MAF Training: Why’s It So Effective?

MAF training, if you’re an experienced runner, then you might have heard of this, but chances are you’ve probably never heard of it before.

MAF Training: Why’s It So Effective?

This highly effective training philosophy might be the way to get you running faster, and further.

So let’s take a closer look at it. In this article we’ll be discussing what MAF training is, and how you can use it with great success when running. Let’s get started.

MAF Training stands for Maximum Aerobic Function Training. You may have heard the phrase ” Run slow to run fast”, and this is the absolute essence of what MAF training is.

Let’s take a look at the different types of runners that MAF training can work for.

If any of the following sounds like you,then MAF training might be perfect for you:

  • You are a new runner.
  • You are an older runner.
  • You often have running related injuries.
  • You want to reduce your running injury risk.
  • You are less enthusiastic about running than you used to be.
  • You dread exercise that demands speed.
  • Your race times have slowed or you are just not improving.
  • You’re stressed.
  • You want to improve your overall health.
  • You are gaining weight in spite of extra exercise.

MAF Training Basics

Dr Phil Maffetone originally came up with MAF training after 40 years of research in the 1980s.

The theory behind MAF training is to build up your aerobic base so that your body can learn to run faster and faster at a lower heart rate. 

This delays the time when your body needs to use the anaerobic system, which means you can run longer and faster before your body begins to tire, which is great for longer runs. 

When we run longer distances (anything over 800 meters really) we use a combination of anaerobic and aerobic energy.

This is probably stuff that you didn’t know, but something we all know is that there’s two zones you’re in when you’re running, comfort and critical.

When you’re in a critical zone, this is where you either come through triumphant, or allow the fatigue to beat you.

In order for us to understand how MAF is so effective, let’s take a quick look at the difference between the anaerobic and aerobic systems:

Aerobic System

The aerobic (“with oxygen”) system uses oxygen to convert fat to energy in order to power your muscles.

This system relies on an abundant supply of mitochondria. Our body has a huge fat store regardless of how little or large you actually are, so with a well developed aerobic system, you can keep on running for a very long time, without much bother.

Anaerobic System

The anaerobic (“without oxygen”) system comes into play when there is not enough oxygen for your needs.

For example, when you are running hard and fast, you are using up oxygen faster than you are taking it in. 

In order to create the energy that you need, your muscles start to break down their supply of sugar (glucose).

The anaerobic system tires quickly and your body glucose levels are in limited supply, so you cannot run very long using your anaerobic system, this is sort of like an emergency power supply that your body has, and many people treat it that way too.

It’s been proven that the longer that we run, the more we rely on our anaerobic system more so than our aerobic (think of that emergency power supply metaphor!)

Therefore, when we think of it this way, surely it makes more sense to build up and develop a person’s aerobic system, so that it takes longer and longer for them to have to use their anaerobic system instead.

This is developing an aerobic base, and is really important for running.

MAF focuses on developing this aerobic system, and makes you able to run faster at a lower heart rate, win win right?

Not only this, but it also provides loads of other benefits to your body, let’s take a quick look at this list of potential benefits:

  • Your heart muscle gets stronger as you train it to beat slower. 
  • Your mitochondria (the parts of cells that turn the sugars, fats and proteins that we eat, into forms of usable chemical energy) increase, which means more energy for your muscles.
  • Your physical stress levels decrease as you work out.
  • You mostly burn fat for energy instead of carbohydrates, so it is a great way of training if you need to lose a few pounds or that flabby belly, and you’re sticking to a diet with it.
  • Since there is less stress on your body, you can run for longer. This is great if you are training for a semi marathon or longer endurance event, but generally you’re just going to be less tired from running, which is never a bad thing.

And obviously, you’re going to find running easier! By using MAF you can run faster and longer distances easier, so you’re going to be finding that you’re seeing results faster than regular running.

Calculating Your MAF Heart Rate

Calculating your MAF Heart Rate

MAF training is centered around your MAF heart rate, so  using a specific formula based on age and current health you can calculate your MAF heart rate that you can apply to all of your runs.

Your heart rate and time on your feet are the most important aspects. Forget pace and speed, as they’re just going to eventually cause you to slow down due to fatigue.

As a general rule your MAF heart rate is 180 minus your age. 

So for example, if you’re 30 years old and want to find out your MAF heart rate, simply subtract 30 from 180, and you’ll see that your MAF heart rate is 140-150 beats per minute.

MAF Training In Practice

So you’re looking to start practicing MAF training. you’ve gotten your heart rate, and you’re ready to give it a go. What’s the first step? 

For this example we’ll imagine that you’re 30 years old, so your heart rate is supposed to be around 140-150 beats per minute, with you really aiming to not push past that 150 BPM upper limit. 

You go on your first run, and with the aim of not pushing past that 150BPM, maybe you’re slow.

If you’ve ran before you’ll certainly be slower than you’re used to, but regardless you’ll be slow. It’s really important not to immediately throw away the idea of MAF training.

You’ll generally be slow because most people don’t have a very effective and built up aerobic system that you’ll be working on with this style of training, so take baby steps, and whilst it might be embarrassing, trust the process and allow the training to do it’s thing, whilst you give your body time to adjust to this new style of running. 

It’s generally considered that to see some real success from MAF training you’ll need at least 6 months of consistent training.

This doesn’t mean daily runs, but it means trying to keep as consistent as possible with your runs, not taking huge gaps, and not pushing over the upper BPM limit that you’ve set for yourself. Remember that this is all about training your aerobic system!

And it all ends poorly, then taking a break and coming back to MAF training is entirely possible, things happen, people stop training for a little while and that’s fine, you should build up a somewhat permanent level of aerobic fitness whilst training in the MAF style, so coming back should never be as hard as starting from scratch all over again.

Final Thoughts On MAF Training

MAF training is excellent for people that are looking to get into running for the first time, and for those who consider themselves experienced runners.

Whilst it’s an incredibly effective and remarkably easy going way to train your body for running long distances, for some the process can either be too slow, or simply too boring to take up, and that’s fine!

MAF training takes time, especially when working from the ground up, so most people giving it a go for the first time, are really going to have to be committed, and will have to trust the process in order to see results over a long period of time.

In saying that though, everyone’s different, maybe you’ll find that you’re more able to hit higher speeds whilst keeping your heart rate low, or maybe you’ll find the opposite.

Either way it’s a great idea to give MAF training a go, and see for yourself if it’s something that you’ll find effective.

Richard Harris