This Conditioning Workout is Easier and More Effective Than HIIT

Improve your aerobic endurance with this simple and effective method.

The combination of exercises performed at a high intensity in HIIT workouts is challenging and effective. And it's certainly a lot more enjoyable than going for a jog—unless you're a runner.

But HIIT has some disadvantages. The intensity of the workouts can beat up the body and push you so hard that it becomes difficult to perform exercises repeatedly with perfect form. The stress on your body can also become problematic when paired with strength workouts or playing your sport.

But you may still need to improve your conditioning or burn fat. In that case, you may want to opt for something a little easier on the body.

One option that I recently discovered after reading an article on StrongFirst is the Maffetone Method.

Dr. Paul Maffetone developed the Maffetone Method over years of research to help individuals improve their aerobic energy system, which uses oxygen to create energy for low-intensity exercise over long durations. The method was originally applied to jogging, cycling, rowing or swimming workouts and is commonly used by endurance athletes to build a base of aerobic endurance.

However, Maffetone believes the benefits go beyond endurance athletes. He contends the method increases fat burn, decreases recovery time from intense training and improves long-term health by developing a robust cardiovascular system.

How to Use the Maffetone Method

The Maffetone Method is a type of heart rate training, so you need a heart rate monitor to put it into practice.

The concept is based on training at your aerobic threshold, which is just before the point when your muscles begin to fatigue and burn. Training at this intensity challenges your cardiovascular system, but you should be able to work at this level for extended durations.

According to Maffetone, you can find your aerobic threshold by subtracting your age from 180. So if you're 20 years old, you should work as close as possible to 160 beats per minute.

The workouts may not feel incredibly difficult compared to standard HIIT workouts. But you are putting just enough stress on your body to improve your endurance.

Basing your effort on your heart rate allows you to adjust the intensity of the workout to ensure you achieve desired results.

See your heart rate spike? Slow down a bit, decrease the difficulty of the exercise or take a break. Notice that your heart rate is too low? It's time to work harder.

This adaptability makes the Maffetone Method appropriate for athletes of all levels of fitness. Someone who's in great shape may need to do more work to train at their aerobic threshold, whereas someone who is out of shape might not need to do all that much to cause their heart rate to spike.

The beauty of the Maffetone Method is its ability to test progress. Let's say you did a 5,000-meter rowing workout at 160 beats per minute, taking 25 minutes. Next time, you did the same run but it only took you 23 minutes to complete.

That improvement in time indicates that your cardiovascular system became more efficient and your endurance improved. Your body was able to work at a higher capacity at your aerobic threshold.

Maffetone recommends performing a standardized test once per month on any workout that you perform using the Maffetone Method. Here are a few examples:

RELATED: How to Condition Your Body With Tempo Runs


The workout: Row for 5,000 meters.

The Test: Track the time it takes to cover 5,000 meters.

Airdyne or Stationary Bike

The workout: Cycle for 15-30 minutes.

The test: Cover as much distance as possible in the allotted time.

Bodyweight Circuit

The workout: Perform the circuited exercises below for 10-15 minutes at the speed needed to maintain your aerobic threshold heart rate.

  • Prisoner Squats x 10
  • Push-Ups x 10
  • Lunges x 10 each leg
  • Mountain Climbers x 10 each leg

The test: Count the total number of times you can make it through the circuit in the allotted time.

StrongFirst Kettlebell Circuit

The workout: Perform the circuited exercises below for 20 minutes at the speed needed to maintain your aerobic threshold heart rate.

  • Turkish Get-Up - Right x 5-10
  • Single-Arm Kettlebell Swing - Right x 5-10
  • Single-Arm Kettlebell Front Squat - Right x 5-10
  • Turkish Get-Up - Left x 5-10
  • Single-Arm Kettlebell Swing - Left x 5-10
  • Single-Arm Kettlebell Front Squat - Left x 5-10
  • Burpee x 5-10

The test: Count the total number of times you can make it through the circuit in the allotted time.

You can get creative by building your own circuits with your favorite exercises, such as the moves performed in the video above.

Notice we don't mention jogging. Unless you're an endurance athlete, jogging is counterproductive. It beats up your body and can even screw up your sprinting form. There are simply other, more effective ways to get your heart rate up.

Other than maintaining your aerobic threshold heart rate, there are a few different strategies you can use to maximize the effectiveness of a Maffetone workout:

  • Always perform a proper dynamic warm-up.

  • As you begin a Maffetone workout, gradually increase the intensity of the exercise until you get to your target heart rate.

  • If paired with a strength workout, perform it toward the end of your workout and opt for a duration on the shorter end of the range..

When to Use the Maffetone Method

The Maffetone Method is a good option for athletes who are looking to build a base of aerobic endurance, which helps you recover between sets during a lift, between plays on the field and throughout the course of a game.

Aerobic endurance training is typically included in the early phases of an off-season training program to set you up for the intense workouts to come. Two or three Maffetone workouts per week in this initial phase should more than suffice.

Athletes who need extra conditioning work or who want to shed fat can continue to add Maffetone workouts to their training as they see fit.

This does not discount the value of HIIT, which is a phenomenal way to condition both your aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. However, as mentioned above, HIIT can be problematic if you're already beating up your body with three to four days of intense strength training per week.

In those cases, the Maffetone Method may be the perfect dose of conditioning you need to safely improve your endurance.

RELATED: This Bodyweight Mobility Circuit Might be the Hardest Thing You Do All Week

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock