Why is it so hard to keep my heart rate in Zone 2?

noun_343728_ccZone 2 training is something I get asked about quite often. You may have heard us talk about it in the quick tip segment of MTA podcast episode 178.

Many people find that they have to slow way down or even add walking intervals to keep their heart rate in Zone 2.

This can be frustrating but it reflects the state of your aerobic system and the fact that a better endurance base needs to be built. So give it time!

3-6 Months

With regular Zone 2 training your speed will start to increase while keeping your heart rate down. But this process can take 3-6 months (depending on your starting point) so it’s important to have patience.

After this 3-6 month period when the progress you’ve made in Zone 2 has reached a plateau you can add in speed work again while keeping your easy runs in Zone 2 (similar to using the 80/20 method of easy/hard training).

The Maffetone Calculation

If you’re interested in using Zone 2 training it’s important to figure out what your Zone 2 numbers are because there are a variety of metrics out there.

The most accurate is getting a V02 max test done in an exercise laboratory. However, you can get a decent estimate by using the Maffetone calculation of 180-age= upper number of Zone 2.

To read more about the Maffetone method including the rationale behind it and frequently asked questions see www.philmaffetone.com/180-formula/

If you have a Garmin watch you may notice that Zone 3 there correlates more closely to Maffetone Zone 2.

Wearing a heart rate monitor and using heart rate training gives us information on how our body is functioning while running so that we can adjust the intensity accordingly to develop better cardiovascular endurance.

Simply put, a healthy aerobic system helps us run more effectively. Signs of a poor aerobic system can include higher body fat, performance plateaus, injuries, fatigue, and less than ideal health.

I wrote a much longer blog post about heart rate training in the past for those who want to dig deeper.

photo credit: Charlotte Vogel from Noun Project

9 Responses to Why is it so hard to keep my heart rate in Zone 2?

  1. Lewis Van Atta May 15, 2016 at 10:24 pm #

    One problem I have always had with Maffetone’s method: we always hear that we shouldn’t use 220 minus your age for a max heartrate guideline; BUT….Maffetone says use 180 minus your age for a guideline instead. Aren’t we trying to shoehorn individuals with different needs into the same formula in either case?

    (Plus from a scientific viewpoint, it just bugs me that Maffetone has never published his results in a peer-reviewed journal. He may well be on to something, it merely bugs me that he hasn’t published).

    Can you help me understand? 🙂

  2. Angie Spencer May 16, 2016 at 8:24 am #

    Hi Lewis, Thanks for the great comment and question. You’re absolutely right that 180 isn’t a magic number that is accurate in every case. That’s why there are a list of exceptions on how to modify that number to make it fit the individual better (https://philmaffetone.com/180-formula/). And since this method hasn’t been peer reviewed and published yet I’d say that MAF is more of an art than a science. However it is based on his research on athletes for over 40 years. He states, “The use of the number 180 is not significant other than as a means to finding the end heart rate. Plus, 180 minus age itself is not a meaningful number; for example, it is not associated with VO2max, lactate threshold, or other traditional measurements.” It kind of reminds me of calculations for BMI (body mass index) which don’t take things like muscle mass into consideration. It just tracks the ratio between weight and height. Interestingly, over on Maffetone’s website it looks like they are soliciting MAF results from people who have used this training method for 6 months. So hopefully in the near future we’ll see something published on this.

  3. Lewis Van Atta May 16, 2016 at 9:10 am #

    Thank you! I’ve listened and googled a little on this topic, but your answer is one the best and well-reasoned ones that I’ve seen.

  4. Chloe Allen Maycock May 21, 2016 at 12:06 am #

    Angie- I have been listening to yours and Trevor’s podcast and really love it. I’m a big believer in MAF training. Over the past two years, I have improved my pace at MAF heart rate by almost 2 minutes. I’m hoping that all of my slow miles will give me the endurance I need for a BQ! I infuse speed into my schedule as well, but the MAF training has made the biggest difference for me as a runner. Headed to Cancale France next Friday for a half marathon. If you want a report of that run (I’m doing it as a duomarathon with my friend, who is running the second half of our relay) I’d be happy to report afterwards. Thank you again for your podcast!

    • Angie Spencer May 21, 2016 at 2:58 pm #

      Thanks for the comment and for being a listener Chloe! It’s awesome to hear how effective MAF training has been for you. I’d love to hear how you’re upcoming half goes. Good luck!

  5. Jonathan May 23, 2016 at 2:57 pm #

    Hi guys,

    I enjoy your podcast and have been listening for about 10 months. Thanks.

    I started MAF in July last year and believe 100% in Phills work, I have listened to a lot of his interviews and he just makes a lot of sense. I have gone HFLC since January this year.

    My issue is, when I was training for a marathon in August/September last year and doing MAF i ended up injuring myself (DNS) as I have found to run at a peace to keep MAF I seem to loose form. No matter how much I try I seem to get floppy in the hips and that’s what caused my problem. Bad form. When I go harder my form stays tight. My MAF is 139 but to stop the pain I was getting in my leg (nerve pain) I end up running around 150-158. Do you have any tips as I really want to master MAF. thanks.

    • Angie Spencer May 23, 2016 at 3:07 pm #

      Hi Jonathan. I’m glad that you’ve been enjoying the podcast. It’s great to hear that you’ve been working on MAF and eating HFLC. But you’re absolutely right that keeping relaxed form while running slower is a challenge. One thing that you might want to work on is keeping your cadence higher with shorter strides so that your feet land under your hips. You can practice a higher cadence by running in place to a metronome set at 180 beats per minute. If your heart rate gets too high with a higher cadence you can build in regular walking intervals so that at least when you’re running your form is good. Another very helpful thing would be to add (or increase) the amount of core and hip strengthening exercises that you’re doing. Many runners are weak through the core muscles (especially glutes) and that can equal poor running form, pain and eventually injury. Good luck!

  6. Jonathan May 23, 2016 at 4:01 pm #

    Thanks Angie. The run walk is a tip I haven’t really tried so will work on that. My cadence is between 180 and 184 consistently, forefoot strike under hips and I do Body Balance 2-3 times per week, TRX once and a Physio routine 30 minutes per day (working in trigger point, knee outs, squats and running men, then hip thrusters and pistol squats… My hips and glutes are getting much better now. Thanks again.

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