Thursday, September 8, 2016

MAF: What is it?

If you have seen my Strava data you often see that a run of mine was an MAF run.  While I have Maximum Aerobic Function, what does that mean.  MAF is dealt with in this article by Phil Maffetone:  Want Speed? Slow Down but in essence is the heart rate at which you build your aerobic capacity and your body burns fat most effectively.  Thus, training regularly at MAF allows one to build a great aerobic base and train ones body to use fat as a fuel over the carbohydrates it desires when one runs faster.  Of course there is more to the fat burning side of things than just HR but it is part of it.  More on diet in a future post.
added in the past what the acronym  stands for,

MAF training for those who have been around a while, as I have,  is not really a new concept but is a modernized version of principles others such as Arthur Lydiard put forth many years ago.  Phil Maffetone on his website talks much about this method of training and you can read the basics of the method here:  MAF Methodology & in The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing

As Phil states on his site MAF deals with three key lifestyle aspects:
  1. Diet & Nutrition: Eat real foods, find your optimal carbohydrate intake, and improve your balance of healthy fats.
  2. Exercise: Train at the appropriate intensity to develop your fat-burning aerobic system, improve health and perform better.
  3. Stress management: Assess your physical, biochemical, and mental-emotional stressors, and learn to manage them.
What makes MAF different than just being about Heart Rate training is that the focus is on health and not simply just getting faster and being able to run farther.  While I do believe that via MAF you can do both that is not its focus.  So often in running we sacrifice health for the sport and while that may bring short-term pleasure, I say might; it is not prime for long term health.  Let me add that I do understand why many who are competitive may see this method being for the slower runner since you will indeed run slower, at last to begin with, or for Ultra-Runners let me share that this is not so.  As a personal anecdote, since I have taken up this method of training my 5K has come down and other than a couple ankle injuries from trails rather than from over training I have been injury free and for sure am less fatigued than I usually am with my faster is better method I usually trained with.  Might my times have gone down with my old method, sure, but usually what happened is that they went down then I crashed and burned either with an injury or a bad cold brought on by over training at too high an intensity.

As another proof, if it is needed, of the efficacy of MAF for even the faster among us Phil Maffetone coached Mark Allen, interview with Mark Allen, who was one of the best triathletes of his time, maybe of all time, and did so using the MAF principles.  Yes Mark Allen was fit and fast when he met up with Phil but the change in training allowed Mark to do what most others could not do and that was to have longevity in the sport - and at a high level.

MAF is not a get fast quick method and it is not necessary a run slow to get fast plan, as speed work is allowed, but a holistic approach that looks to health in the midst of training.  Thus, while I think you could run better just using the MAF heart Rate formula I do think you benefit the most by also working to adapt ones diet as well since the MAF pace is ideal for being a fat adapted athlete.

OK, all that but what is MAF?  Well first, as it relates to running and pace, it is that the majority of training is done at a pace that equates to 180 minus your age as a baseline.  There are some additions and subtractions you can do such as:

  1. If you have or are recovering from a major illness (heart disease, any operation or hospital stay, etc.) or are on any regular medication, subtract an additional 10.
  2. If you are injured, have regressed in training or competition, get more than two colds or bouts of flu per year, have allergies or asthma, or if you have been inconsistent or are just getting back into training, 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 just mentioned, keep the number (180–age) the same
  4. If you have been training for more than two years without any of the problems listed above, and have made progress in competition without injury, add 5.

If you are older, 65 or above, elsewhere it talks of adding another 5 beats.  Based on this and the math involved I figure that once you turn 60 you can keep your HR pace the same till 66, unless you need to make adjustments based on the above criteria.  Here is a link to the 180 Formula

As far as training this means that, if I use myself as an example, I run all my MAF runs at 128 (180-57+5) or slower.  Thus on hills, into a headwind or later in runs it does mean slowing down to maintain the desired HR.  What I personally do is to set my watch to alarm at 126 so I get a warning to slow down before I am already over.  And if I do go over I slow down right away, if you have to walk to get it down then do so.

What about speed work and races?  Well, here is how I deal with the speed work part of things:

I try and do 3 months of MAF only  running, unless I have a race then I do not run at MAF but I try and keep that at no more than 1 race a month.  Then I do 3-4 months, depends of what race I am doing, at MAF except for 2 days a week of non-MAF and also any races I may do at non-MAF. For speed work I basically do two days a week where I do not use my HR monitor, but have it on to see how I did. On those days I do a number of types of runs: harder trail runs, tempo runs of 3-6 miles with every now and then a longer one from 10-13, longer intervals like 3-4 X 2miles with mile rest, and fartlek. I do shorter intervals once in a while but not as much.

While many that do MAF run for time I still like to track mileage.  In doing this I also run mileage in 5-6 week cycles with higher millage for 4 weeks, presently about 50 miles,  then run 1-2 weeks at lower miles and all at MAF or if I do speed work it will be shorter stuff, presently around 30 miles a week in this section.

Once I have done this 6 month, or so, cycle I repeat it or adjust for a particular race.  I my case this year, into next, I will start in November doing only MAF for 4 months as I have a 50 miler in March and do not feel I need much in the way of speed work except what I may get in a race or two..

The above is how I organize my MAF training  but things may work differently for you based on goals and the base you come into MAF with. I have been running for 43+ years so have a pretty good base .  If you are newer to running you may want to just stay at MAF for 6 months, even up to a year to build that base as it is critical to being injury free and being a healthy runner.

Keep in mind when you start this it will seem slow, for most people, and the initial inclination after a week is that you want to stop.  My encouragement is to persevere.  Perseverance is a trait being lost in our microwave culture but it is critical to MAF and in truth is critical to all of life.  How long it takes for the light to come on varies for everyone as it can be as soon as three months to more than a year, again all contingent on your past training experience, level of fitness, health. and other areas

Another part of the MAF method is diet and I think this is as important a part as the HR training and will talk on this in a later post.  That said, one can begin MAF training without making the jump to a changed diet even though, again, I think a modified diet for most would be very beneficial.

As I have already mentioned, can one run faster with other methods, yes.  Could someone even run using the “faster and farther” mentality and have longevity, yes again.  But I would say longevity is not very common among those that burn the running candle at both ends.

I am sure this does not answer all your questions on MAF, probably just created more, so I encourage you to read the supplied links to Phil Mafetone’s articles.  But also do your own investigation by searching out: MAF, Maximum Aerobic Function, Mark Allen and others.  If you are on Facebook I am one of  the Admins on a Maffetone Method FB page so you can ask to join and we have a pinned post with many resources.  Another good resource is Mark Sisson’s new book Primal Endurance.

Also, here are some good Podcast sources that have talks on MAF and realted subjects:

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