MAF Training (Maffetone Method) – Run Slow To Get Faster


MAF Training – What is MAF and How Can Running Slow Make You Faster?

MAF Training

MAF Training – Train easy, run a lot faster.

Sounds too good to be true, right? I thought so at first, then I started MAF training…

Imagine doing a training method that allows you to run at a pace that your friends would consider fast, but to you is a pace that is easy, and you could do it all day.

But what is MAF? MAF stands for Maximum Aerobic Function – which is supposed to be a point at which you have the highest heart rate and are completely in the aerobic zone. And that heart rate is quite low. It trains your aerobic system – that is in a “pure aerobic” zone, not going fast.

And the maffetone method is like a whole of life concept to live and be healthier, improve exercises, eat better and so on, to get optimal results. You can do the maf low heart rate training part without the diet, but you will definitely benefit from the diet.

Imagine going on a training run, and your easy pace, and being able to do that day after day, because it becomes so easy to you.

The more distance you put in at this easy pace, the better and faster you become at it.

It seems like it would be cheating, right?

If you’re keen on low heart rate training, this could be the method for you.

It is an approach to healthier living, including healthier and more sustainable training.

It seems counter-intuitive that you might slow down to get faster, but trust me, it works!

This method includes exercise, which I will explain here, including some of the things to expect when doing it.  I won’t go into detail on how as Dr. Phil Maffetone already has done that.  I will explain what to expect and try to answer a lot of questions that you might have.

You should probably download his free MAF PDF document as this explains everything about the reasoning behind and how to participate in his method.

Maffetone 180 Heart Rate Calculation ( MAF 180 Formula )

Maffetone 180 Heart Rate Calculation

MAF stands for maximum aerobic function and is the basis of the exercise portion of the Maffetone method. The MAF 180 Formula is a great starting point, as it puts your heart rate somewhere near maximum fat burning heart rate. However, as it’s a generalization, it is not going to work perfectly for all. That being said, I would still do at least six months of this to improve your aerobic fitness.

I say you should do the MAF 180 formula as specified to start with, because you need experience to get to know how it feels for you. It always is hard and feels too slow. Always.

It will still improve your aerobic fitness and aerobic capacity. But when you get to a point where it isn’t improving for more than a few weeks, you need to either adjust, or add in speed work. I actually did both, but spend about a year and a half doing it before I made that change.

I found that doing this I improved my running economy, and built a better base to work from. I wasn’t faster at full speed, but could sustain a much higher pace for longer.

There is not MAF calculator as such, but here that the details so that you can perform the MAF calculations for yourself.

MAF HR (taken directly from Dr Phil Maffetone’s method, which you can get from his site):

  1. Subtract your age from 180;
  2. Modify as follows, if applicable:
    1. If you have or are recovering from a major illness (including any operation or hospital stay), are in rehabilitation, have been prescribed any regular medication, or are chronically over trained, subtract an additional 10;
    2. If you are injured, have regressed or not improved in training (such as poor MAF tests) or competition, get more that two colds, flu or other infections per year, have seasonal allergies or asthma, are overfat, are acutely overtraining, or if you have been inconsistent, just beginning or returning to exercise, subtract an additional 5;
    3. If you have been training consistently (at least four times weekly) for up to two years without any of the problems mention in a. or b., no modification is necessary (use 180 – age);
    4. If you have been training for more than two years without any of the problems listed above, have made progress in your MAF tests, and have improved competitively, add 5.

The resulting HR is the high end of the HR range with the low being 10 beats below. For example, a 40-year-old in category b. would have an exercise range of 125-135 bpm.  Users can self-select any intensity within this range.

This will really train your aerobic system – you probably won’t notice it, as the pace is usually easy – at least until you get good. When you’ve been doing it for a time you can get into 4 minutes per kilometer speeds but at a really low heart rate. Crazy, but true!

This formula also puts you in a fat burning zone, as the HR roughly corresponds to the heart rate at which max fat burning occurs. It just gets better, doesn’t it?! I know when I started doing this I found that it did burn fat. MY body fat reduced significantly and noticeably (I didn’t think I had that much body fat to burn in the first place!)

If your intent is to burn fat, then you can use the MAF formula above in any training routine – swimming, cycling, stationary bike, jogging. If really doesn’t get easier to improve your aerobic system and burn body far.

Personally I used this for marathon training, and it really helped me. Must faster overall with a lot less effort during the run. I would expect that to be true for any training program.

MAF Method – Recommendations

MAF Training Recommendations

The more distance you do, the quicker the improvements will be.

Listen to your body, if you finish and you feel like you could continue, you’re probably okay.

If you finish and ache badly, and do not look forward to your next run, you may be over-training.

You can use a 10% increase in distance from week to week, then every third week, drop back 10-20% for an easy week, and a chance to recover.

Remember that recovery is the most important part.

This is when the fitness improvements, or adaptations take place.

You must rest.

And you should do a MAF test – so you can regularly see how you improve (let’s face it if you think you’re not improving you’ll give up, which would be a shame)

And you should do cross training, so swimming, cycling, weight training, crossfit. These will really help you become a MAF beast. Dr Phil also recommends slow weight training, if you read his blog.

Heart Rate Training – Maffetone

Heart rate training, and MAF are slightly different. If you’re doing low heart rate training you will be in zone 2, but that doesn’t take into account age, experience, or injuries. Dr Phil Maffetone has put together the MAF heart rate training concept to do just that.

The MAF 180 Formula is a formula that from my own experience does work, at least as a very good starting point for improvement. It’s nothing like the ma heart rate =220-age formula, which doesn’t seem to have any scientific evidence, and perhaps correlated with a number of people in a small study. For me it would be about 30 beats per minute too slow. MAF 180 formula, when I started out, I’ll be honest it was a very slow job, and toward the end of the run, I had to walk to keep my heart rate down.

I had been running for a few years when I started the maffetone method, but this illustrated to me how aerobically unfit I was. I can now compare that to later after having done it for a year or more – I could maintain a much higher pace for long, without getting tired. In comparison to my running buddies.

It’s super simple from a heart rate training perspective, you get your MAF 180 formula, and you run under that heart rate. I set my watch so that the range was a couple of beats per minute below my MAF heart rate, and I had an alarm on the lower level which is 10 beats per minute lower.

Then every run you try to stay under that heart rate. At first this will be really hard. And take a lot of commitment, as it just feels too slow. In these circumstances I did nose breathing, to improve at that as my body got used to this slow pace.

Trust me when I say this, when you want to go faster you will still be able to. If you’ve got to the stage where you’re adding in speed training thats when you can get faster too (once you can no longer get faster with the same heart rate) You do this only for a maximum of 20% of your total running time, and no more.

My own maffetone training improved when I started into this phase, although it was a bit strange, in that my heart had like a turbo boost, where once I was a few beats over my MAF heart rate, my heart rate shot up 20 beats per minute. It still does that, but that’s not a difficult heart rate to maintain for me. Its almost like my body is saying you’ve just gone past your maximum aerobic function heart rate, so you obviously want to run faster.

What to expect from your MAF Training

MAF Training - What to expect

People will overtake you. 

Pushing children in prams, kids walking, etc.

Initially it will feel very slow, but stick with it, and your pace will improve.

You should lose body fat.  Quicker if you gradually increase distance covered over a week.

You should get stronger.

Over time, you should get faster. Quicker if you gradually increase distance covered over a week.

Then to check progress you should…

Perform a MAF Test

MAF TRaining - Perform a MAF Test

Use a MAF test if you’d like to check your progress, by doing one every month, and comparing the pace.

You do a MAF test, pick a distance that you can use over time, say 5K.  Perform your exercise over that distance at your MAF heart rate (once you have sufficiently warmed up). Take your average time over that course.  Then in future months, repeat the same course, at MAF heart rate.

MAF Training for Beginners – Common Questions – 1

MAF Training - Questions 1

Something you shouldn’t need to care about initially is lactate runs, speed work, etc.  Nor should you be doing them.  The reason is that too much of that will work in opposition to the development of your aerobic base fitness.  That is initially what you want to develop, for at least 3 months.

This is because your aerobic fitness is probably a long way behind your anaerobic fitness.

Being able to run an increasingly faster pace at a very low heart rate, means that the fast work you do, will also be at a lower heart rate (once your aerobic base fitness develops).

Once you’ve done 3 months of MAF, you can add in speed work for no more than 20% of the time. 

The other 80% should be MAF, otherwise you may undo your aerobic fitness progress to date.

MAF Training for Beginners – Common Questions – 2

MAF Training - Questions 2

Some people have gone from a 4+ hour marathon pace to a 3:20 pace in a few months by doing MAF type heart rate training. 

That might be you, or it might not.

It is dependent upon several things, including how much of the MAF method you adopt, the amount of distance you can cover, temperature, and so on.

A lot of things will increase your heart rate. 

These include temperature, coffee, lack of sleep, hills, sickness, injury, how close you are to the MAF HR. 

If your heart rate goes up, slow down and get it back within range.

Chest heart rate monitors are more accurate.

MAF Training for Beginners – Common Questions – 3

MAF Training - Questions 3

Walking is fine, you will still develop your fitness.

Once your heart rate is below MAF you can jog again if you like.

You may find that when you are running, you sit back/are more upright. This is awkward without the momentum of a fast running pace.

It is just a case of getting through this phase – it will noticeably build your muscles. This will happen to the point where it will not be as uncomfortable.

You may also find that new muscles start to ache, as they become used more.  This is part of the process, make sure you stretch after your runs.  Once they become stronger this will go away.

You may also find that your form will change – perhaps start to improve.  Your movements will be more deliberate. You should also be more aware and adjust your form mindfully if it feels better.

MAF Training for Beginners – Common Questions – 4

MAF Training - Questions 4

Running with music on may make it harder to keep your heart rate within range. Personally I like to listen to the world going on around me.  I do take music on very long runs, although I only put it on to help me if I’m struggling. I have a “beast mode” playlist that I put on, and that immediately gives me a pick-up.

Cadence, the number of steps you make in a minute will probably drop as you run at a slower pace.  I found that even though most of the time you are running at a slower turnover rate. When you do run faster, there are no problems.  In fact, my cadence increased a little.

I like to get in longer runs, sometimes run with friends and do a marathon distance, as training if there are no events.  This invariably, I treat as a race event, and my pace has been faster than MAF.  I noticed that I was able to run better, and faster with successive marathon distance runs.  Just make sure you give yourself enough time to recover (I believe I also recovered quicker because of being more used to the longer distances during training).  Personally, I like to do a MAF paced recovery run soon after the race, but at an easy distance.

MAF Training for Beginners – Common Questions – 5

MAF Training - Questions 5

You can do the exercise portion of the MAF method alone, it will still work, but would be slower than if you also reduced stress, and improved nutrition.

I used to do intermittent fasting whilst training before MAF, but once I started, I realised that my muscle soreness was in part due to them not having the right nutrients to recover (proven by the soreness going away once I started eating after a run).  I do still run in a fasted state on most runs – it is more comfortable.

Is your diet full of carbs and sugar? Are you drinking a lot of coffee? Getting enough sleep? Allowing yourself enough time to recover (recovery is the most important).

MAF Training for Beginners – Common Questions – 6

MAF Training - Questions 6

You should see improvements in MAF tests over progressive months.  However, due to external factors (the ones that affect heart rate, and others) you may go backwards.  This is likely especially when you start with MAF, until your body gets used to it.

If you find that your numbers are not improving, e.g. your pace (minutes per mile or minutes per kilometre) you should assess how you are training.

Are you staying under the MAF heart rate, or if you do go over, it is only by a few beats per minute.

If you feel stuck, it might be worth doing a bit of speed work (not more than 20% of the training time) to attempt to kick start the process. 

Setting your Garmin Watch up for MAF Training Heart Rate Zone

Garmin Connect App - Heart Rate Zones

I tend to set my watch to MAF – 10 to MAF – 2. That way I get alerted before I get out of range. When you get to steep hills you will have to slow down.

Do this on a Garmin by creating a custom workout from the connect app. With an open distance type (press lap button). Then set an intensity target of heart rate, and put in your MAF heart rate range.

You can also use heart rate zones, but make sure that you properly calculate your maximum heart rate.  Don’t use the 220-age, they’re too much of an approximation to be useful.

You do this by warming up. Running for 20 minutes, the last 3 minutes of which should be a hard effort.  Gradually increase your speed in those last 3 minutes, to a full-on sprint for the last few hundred meters.  Your heart rate at the end will be your maximum heart rate.

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