ATC 294: MAF Method Guide – The Coaches Outline Everything You Need To Know For MAF Training

August 30, 2019


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Note: Tawnee and Lucho differ slightly from strict MAF in some ways. What they present in this podcast is based on their years of experience coaching athletes and seeing how these protocols play out in the real world. You can read Dr. Maffetone’s book to get the pure MAF details.

MAF Basics:

  • MAF = max aerobic function; it’s not an abbreviation of Phil Maffetone’s name, and it’s not m-a-t-h. Training philosophy developed by Phil over decades of practice (since the early 1980s).
  • MAF is a metabolic approach to heart rate training (not cardiovascular) that is aimed at putting you in a maximum fat-burning zone.
  • Benefits to overall health; avoid being fit but unhealthy. Examples: better manage stress, avoid overtraining, decrease inflammation, burn fat for fuel (even when not exercising), injury prevention, enhanced endurance, etc.
  • Requires attention to overall health, wellbeing, clean diet, etc., in order to get max benefits (e.g. it’s not just about running!).
  • Show mention: 8 Steps to mastering MAF

MAF Application:

  • Why you would choose to do a MAF program vs all the other training programs out there?
    • People who thrive on intensity will not enjoy or even benefit from MAF.
    • Type 3 neurotypes who love order and dislike risk will likely love MAF.
    • What are your goals? If you’re interested in true health benefits, then MAF is for you. But if you care about shorter, faster races then MAF won’t necessarily help you get there.
    • Even if it doesn’t jive with your personality, MAF might be right for you if you need to make lifestyle/mental shifts to regain balance.
  • Finding your MAF heart rate with 180 Formula and why it’s ok to be a bit loose with the exact MAF HR number.
    • Your MAF HR is a range of plus or minus 5 beats. You don’t need to be obsessive compulsive on staying exactly on the beat.
    • If you do a metabolic test in a lab you can adjust your MAF HR according to those findings (e.g. very good fat burners may see that they have a higher MAF HR than when using 180 formula).
    • Show mention: more on metabolic testing
    • Listen to our shows with Dina Griffin (this is about maximizing your nutrition for run performance).
    • If you’re a great fat burner, you might be able to continue burning fat even if you’re running at a high HR. In that case, don’t use your crossover HR to guide your MAF runs. Switch to running by feel. A MAF run should feel easy.
  • How much volume is needed on a MAF program to get results (this is a big one). Is there a general minimum people should look to hit, e.g. 10 mpw? 20 mpw? 30 mpw? Or is this idea bogus?
    • The amount of volume you need depends on where you’re starting from. Look at what you’ve been doing for the past 4-6 weeks.
      • If you haven’t been running, then start with just 6 miles a week. It’s important to slowly build your confidence.
      • Let’s say you’ve been running 20 mpw for the past 4-6 weeks, and you’re feeling good but not necessarily seeing improvements in your pace. It’s time to increase your volume appropriately.
        • Don’t just double your long run! Think about the workout you’ll have the next day… and the next. Play the long game.
    • To find your own optimal volume when doing MAF, consider two variables: how much time do you have and how durable are you?
      • Cut the run short if you ever start to feel shaky or weak.
  • How to do a MAF test:
    • Eat the same thing (at the same time) before every test. Ideally, you would be eating a more high-fat meal beforehand, rather than high-carb. Don’t radically change your diet before your first test.
    • Go to a track (it formalizes and standardizes the test).
    • Do a sub-MAF warm up for 10-20 minutes, and slowly build up to MAF HR.
    • Run 3-7 miles at your MAF HR (really stick to it), using your watch to record the average pace per mile.
    • Depending on your level of fitness, you will see your MAF pace increase as you fatigue.
    • If you’re not feeling well after the first mile, scrap the test! Something is off, and you don’t need to let the test results bother you. Carry on with the run, but don’t use the results. Re-test later when you’re rested and conditions are optimal (extreme heat and cold will definitely impact the test).
  • Adding intensity vs volume – when your MAF test plateaus and/or you’re ready to increase training load, how do you know whether to add more MAF volume or start adding intensity?
    • When your MAF test plateaus then you’re likely able to handle some intensity.
    • It’s less optimal to just add intensity because you have a race coming up and you want to aggressively push your goals.
    • Lucho’s favorite way to add intensity is through long tempo runs, hill repeats, or 3-6x 1000s.
  • What to do if you’re just not responding to MAF or you’re not getting faster when doing MAF (this is another big one we get).
    • There’s no such thing as a “non-responder.” There’s always a variable you can tweak: Show mention: Myth of non-responders
    • The biggest limiting factor is time. If you simply don’t have enough time to get better through MAF, then you might benefit from some intensity.
    • If you’re not responding to MAF, it might be because you’re not doing MAF correctly. Make sure you’re sticking to +/-5 your MAF HR and not going dramatically over.
    • Another limiting factor might be running economy. Consider doing strides or other running drills to improve cadence.
    • Lastly, diet might be the issue if your MAF isn’t improving.
  • What to do when your MAF pace is fast or too hard, and applying sub-MAF training for certain athletes especially ultrarunners.
    • Get away from MAF. MAF should be zone 2 effort.
    • You can also do more interval work to increase speed.

Comments (3)

  • Benjamin says:

    I think that both of you misunderstand how the maf heart rate is calculated from metabolic cart testing. MAF heart rate is NOT the heart rate at the crossover point. MAF heart rate is the heart rate at which the athlete burns the most fat calories per unit of time. This is known as the Fatmax heart rate, and will always be lower than the crossover point.

  • Ryan B. says:

    I was going to say the same thing as Benjamin. I just listened to this podcast and was surprised to hear the references to the "crossover point" (50/50 fat/sugar burning) as if it represented the MAF threshold. That is incorrect, as the MAF threshold is intended to represent the heart rate at the FATMAX point (the highest rate of fat calorie burn, occurring more typically at around a 70/30 fat to sugar ratio). Phil believes that going above that heart rate (FATMAX point) is what starts to move you into an anaerobic response (hence the associated increase in sugar burning). Given the obsession with Phil Maffetone that is embedded into the culture of this podcast, I was very surprised at this fundamental mistake in your discussion.

  • Steven says:

    Started maf training 1 week ago. Was running avg. 7:50 pace which is moderate. I’m 59 and my pace with maf is 11:30. I literally can’t run slower. Problem I and my garmin hate this training. Performance condition is in the toilet every run. My V02 has dropped and training load went from maintaining to recovery to unproductive to retraining. My training load the last 2 days after 5 mile runs was lower than before the run. Garmin says fitness is dropping. I’m a very competitive runner high rankings and state records. Is this normal. I was expecting maybe 9:30 pace

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