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Old 01-24-2012
terry terry is offline
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Default Maximal NEURAL Function

In the 1980s and 90s when Mark Allen was engaging in legendary Ironman duels with Dave Scott and was widely considered the world’s best endurance athlete he trained with a method called MAF, Maximal Aerobic Function which is still popular among endurance athletes today. In MAF training, you begin each season or training cycle--following a period of R&R--by using a HR monitor to carefully limit HR. In basic form, you train with HR no higher than 65% of max HR for weeks. E.G. If your max HR is 200bpm (about 20-30 yrs of age) you’d stay below 130; if it’s 180 (40-50 yrs.) you’d never exceed 117.

During that period your goal is to gradually shave the time it takes you to run various distances—whether a 10-mile run on a particular course, or a series of 8 x 400 on the track—at that slower HR. Improvement might be brisk initially, then slow and finally stop--over a period of weeks or months. When you go several workouts or a week with no further gains in performance, you reset the top-limit alarm on your HR monitor to, say, 70% of max and repeat the process.

The object of MAF training is to raise your aerobic system’s capacity to deliver oxygen and fuel to your muscles. As you gradually run farther and faster—without allowing more heartbeats--you make the heart do more with less—pump a larger volume of oxygenated blood with each contraction. Only when your heart had maximized its pumping capacity at the slower rate would you allow it to pump a little faster

MAF has proven highly effective in endurance running and cycling, because aerobic capacity determines 70% or more of performance. But in endurance swimming, aerobic capacity determines only 10% (in inefficient swimmers) to 30% (in highly efficient swimmers) of performance. The most important factor is efficiency. Physiological efficiency is measured by how effectively you convert heartbeats into speed. Movement efficiency is determined by how effectively you convert strokes into speed.

The mathematical formula for speed is V=SL x SR — Velocity = Stroke Length x Stroke Rate. Thus the most practical measure for movement efficiency in swimming is What Stroke Length you can achieve at any Stroke Rate. For endurance swimming Maximal Neural Efficiency—how well you train your nervous system—is the foundation for performance. Where a HR monitor is the essential tool for MAF training, in MNF training it’s the Tempo Trainer.

Competitive swimmers (and tri-swimmers) can follow virtually the same season-building guidelines in MNF training as in MAF training. I.E. Begin a new training cycle limiting to 65% to 70% of max SR. My top SR for races of 1 to 3 miles is about 66 strokes/min., or .9 sec/stroke. My SR at 65% of max is 43 strokes/min. or a tempo of 1.4; at 70% it’s 46 strokes/min. or a tempo of 1.3.

Swim your usual practice sets at very moderate tempo. Remember or record the range of times you swim. Stay mostly within that tempo range (it’s a good idea to finish practice with a short, brisk set at a tempo perhaps 10 percent or more above your current range). Like MAF, you’ll probably find that improvement is steady, perhaps impressive, at first, then gradually slows and stops. When a week passes with no further improvement, reset tempo .05 to .10 faster and begin again.

If you’re a new swimmer and just embarking on improvement-oriented training, your starting tempo for the MNF approach should be slower--probably between 1.5 and 1.6.

How will you get faster? With tempo set at 1.4, if you save 1 stroke over 100-yards – a very modest improvement--you swim 1.4 sec. faster. If you save 2 strokes, you swim almost 3 seconds faster. The best part of MNF training isn’t what it teaches your muscles and nervous system; it’s the strategic thinking you learn.

To save a stroke, you must travel a bit farther on each stroke. There are two ways to do this: (1) stronger pull and kick (without creating turbulence); or (2) reduce drag and ‘keep molecules still’ as you press back with your hand. The former requires you to work harder; the latter allows you to work easier. When you pull and kick harder you might save a stroke or two for your first 100, then give back those gains as you swim farther. When you focus on swimming more quietly and stroking with more care, you can maintain that lower count for lap after lap after lap.

The more you swim with clear and present consciousness that saving strokes saves time--and greater care, not more effort, saves strokes--the more that way of thinking gets 'hardwired' into your brain, along with more efficient strokes. And during your next race, you’ll both swim and think differently.
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Last edited by terry : 01-24-2012 at 04:52 PM.
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Old 01-24-2012
CoachSuzanne CoachSuzanne is offline
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Terry...this is a bit off the topic, but possibly pertinent. While MAF training clearly works, it's only one method of periodization that's not necessarily grounded in sound physiology in my opinion. That is...it works, but other ways of training which they state are detrimental, in fact achieve a similar end goal, without detriment, and in less time. The problem is that those who spend 2-5 years training MAF and then move on to other types of training intensities almost without fail perform well. But they could have performed equally as well in the same time frame (perhaps even less time) by allowing additional intensities into their training.

I like your analysis and description of MNF, but it stands on it's own ground apart from MAF/Allen/Maffetone for it's own reasons, which as you state, has more to do with motor learning as opposed to aerobic development. I'd love to see you back this idea with neurological/ motor learning support rather than the MAF background.
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Old 01-24-2012
CoachSuzanne CoachSuzanne is offline
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I guess the difference is that you and many TI followers can easily see why increasing stroke rate is not a viable path to improvement when the other side of the equation, stroke length, has not already been well developed.

In contrast, the heart is doing what it is designed to do...pump fast or slow depending on the needs of the activity. The heart responds to the demand as a muscle would. Two types of aerobic training intented to specifically increase pumping volume of the heart are LSD trianing, which increases pump capacity...and also, ironically, training at the other end of the spectrum...VO2 max training in which you are essentially training at the lowest intensity where one can achieve max HR. Max HR is achieved, so in order to do more work the heart learns to pump more blood.

In both cycling & running, form clearly needs to be established and soft tissue structure supported before exercising at this intensity is reasonable...both for injury prevention and also to entrain proper mechanics at higher cadences. In cycling it's a lot easier to do because you are essentially "locked in", in runnign, if you've got bad form it's going to get worse at these intensities...but both are much easier than trying to swim at Vo2 max pace (a 300-500 yd all out TT) where instinct will result in higher stroke rates and shorter strokes.

MAF is a viable method of training...but it's philosophical approach is not nearly as broad as the approach you suggest with MNF training. The real physiologic & biomechanic reason for MAF training in my opinion isn't aerobic at all...it's form based, just like in swimming.

Hmmm...thats a lot of thougths probably worthy of some blogging or writing on its own.
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USA Paralympic Triathlon Coach
Coach of 5 time USA Triathlon Triathlete of the Year, Kirsten Sass
Steel City Endurance, LTD
Fresh Freestyle


Last edited by CoachSuzanne : 01-24-2012 at 05:34 PM.
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Old 01-24-2012
andyinnorway andyinnorway is offline
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Terry/Suzanne, I have a theory there is something missing in the discussion mix.

You and I may both swim a 200 with TT@1.3 with a similar SPL (13 for you in yds and 14 for me in meters?) We might both be nearer the minimum SPL in our range and we could both swim the 200 faster by sacrificing SPL for increase in SR.

This might suggest to some that we have similar strength and efficiency levels, but that would be absurd.

Whilst, 200 would be my limit, you might be able to hold your SPL @ tt1.3 for a mile or more.

I do not think the answer is because you are fitter than me or stronger, but because there is an efficiency in how your body fires muscles for swimming based on 30 years of swimming that my body has yet to build or figure out the blueprint for. This is not an efficiency from balance, streamline or technique but an internal one.

Its also why I am confident that although I haven't been on a bike for 10 years I could still comfortably ride 100K tomorrow in under 5 hours, because I used to do a lot of cycling as a child and a year or two of training in my late teens; yet I would puff and pant for Norway if you asked me to run a 10K, because I have hardly done any running.

My body knows how to use bike muscles efficiently whereas it doesn't know how to fire the running or swimming ones equally so. It is learning the swimming 'codes' but time is a factor in this development. I also think that once the body has the blueprint for a particular skill it retains a large portion of that.

I am quite sure that Ian Thorpe could have had 5 years off swimming, drunk beer every night, eaten only at macdonalds, put on 50 pounds and still get in the pool and swim a 200 in under 2.30 purely because the blueprint of his internal muscle firing efficiency is so complete/optimised.

any thoughts?
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Old 01-25-2012
Grant Grant is offline
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Hi Terry
I am half way thru reading Slow Burn by Stu Mittleman and so far he has spent a lot of time extolling the benefits of HR Monitors with a progressive program to increase ones ability to use fat as a fuel to supply ones muscles for endurance events. Although most of it dosnt apply to swimming it certainly got me working at seeing how I could incorporate the material into a swimming context.
Well you did that very task in this new work of yours. It brings to mind that line from Desiderata "whether we know it or not the universe is unfolding as it should". :0)
Nice job.
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Old 01-25-2012
dshen dshen is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by terry View Post
Swim your usual practice sets at very moderate tempo. Remember or record the range of times you swim. Stay mostly within that tempo range (it’s a good idea to finish practice with a short, brisk set at a tempo perhaps 10 percent or more above your current range). Like MAF, you’ll probably find that improvement is steady, perhaps impressive, at first, then gradually slows and stops. When a week passes with no further improvement, reset tempo .05 to .10 faster and begin again.

If you’re a new swimmer and just embarking on improvement-oriented training, your starting tempo for the MNF approach should be slower--probably between 1.5 and 1.6.
this point of no further improvement is that 'efficiency threshold' i was talking about in the other forum post. i like the name MNF as a name for the method - i wanted to name the point at which there seems to be no further improvement....for now... hence the name 'efficiency threshold'. coachsuzanne doesn't like that name (lol!) so maybe it can be MNL or maximal neural limit or MNT, maximal neural threshold, although the word threshold may not be what coachsuzanne likes ;-).

as you apply those other suggestions in adjusting SPL and SR to get faster and your skill and neural adaptation increases, then your MNL or MNT will shift to most likely a faster tempo.

as we get better at collecting data on swimmers, we should be able to communicate MNLs to our clients/students as they leave our workshops and coaching sessions, and they can use their tempo trainers in/around their MNL tempos as a target for improvement.
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Old 01-25-2012
dshen dshen is offline
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Originally Posted by dshen View Post
this point of no further improvement is that 'efficiency threshold' i was talking about in the other forum post. i like the name MNF as a name for the method - i wanted to name the point at which there seems to be no further improvement....for now... hence the name 'efficiency threshold'. coachsuzanne doesn't like that name (lol!) so maybe it can be MNL or maximal neural limit or MNT, maximal neural threshold, although the word threshold may not be what coachsuzanne likes ;-).

as you apply those other suggestions in adjusting SPL and SR to get faster and your skill and neural adaptation increases, then your MNL or MNT will shift to most likely a faster tempo.

as we get better at collecting data on swimmers, we should be able to communicate MNLs to our clients/students as they leave our workshops and coaching sessions, and they can use their tempo trainers in/around their MNL tempos as a target for improvement.
some other possible names:

CNL = current neural limit
CNT = current neural threshold
TNL = temporary neural limit
TNT = temporary neural threshold
WNL = working neural limit
WNT = working neural threshold
NOZ = neural opportunity zone
NOP = neural opportunity point

if i think of more i will post them..
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Old 01-25-2012
CoachSuzanne CoachSuzanne is offline
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I like the idea of a "working" limit . :) it implies room for improvement .
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Steel City Endurance, LTD
Fresh Freestyle

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  #9  
Old 01-25-2012
terry terry is offline
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Suzanne
Thanks for perspective of MAF. I don't know enough physiology to think or comment critically on MAF from that perspective. I use it as a reference point only because I became aware of it when I met Mark Allen and talked with Phil Maffetone -- and immediately thought SPL would be the corollary metric in swimming. Some 14 yrs later I now think tempo is the better metric.

PS: Even when I was developing teenage swimmers to near-elite levels I knew little about physiology. Rather I knew my athletes.
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  #10  
Old 01-25-2012
CoachSuzanne CoachSuzanne is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by terry View Post
Suzanne
Thanks for perspective of MAF. I don't know enough physiology to think or comment critically on MAF from that perspective. I use it as a reference point only because I became aware of it when I met Mark Allen and talked with Phil Maffetone -- and immediately thought SPL would be the corollary metric in swimming. Some 14 yrs later I now think tempo is the better metric.

PS: Even when I was developing teenage swimmers to near-elite levels I knew little about physiology. Rather I knew my athletes.
I've had unsatisfying discussion about this with Dr. Maffetone. It worked for Mark Allen, but when I've read things that he has written I constantly feel that he is trying to retro-fit some sort of explanation to what worked for him. The truth is that it worked. We know that it's ONE valid approach to endurance training, and that it works for other people.

I'm just sensitive to their explanation because it's not (IMO) a valid explanation for why their approach is desired over other approaches...when they try to say it's better than other approaches they are actually engaged in magical thinking. If they would accept that it's one way, and there are other, perfectly valid, physiologically appropriate ways to train as well, then I"ll stop picking on them. :)

My main point in this thread was that your concept of MNF stands on it's own and doesn't need the parallel...but it is a fair comparison and would work to explain your concept to a traditionally minded endurance athlete.
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Level 3 USAT Coach
USA Paralympic Triathlon Coach
Coach of 5 time USA Triathlon Triathlete of the Year, Kirsten Sass
Steel City Endurance, LTD
Fresh Freestyle

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