A New Approach to My Training: the 180 Formula

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I am excited to try something new with my fitness training program.

Currently I do cardio six days a week, 45 minutes per workout, alternating days between my recumbent bike and rowing machine. I also alternate the type of training I do each day. I also do 30 minutes of basic strength training workouts three days a week.

Here is what my week looks like in terms of cardio workouts (each day starts with about a 10 minute warm-up on the bike and some stretching; for my max heart rate (MHR), I have been using 170:

  • Monday: 45 minutes on the bike; three minute warm up, followed by 40 minutes steady state at 75% of my MHR, followed by two minute cool down
  • Tuesday: 45 minutes on the erg; three minute warm up, followed by 8 intervals of 5 minutes each, with each five minute interval consisting of the following: two minutes at 65% MHR; 2 minutes at 75% MHR, and one minute at 85% MHR, followed by two minute cool down
  • Wednesday: 45 minutes on the bike; three minute warm up, followed by 40 minutes steady state at 60% of my MHR, followed by two minutes of cool down
  • Thursday: 45 minutes on the erg; 3 minutes warming up, followed by 40 minutes steady state at 75% of my MHR, followed by two minute cool down
  • Friday: 45 minutes on the bike; three minute warm up, followed by 8 intervals of 5 minutes each, with each five minute interval consisting of the following: two minutes at 65% MHR; 2 minutes at 75% MHR, and one minute at 85% MHR, followed by two minute cool down
  • Saturday: 45 minutes on the erg; three minute warm up, followed by 40 minutes steady state at 60% of my MHR, followed by two minute cool down

While not physically taxing, the days where I have to keep my heart rate at 60% max are hard, since I need to go REALLY slow.

So while I think I am in decent shape, I’ve always been interested in trying new approaches to working out, to see if I can improve my fitness level.

I recently discovered the web site of Dr. Phil Maffetone. Dr. Maffetone has worked with world class athletes, celebrities, as well as the general public. His extensive list of clients include professional football and baseball players, race-car drivers, Olympic medalists, and six times world iron-man champion, Mark Allen.

What intrigued me most about his training approach was the emphasis on heart-rate monitoring, which I am a big fan of already, as you can tell from my workouts above. However, rather than having a variety of heart training workouts like I show above, Dr. Maffetone recommends a simple training method known as the 180 formula.

The 180 formula starts with a person taking 180 minus their age to determine their maximum heart rate for training. From there, depending on an individual’s current health status, he or she would make a few simple, but key adjustments to arrive at their final maximum heart training rate.

In my case, I will just start with 180-57 to get a heart rate of 123, and that becomes what I train at every workout. While Maffetone notes that you can use this formula to come up with a training range, perhaps from 10 beats below to your maximum training rate, the closer you are to the max rate the better.

I will continue to do my cardio workouts six days per week, alternating between biking and rowing, as well as continue strength training three times per week. I plan to keep my heart rate under 123 for the strength training workouts as well.

I am looking forward to seeing what, if any, improvements I notice from this approach.

My first guess is that it will be less stressful on my body, and so I should not feel overly tired after a workout. I did try this today when I was doing part of my strength training workout, and it was quite hard to keep my heart rate at 123 when doing burpees ( I realize burpees aren’t best classified as a strength training exercise, but I don’t think of them as strictly cardio either). My heart rate would jump to about 129 after just a few burpees, and then I would have to wait almost 45 seconds for my rate to get back to 123. It will be quite interesting to see if I am able to get more efficient at doing burpees with this training method.

I’ll share my progress on the blog, after my first month of using it.

Anyway, that’s enough talking, tomorrow it’s time to put the plan in action.

Published by

Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

2 thoughts on “A New Approach to My Training: the 180 Formula”

  1. Did you stick to this method? I just started running last year(to train for OCR) I recently started doing heart rate training trying to stay at 165 and max out at 180 on hills at which point I’d walk till I reached 165 again. I stumbled upon Maffetone method and was curious about using it for burpees which led me to your blog. I was just wondering if you’ve had success and still recommend it?

    1. Hi Tom. I did stick to this for close to a year, and then a rotator cuff injury took me out of action for a while. I did notice that my resting heart rate got lower, and that over time I was able to get in more miles/more meters in the same workout time using the 180-age heart rate approach. I also noticed that certain activities, in particular burpees, were almost impossible to do in any significant number before I went above the 180-age target. I never seemed to make much progress with the burpees with this training method (in terms of being able to do more and more while keeping my heart rate under the 180 target. But I was also doing some kettlebell stuff, mountain climbers, push-ups, and pull-ups at the same time. But it seemed to be the burpees were the main culprit.) The 180 approach seems best suited for basic cardio workouts (running, biking, rowing, etc.) I’ll also admit that training with the 180-age formula is kind of boring…

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