MAF Workout

This MAF workout uses Phil Maffetone's MAF heart rate method as a simple way to train your aerobic system effectively while avoiding excess training stress.

The HIIT "Epidemic"

Almost all the cardiovascular training you do should be a MAF workout. I've been using it for myself and my athletes for over 20 years.

HIIT training has become extremely popular in the last few years because it's been heavily marketed as a time efficient way to burn more calories, bot within and after the workout. The truth is a little more nuanced.

Firstly, the extra calories, both during and after the workout, equate to about half an apple at best. It will take you along time to lose an extra pound of fat that way, if you can avoid that half an apple.

Secondly, done properly, HIIT is very hard on the body. The older you get, the higher your injury risk. If you get injured, you lose fitness while you heal up.

Thirdly, if you're lifting weights, you are already subjecting your body to the stress of high intensity exercise. By doing intervals as your main cardio, you're simply adding more stress. All that stress can mean a slow down in fat loss, a predisposition to injury and the risk that you'll just give up because your brain doesn't want to do it any more.

Build an Aerobic Engine

In contrast, we have the MAF workout. The basis of MAF is a quest to train your aerobic system in a manner which provides far less stress.

First of all, you calculate your MAF heart rate by subtracting your age from 180. You then make some adjustments to allow for your state of fitness. 

  • If you're recovering from major illness or are on medication, subtract an extra 10
  • If you're just starting out, have asthma or regularly get colds or flu (2 or more a year), subtract 5.
  • If you've been exercising consistently for the last few years, use the raw number.
  • If you've been training for 2 or more years and are making good progress, add 5.
  • If you've been a low carb athlete for 6 months or more, you may wish to add an extra 10 to your final number.

This is your ceiling for all aerobic training.

Objections to the MAF workout

I've seen a number of objections to MAF. I'll address two of them here.

"It's no different to the discredited 220 formula for Max HR"

It's true that, just like the 220 formula, you start with what is an assumption that people are similar and you could be way out. It turns out that most people end up with a number that is very close to the top of zone 2 (the aerobic endurance zone) that many coaches use, as calculated from a tested max or functional threshold heart rate.

Also, the addition or subtraction of the extra 5 or 10 beats allows for the customisation of this number based on your state of health and fitness.

Finally, this number is a starting point and is not set in stone. As you gain experience, you can simply adjust it to suit what you notice about your training response.

"I'm forced to go too slowly. It's embarrassing."

The answer to this one is simple: Trust the system, you will speed up fairly soon.

I said the same thing to my coach over 20 years ago. His reply: "No need to be embarrassed, the people who see you going that slowly don't care, if they notice you at all."

How to do it...

Warm up thoroughly, using a combination of steady state cardiovascular activity and some dynamic mobility exercises.

Run (or ride or row) your entire workout, keeping your heart rate below your MAF number. It's that simple.

Testing your progress

Every 6 weeks or so, you should do a MAF test.

Warm up thoroughly, using a combination of steady state cardiovascular activity and some dynamic mobility exercises.

  • Run a measured mile at MAF (keep as close as you can to your number).
  • Record the time taken.
  • Recover for 5 minutes by walking.
  • Run a second measured mile at MAF.
  • Record the time taken.
  • Cool down

Your result is the slower of the two times, although they should be almost identical if you warmed up properly.

Tracking this number will tell you whether your MAF workout is working to build your aerobic capacity. It should improve almost every time, up to a point where you're running really quite fast.

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Will Newton

In over twenty years of coaching, I have coached everyone from absolute beginners to world champions. My interest in getting the best results for people who train for health and fitness or the love of sport, rather than as professionals, drives me to find the most effective ways to get results. My mission is simple: Be in better shape at 70 than most people are at 20, and to help you do the same.

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