When you are often ill, injured, or at a higher risk for overtraining, it is extremely important to rest as much as possible and to exercise exclusively at an aerobic intensity (at or under your MAF heart rate). For any session to be effective, certain guidelines must be followed (which we describe below). However, these guidelines become critical for someone who is at risk for overtraining: deviating from them puts unnecessary stresses on the body, which compound the likelihood for overtraining.

Aerobic Training period

For anyone who is chronically ill, injured, or overtrained, we suggest:

  •      A three-month (90-day) training period of 100 percent Aerobic (MAF HR) Training.

This is because the aerobic system, which burns fat for fuel, and is responsible for the body’s health, energy regulation, longevity, and endurance performance, develops over a relatively long term. (The anaerobic system, which burns sugar for fuel, and can be best understood as the body’s short-term, emergency turbocharger, develops over the short term).

Because modern sports prescription typically prescribes some sort of anaerobic training (which develops the anaerobic systems very quickly), people tend to think that “fitness” develops quickly. For this reason, many are disappointed when they do not see quick aerobic gains, thinking that they aren’t becoming “fitter.” A very important philosophical component of aerobic training is to internalize the notion that the aerobic system is the foundation for the correct functioning of the body’s entire physiology — meaning that “true” fitness must begin by improving the health and power of the aerobic system.

The Training Formula

There is a four-step process that must be followed in order to develop the aerobic system (and the rest of your body) quickly and efficiently. It’s very difficult to make gains if your exercise routine is missing one of these 4 components:

  1.     Warm-up
  2.     Exercise
  3.     Cool-Down
  4.     Recovery
Warm-up

Active warm-up periods provide a key 12-minute window for the body to switch gears from rest to activity and back again.

Warm-up does NOT mean stretching. Instead, it is a period of very low intensity activity in which you allow the heart rate to slowly rise. There are four main benefits to a proper warm-up:

  1.     Blood is circulated throughout the aerobic muscles.
  2.     The lungs function better.
  3.     Fat-burning increases.
  4.     Flexibility improves.
Exercise

Exercise is the most active component of the four-step process. Depending on your activity level, this app will tell you how long your exercise routine is going to be.

Cool-down

The cool-down is the reverse of a warm-up. By slowly bringing down the heart rate during the last 12 minutes, the body begins the important process of recovery, allowing it to obtain the many benefits of exercise.

Recovery

Recovery only happens during rest and sleep. The physical benefits of exercise develop during recovery — that’s when the body adapts to the workout.

Tracking your aerobic development

Before beginning your aerobic training, take a MAF Test as instructed by the MAF-GPS Test article [LINK] or our MAF iPhone App [LINK]. Then repeat the MAF Test monthly to ensure that you are developing aerobically.

  •   We recommend that if you do NOT observe measurable aerobic improvement for three consecutive months, you extend the aerobic training period.
  •   We suggest a minimum of three consecutive months of measurable aerobic improvement in order to ensure that the aerobic system is powerful enough to tolerate any anaerobic exercise.

40 Comments

  • GaryH says:

    What is the optimal training time to reap improvement with the aerobic system without overtraining? I noted the above section mention “Depending on your activity level, this app will tell you how long your exercise routine is going to be.”; however I don’t have an iphone so would be hard. I am currently 34, recently ran a half marathon in 2 hours and have resting heart rate at ~50.

    Thanks!

    • Gary:

      It’s a matter of what your current training tolerance is. The best way to know how much training is optimal for you (at this point) is how much training you have done before. This goes both for aerobic and anaerobic training.

  • Anna E says:

    I’m frustrated with the app because I’m unable to connect my heart rate monitor (Fitbit Charge 2–and from my understanding that issue comes from the Fitbit end, not yours), but there’s also not a way to input data manually. Is this something that will be coming to the app in the future?

  • Jan says:

    when will this be? I too am keen to start the programme but it’s not compatible with the heart monitor in my apple watch

  • Daniel says:

    Ivan,

    I am a keen triathlete and I’m keen to try the MAF method for 2018 commencing this week.
    I understand the MAF test (FYI I have a MAF of 150bpm) and did this last week on a track. My data returned quick times in comparison to many comments I have read on the site:
    Mile 1: 6:06 mins
    Mile 2: 6:13 mins
    Mile 3: 6:21 mins

    I intend to run/cycle for several months not exceeding the 150bpm in my sessions and conduct the test every 4 weeks, but I have not seen recommended train sessions on the website anywhere.
    Should it be all long slow training below MAF for this period, or should there be some intense training above MAF?
    If there should be some training above MAF how much, depending upon what distances people are training for.

    ie. 10km races. should be xxxm efforts above MAF with xxx recovery between each repeat

    Would really find it beneficial to have an article(s) or results from a study that has used the MAF method particularly the associated training sessions.

    Cheers

    Daniel

    • Daren says:

      Hi Daniel,

      Great questions! It’s now a solid 8 months later, how did it go? Pretty sure you answered all of your questions. email me daren@darenlake.net if you want some specifics as I’ve been on MAF for the past 5 years and have seen some awesome gains. Would love to share my best practices with you!

  • Dennis says:

    I am curious if strenth training like weights and body weight resistance is ok during aerobic period? I know keeping HR at or below MAF is ideal in my case 122 bpm. I want to keep musckes toned while building that aerobic base. Thanks!

  • When starting off with the MAF model, the recommendation is 30 minutes three times a week, correct? Can that be a mixture of running and swimming? Then increase the time 10% every two weeks and do that for 90 days? Is that the general idea to get started?

    • Joshua:

      It’s different for every individual, but you just described a very typical and reasonable strategy to start.

      If you generally train for longer periods of time (or more frequently), simply start out with something like 10% less than you usually do (just to play it safe) and then increase as you described over the next few weeks.

      And yes, you can combine it with swimming, or indeed any other high-rep activity such as rowing or cycling.

  • Ben says:

    Hi Ivan,

    Quick question on some weird results I’ve been having trying to do MAF runs — I’m having tremendous difficulty keeping my heart rate steady and within the prescribed range.

    I’m targeting 142 as my max HR. For my last few runs, I’ve found that the slowest, most miserable Marine Corps Shuffle pace pushes my HR up around 155-160. Walking, however, even power-walking up slight hills barely gets my HR to 120! It’s like I’m missing a gear where I could actually stay in the MAF zone!

    I can’t figure out how to insert an image, but the visualization of this on my Garmin is horrible. My last 5 mile run was just an unending series of spikes, where I’d start a slow, shuffling jog, only to have to stop and start walking, then need to shuffle some more!

    Is this a common issue? And is the recommendation just to keep up this hybrid shuffle/walk until my base improves?

    • Lawrence Lee says:

      I am certainly not an expert but have read enough articles on MAF and have tried it myself. When I first began MAF training, my experience was very similar to yours. To avoid spikes in the beginning, you have to maintain a steady slower pace and put your pride aside. Trying dropping your pace by 4-5 minutes per mile and see if spikes go away. Then gradually increase your pace and train. Depending on your ‘fitness’, you might not see any improvement for 3-6 months. Search internet for ‘aerobic and anaerobic imbalance’.

    • Crystal says:

      Ben, I too have this issue. I can walk at a 4.0 mph pace at around 120 bpm, I increase to 4.2 mph in order to jog, and BAM! I’m at 148 bpm, 12 BPM above my MAF. I normally slow jog at 11:00 mm with a HR @ 155-160 BPM, run a half marathon at 9:00 mm @ 175-180 BPM. And run a sprint at 4:00 mm @ 200 BPM. Trying to get my HR at 136 BPM is a range that is very difficult to hit because my body seems to also be “missing a gear” as you state.

  • Tommy says:

    Hi Ivan,

    it`s really great what you guys are providing here and I am a great fan of Dr. Maffetone`s books. I have one question concerning MAF heart rate training. I have to substitute thyroid hormones 125mcg daily for 7 years now ( I am 47 now). I do endurance sports for more than 30 years (Marathon PB 2h39mins and Ironman 9h40mins). I am not sure about the right training heart rate. Is thyroid hormone replacement in your and DR. Maffetone`s opinion regular medication and do I have to substract another 10 beats from my MAF hert rate?

    • Tommy –

      It’s certainly regular medication. The thyroid controls the metabolism so any thyroid medication can (and almost always does) have a huge impact on metabolic function, and therefore your fatburning and stress levels. I would certainly recommend taht you subtract 10 BPM from your 180-age (but you don’t have to subtract more than 10).

  • Han-Lin says:

    When jogging, waiting at traffic lights can take a minute which causes our heart rate to fall. What’s the proper way of warming up again? Can I go back to my pace at the MAF heart rate immediately?

    • Han-Lin,

      Great question. If it’s only a couple of minutes it’s no big deal – the best way to do it is to perhaps increase your heart rate back up to MAF over the course of a minute. Start at a jog and let your body naturally speed up to MAF.

  • roland says:

    I have just started MAF training targeting 122bpm. I find it difficult to do 122. When I walk it goes way down. A simple walk and jog gives average of 126. I’ve decided to stay there. I’m doing 1hr a day five days a week. Is there a problem with that?

  • Dan says:

    Can someone, ideally Phil himself, explain how many times per week and for how long one should be exercise to achieve an ideal aerobic capacity? Surprised this isn’t covered in the literature above. It feels like somewhat of an important component.

    • Hi Dan –

      Thanks very much for your comment! It’s a really good question/observation.

      First let me say that Phil doesn’t often participate in the comment threads, so I hope you’ll be satisfied with my answer.

      You’re absolutely right – we should write an article where that is discussed in detail. But the gist of it is this:

      Unfortunately it’s a question that has no straightforward answer. Let me rephrase: it’s a question that can only be answered straightforwardly by giving an incomplete answer. So in the hopes of giving an answer that is somewhat complete, here goes:

      An “ideal” aerobic capacity is “however much aerobic capacity you need to stay healthy given your lifestyle, athletic pursuits, and general life context.” For example, this means that Usain Bolt, who spends very little time in activity (as compared to an ultrarunner, say) needs a much smaller aerobic system to stay healthy: he uses his aerobic system primarily to help him recover properly from his anaerobic work—but that’s just about it. Conversely, an ultrarunner relies on their aerobic system to literally carry them around for hundreds of miles a month, which means that they need a much more powerful aerobic system—one that can support all those hundreds of miles of running and still have enough energy to help them recover and stay healthy.

      For this reason, an ultrarunner will have to exercise aerobically many more times a week (and for much longer) than a sprinter like Usain bolt to have enough aerobic capacity to keep them healthy—what is “ideal” for them.

      If you’re asking about how much you need to train to reach your maximum aerobic capacity, that unfortunately also depends on the person. A regular joe may need no more than 5-6 hours of training a week to reach their maximum, while a mountain athlete with elite genetics like Kilian Jornet may need four to five times as much training. Of course, in order to get to either of their respective training maximums, the athlete must slowly work up to that over the course of months or even years.

      Which leads us to a third question: how much do you need to train for your aerobic system to increase (and continue increasing) in power?

      That’s a simpler question, but also with some ins and outs. The super simple answer is: you want to add about 10% of training every week, with an easy week every 4th or 5th week where you reduce your training volume to 40% of the previous week. Another way to say this is that you just need to train a little more than you did last week, for the added stimulus to begin having an impact. However, athletes who are looking for more aerobic power should build up to training sessions that are shorter: 40-50 minutes, to let the aerobic system put its energy into building more speed within that timeframe. Conversely, athletes who are looking for endurance should build up to longer training sessions: 1:30-2 hours, in order to tell the aerobic system to grow more towards endurance. Both athletes will of course improve both in speed and endurance—it’s just that the main training outcome will be different.

      In keeping with this, an athlete that is looking for more aerobic power might train 3-5 times per week, while an athlete that is looking for endurance might train 5-7 times per week. But ultimately, how much training frequency it takes for them to reach their maximums in either speed or power is ultimately a matter of individuality: build, lifestyle context, and genetics.

      Does this answer your question?

      Ivan

      • john says:

        Thank you very much Ivan, this comment is the one I have been looking for. I love the MAF training approach and am working towards almost a year away and wanted to know how much to add and when. I can tell there is not a standard 3 month program that others will sell but I didn’t want to injure myself by adding 5 miles tacked onto a run in a week. The steady approach is easy after a little while and I keep seeing improvements. Thank you for all the insight.

  • David says:

    Hi Ivan,
    I’m still struggling with getting my ideal Max heart rate. I started the MAF about 2 1/2 months ago. I am 63 and have been a runner since I was 23. I became aware of Dr. Maffetone’s 180 formula and thought it made so much sense since my “regular” routine caused frustrating injuries. According to the MAF formula my Max HR should be 117 which to me is really low. So I go on my run and I surpass that almost immediately. I recently added about 10 bpm just to be able to get some running in even if it’s for a very short period of time. My question is, should I drop it back to my original 117 and really just do a fast paced walk or stay at 127? I want to establish my aerobic base correctly but it seems walking is all I’m really doing at 117 bpm.
    Thanks Ivan.

    David

  • David says:

    Hi Ivan
    Thanks for the reply. But I turn 65 in a year and a half and according to the MAF method I would add 10 bpm if I’m in part d category. It wouldn’t make sense to me to go through the expense of seeking out a sports lab to get tested.
    Any thoughts on this. Thanks

    David

  • David says:

    Ivan,
    Well I am very healthy for my age. I guess my concern is at 117 I’m walking and that’s it. I believe in building the aerobic base as Dr Phil specifies but at almost 3 months at 117 doesn’t seem logical to me. I hope I’M making sense 🙂 Should I just be patient and continue at 117 bpm for a few more months? I’ve read that it can take some people 6 or more months to build this aerobic base.
    Thanks for answering my questions. I’ve searched the articles and there really isn’t anything specific for older runners. (60’s+)
    David

  • David says:

    Ivan,

    Thanks! I’m going to stick to the 117 bpm for now and just be patient. All I’m really doing is walking at a brisk pace. I appreciate your feedback. I will certainly contact you if I have any other questions. Thanks, also, for taking the time to answer my questions!

    David

  • Chlo says:

    Hey, does doing lots of very low cardio (ie fast walking at HR between 105 and 130) build aerobic base? I’m 36 and rarely sick (so maf 140-145). I’m trying to run at 145 but it feels way too fast, I’m sprinting uphills to get up there (even double unders with skip rope barely works, if I trip my hr plummets to 130)…always thought my cardio was not great but I clock between 10-15 hrs a week of very low cardio (walking to work, easy surfing) for the past 16 months….my guess is clocking less time at 140 he is more time efficient then 15 hrs at 125???

    • Hello Chlo,

      It trains different parts of the aerobic system, and generally, a lower heart rate produces a slower training effect than a higher heart rate. All that low aerobic training is really working to improve and sustain your basic health, but other aerobic training closer to the MAF HR can help you develop the high-end power of the aerobic system.

      • Chlo says:

        Thanks for that,
        I reckon I must have had poor aerobic base when I started all that fast walking and surfing…so was maybe at my maf number then. Did a maF test and to hit my MAF number I was jogging uphill…I’m just struggling with my legs as I’m not used to running, I usually swim for cardio but my shoulders are nagging me. So was hoping the walking could remain an option. I guess stationary bike or an elliptical machine are my options :-/

  • L Duplass says:

    Hi I’ve been doing MAF for 3 months and am actually registering slower times than when i first started. First started around 11 mins per mile, and my last couple of tests registered more like 12 minutes per mile. granted I have been implementing some form corrections. still, not sure why it’s not kicking in. my last 5k before the MAF period was at 7:30 pace so my MAF pace differential seems even steeper than most. someone (a fellow runner who doesn’t know much about MAF) suggested it might be due to my low mileage (around 12 miles per week). he said I might need to be running more like 25-30 to see improvements. Any thoughts on this? for whatever it’s worth I’m 45 and running at 135bmp. Thanks!

      • L Duplass says:

        Hi Ivan, thanks for the response. That one doesn’t really apply to me because it’s referring to a previously overstressed system/person. but i’m only running 10-12 miles per week at 12 minute mile which is super easy for me, and i wasn’t overstressed before. i basically started running again recently, and have been building slowly from zero to this point (with the exception of an all out 5k in the spring). Since i posted this i did a lot of research and the general consensus seems to be that MAF doesn’t really work/show results until you’re running minimum of 5-6 hours per week. So for me around 25 miles per week, and i’m not even doing half of that yet. What do you think about that idea? I do plan on increasing my mileage carefully over time.

        • Hello L,

          Improving your mileage over time is exactly what you should do.

          That said, basically anything that you do that is more than what you usually do will help you adapt. So if you run 1 hour a week and start running 2, you will improve. That’s just a fact of how the body works – it’s why we can learn the violin or get fast at typing while not ever feeling like we “trained” at all. The reason you see a lot of people having to run a certain minimum is either that they are already holding a significant training volume, where the only way for their body to adapt is to run more, or they are actually upping the stress on their body to get a performance boost that does not actually translate into aerobic development: think of it as juicing the engine instead of upgrading the parts.

  • Simon says:

    Hi, new to MAF, Triathlete 8 years & Ironman 3 years (6 races) my MAF is 132 and my question relates to cycling workouts. I can run comfortably at 132bpm did 1st test yest 7:30/mile 5 miles no slow down or HR drift. When cycling I cant hold 132bpm for more than few mins (maybe 30) and am up around FTP (250 watts im 70kg). Am I better dropping intensity on bike in order to get volume up or to keep doing short 20-30 min sessions at 132bpm?
    Btw 115bpm gives me 3watts/kg which I would LOVE to be able to hold for 5hrs so is this a better intensity is is HR too low for gains?

Leave a Reply