Why again ? Increasing number of injured and sick runners desperately seeking the magic pill ! This is the magic pill ! However, it is a medicating substance to be taken every single moment, through out a lifetime !
What is this training methodology ?
Actually the Maffetone Method has nothing to do with Phil Maffetone, he is just the one who advocates this lifestyle principle over and over again. This is an ancestral way of thinking and behaving. The real benefits come from 2 overlapping components:
- Training shows how healthy we are, so if running times and pace negatively change, on a given MAF heart rate, this indicates decline, therefor we must adjust lifestyle, but training too.
- Health also gives an indication on how hard we can push ourselves in training, how often and how long, so in case of injury, regular sickness or just a lingering cold, we can and have to adjust both lifestyle and training.
All of this can happen easily and nearly for free, by understanding and respecting a small equation and following some very basic principles. You must ask questions to yourself, but also must try to find answers:
Are you aware of your body and do you follow up small positive / negative signs ?
For instance skipping spinach for 3days makes you feel slightly off or having too much ear-wax in one morning, can foresee a cold coming on. These small bodily symptoms were natural to us in the past, this is how science / medicine evolved and we have to get back to our roots. When you have a sore-throat and fever, it is already too late !!!
Can you train and evolve constantly without major fatigue and breakdown ?
Most runners want to feel the hard work and the sense of accomplishment by doing soul-crushing workouts of intervals, tempo runs and long weekend runs ! This can be a great problem, if they cannot even run very consistently only for 6 months ? If you had a week or 2, maybe a month of break every 4 to 6months, because of getting in and out from a tendonitis, you actually had never established a base, regardless that you have been running for 2 decades ! I often hear athletes saying: – I am an experienced runner, I did 65marathons and I have been running for 32 years. Actually you had experience in pain and you did not run, but survived 65 marathons ! There is a huge difference !
Just before the Olympic games there was an interview with Alberto Salazar and he just pointed out that, they averaged over 100miles a week training for 3,5years, with no break and no off days ! That is a real base ! Yeah, they count underwater treadmills, pool running, anti-gravity treadmills and so, but still it is a real base. I had been playing volleyball for almost 15years and did many martial arts besides, with now also over 20 years of experience in strength and conditioning not only for me, but as a coach too ! I can jump in and out from long training weeks, or spend 24hours non stop moving in the mountains. Africans walk and jog to school, what gives them already 10years of experience at the age of 14.
You cannot even run for 6months or even for 1 year uninjured ? There is certainly a problem somewhere !
- 180 – your age = MAF Heart Rate (Maximum Aerobic Force)
- MAF – 10 = 10 beats of strict aerobic range
- You feel good, you run on MAF.
- You feel average, but doesn’t want to tire yourself or actually want to go longer, you run on MAF-5 beats.
- You are coming back from injury, you want to do a recovery workout, or you are preparing for a real long ultra distance race: you run on MAF-10 beats.
All MAF workouts start with a proper warming up. You can start moving at your workplace, doing some squats after you went to the toilet, walk up and down on a flight of stairs and after 5minutes of additional jogging, you increase your pace to reach your MAF heart rate. When finished, you cool-down by jogging for 5 to 20minutes, unwinding and decreasing your heart rate to a homeostatic level.
When preparing for a marathon, the more and the longer you move, the better. As a warming up, you can do some basic callisthenics, athletic drills, walking and jogging.
You must remember that less than 20minutes of warm-up is a compromise, but often it is well over that timeframe. For instance, if you were seated for 5hours, you must get in the necessary mobility, foam rolling and flexibility drills, before you even start walking, to unglue and revitalise those compressed and shortened muscles, that you deprived of oxygen being hunched over on your computer for that long.
That is also mostly neglected. The longer or the harder you ran, the more cool-down you would need. After 45minutes of MAF-10, you might be doing only 5minutes of jog/walk routine or even a light 5minutes sea swim. However a post 90minute hard MAF Trail effort, you should include a good 10 to 20minutes of wind down and maybe even a little time on the exercise bike, keeping an eye on that heart rate !
The MAF test
This is not necessary, in case you were just building base and focusing on quality running form. However, if your goal was to become a beast of an endurance monster over time, the regular weekly MAF test is as important as your health, weight, HRV, sleep and nutrition. It must be part of your weekly routine !
- The test must be done on the same day, at the same hour, after a similar stress. For instance if every Wednesday evening you arrive home at different times after the children’s extra curriculum and go to bed at varying hours, probably Thursday is not the best day to choose, nor Monday after your Sunday’s 5k race or Long Run ! So choose a day, what is always the same, chose a wind-free track, straight dirt road or even a slight gradual uphill. Eat the same breakfast at the same time before and hydrate on the same way. I just like to drink a very light green tea with nothing else in it at 5am, so at 7 o’clock I m ready to roll.
- Keep the warming up proper but not too long. 5minutes of mobility and preparation 10minutes of jogging, some light drills and easy accelerations and about 20 to 25minutes you are prepped for the test.
- You restart your watch, and run the same course every single time on the exact same heart rate. This test can be done on any heart rates of the MAF Range, even for somebody not training at all on MAF. It stays an epic indicator of deep fitness and running improvements.
- Run the 8km on your 180-AGE heart rate and hit the lap button every kilometer, or if you were outside, use the 1km auto-lap function.
- Cool-down for 15 minutes by jogging, breathing, walking and gradually decreasing your heart beats.
- Analyse your session by checking your overall time and split times. Compare it week by week. You should see overall speed increase, so your splits would be shorter and faster in time, but closer too to each other with less and less gaps. You should also see a drop in the first lap’s time and that is a great indicator of your speed and explosiveness. Write down how you feel and how is everything. The difference between run splits should be less and less, week after week, signalling good adaptation, regularity and health !
- 20 min Warmin up
- 8km MAF (180-age) run with 1km splits
- 15minute cooldown
- Mark down splits and look for: faster first split, faster overall time and decrease in lap time differences.
- As an example:
- If you had seen a too big of a drop off towards the end, that means lack of endurance. For instance after regular 4 to 10 seconds gaps, your last 2 laps had 25seconds of an increase.
Who is the MAF system made for ?
Everybody. Do you want to monitor strictly recovery and training ? You are getting injured way too often ? You want to build base for an upcoming marathon or training for a 24h track event ? Coming back from sickness and injury ?
Phil Maffetone realised during his, now over 3 decades of experimentations, that using his equation results in specific physiological changes in the body. The 180-age=MAF heart rate is en effort, not too hard, but not too easy either. This is where maximum fat burning happens while running speed remains relatively high. Of course this is true only if we were healthy and trained.
He also realised that as heart rate goes higher, brain function changes with substance use changes. As we bend towards more glucose utilisation and get more anaerobic, our focus shifts, our neuromuscular connections change, and our stride changes ! This shift in running form can result in injury over time !
Over Time ! This is what the MAF method focusing on ! You can get better, not now, not tomorrow, but over time ! By working correctly lifelong ! Always ! Why would you stay healthy and train properly only for 5months to prepare for a marathon and then you’d switch to beer and pizza and hammering 3 track workouts a week ? No !
The same true for bad training methodologies. It might work for one, two or 10 years, until the irreversible happens and you’ll never run again for a lifetime ! Didn’t we see already this in so many cases ? Road runners and mountain athletes disappear in the fog way too often !
Heart Rate monitors advice
Get a quality optical heart rate monitor with or without a GPS. There are many brands out in the current fitness market, however most of them are just gadgets in case of optical exercise heart rate precision. I extensively tested out all major brands and models.
Non of the Garmin Elevate, Suunto, Tom-Tom HR sensors work when you sweat, run high rates, move a lot, have impact… ! Unfortunately most of the precise devices have extra non desirable gadgety smart watch functions, but what ever, they work just fine for endurance purposes:
- Smart watches: Polar M600 / FitBit Ionic
- GPS running Watch: POLAR M430 (great watch)
- HRMs: MIO Alpha / FitBit Charge 2
If you still chose to use an HRM belt, Polar BTsmart belts are great like the H10, but the Garmin or Wahoo too. In addition to the training use, you can download the free software: Elite HRV, to your android/IOS phone and measure your morning readiness and manage stress accordingly !
There are some stable HR monitor arm-belts on the optical side too, like the Polar O1H or the Scosche belts.
I use MAF training as my principle training method. Measuring HR during interval, tempo sessions or races has no importance. Pace what counts ! I race all out and MAF training prepares me for just that ! I don’t need to have an HR belt and measure heart rate for these activities, so I ditched all my belts ! I know that if I wanted to increase my high end finishing speed I do hard intervals of 200s , 400s and 800s or if wanted to arrive first to a mountain top after an hour of climbing, I need VO2 sessions of 4 to 6min efforts. All of these have their specific heart rates, but the splits are the importance. Regarding how I feel, I include these sessions into my MAF regime, sometimes 3 times a week, sometimes 3 times in 3 months, depending where am I in my season and how my training load is planned out. Do not think that MAF is a system of jogging around. No ! You have to work hard and patiently, to be able to build upon and work even harder later on ! With no negative consequences !
PS.: I repeat myself just to be clear. The MAF method is not only covering a base training philosophy of running all the time on 180-YOURAGE heart rate ! No ! When you worked patiently enough, long enough, injury and pain free, then you deserve to increase your pace and heart rate above the healthy levels to add new stimulus to your fitness. However your knowledge has to be widened as it cannot go forever either and base training hase to be restarted. However, this will be on a greatly elevated level and this is when we can see amazing changes, that running on MAF can be a pleasure and super fast and easy !
For instance science shows that 7x well planned VO2MAX workouts can tap out all the benefits and increase your VO2MAX to it’s currently available maximum level. You either reverse to MAF and include some strength and conditioning before you get back to those 4-6minute long intervals, or continue with tempo runs and shorter 20sec to 3minute repetitions.
The only thing you must remember, that if your MAF test drops drastically, your health declines, you loose motivation it is already too late ! You must assess the signs of low performance and have immediate adjustments to be able to keep on training properly on a professional level ! Regardless that your were or not a professional athlete !