if pain is your biggest limiting factor in your race goals, make sure you come see one of our Regenexx physicians for an evaluation so we can get you back out running faster.


About The Author
Lisa Valastro, DO

Lisa Valastro, DO

Lisa Valastro, DO, is an interventional physiatrist at Regenexx at New Regeneration Orthopedics in Tampa Bay, FL. She is fellowship-trained in regenerative medicine as well as spine and peripheral joint injections with image-guided precision.
Lisa Valastro, DO

Lisa Valastro, DO

Lisa Valastro, DO, is an interventional physiatrist at Regenexx at New Regeneration Orthopedics in Tampa Bay, FL. She is fellowship-trained in regenerative medicine as well as spine and peripheral joint injections with image-guided precision.

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