What is the MAF Test?
It's a companion to the 180-Formula that objectively measures progress and provide the earliest indication of potential problems in training.
Dr. Phil Maffetone
Among the important benefits of using a heart monitor is the ability to objectively measure your aerobic progress. Feeling good is one of the benefits of aerobic exercise. And feeling like you’re improving is good too, but subjective. A very objective measure of progress is accomplished using the maximum aerobic function test, or MAF Test.
The MAF Test measures the improvements you make in the aerobic system. Without objective measurements, you can fool yourself into thinking all is well with your exercise. More importantly, the MAF Test tells you if you’re headed in the wrong direction, either from too much anaerobic exercise, too little aerobic exercise or any imbalance that is having an adverse effect on the aerobic system (for example, from stress or poor diet).
The MAF Test can be performed using any exercise except weight-lifting. During the test use your maximum aerobic heart rate found with the 180 Formula. While working out at that heart rate, determine some parameter such as your walking, jogging or running pace (in minutes per mile), cycling speed (miles per hour) or repetitions (laps in a pool) over time. The test can also be done on stationary equipment such as a treadmill or other apparatus that measures output. If you want to test your maximum aerobic function during walking, for example, go to the high school track and walk at your maximum aerobic heart rate. Determine how long it takes to walk one mile at this heart rate. Record your time in a diary or on your calendar. If you normally walk two or three miles, you can record each mile.
Below is an actual example of an MAF Test performed by walking on a track, at a heart rate of 145, calculating time in minutes per mile:
Mile 1 16:32
Mile 2 16:46
Mile 3 17:09
During any one MAF Test, your times should always get slower with successive repetitions. In other words, the first mile should always be the fastest, and the last the slowest. If that’s not the case, it usually means you haven’t warmed up enough, as discussed later.
The MAF Test should indicate faster times as the weeks pass. This means the aerobic system is improving and you’re burning more fat, enabling you to do more work with the same effort. Even if you walk or run longer distances, your MAF Test should show the same progression of results, providing you heed your maximum aerobic heart rate. Below is an example showing the improvement of the same person from above:
September October November December
Mile 1 16:32 15:49 15:35 15:10
Mile 2 16:46 16:06 15:43 15:22
Mile 3 17:09 16:14 15:57 15:31
Performing the MAF Test on a bike is similar. When riding outside, the easiest method is to pick a bike course that initially takes about 30 minutes to complete. Following a warm-up, ride at your maximum aerobic heart rate, and record exactly how long it takes to ride the test course. As you progress, your times should get faster. Riding your course today, for example, may take 30 minutes and 50 seconds. In three weeks it may take you 29:23 and in another three weeks 27:35. After three months of base work, the same course may take you 26 minutes. Another option is to ride on a flat course and see what pace you can maintain while holding your heart rate at your max aerobic level. This works best on a stationary apparatus. As you progress, your miles-per-hour should increase. If you start at 12 mph, for example, following a three-month aerobic base you might be riding 17 mph at the same heart rate.
Perform the MAF Test regularly, throughout the year, and chart your results. I recommend doing the test every month. Testing yourself too often may result in obsession. Usually, you won’t improve significantly within one week.
For those who walk, or do other activities that, over time, will not raise the heart rate to the maximum aerobic level, it’s possible to do the MAF Test without using the maximum aerobic heart rate. Since it’s usually too difficult to reach that heart rate, choose a lower rate for your MAF Test. For example, if you have difficulty reaching 150, your max aerobic rate, use 125 during your walk as the rate for your MAF Test.
Performing the test irregularly or not often enough defeats one of its purposes — knowing when your aerobic system is getting off course. One of the great benefits of the MAF Test is its ability to objectively inform you of an obstacle long before you feel bad or get injured. If something interferes with your progress, such as exercise itself, diet or stress, you don’t want to wait until you’re feeling bad or gaining weight to find that out. In these situations where your aerobic system is no longer getting benefits, your MAF Test will show it by getting worse, or not improving.