The Missing Key to MAF

Many miss what may be the most important MAF recommendation, and it’s difficult to say why. Perhaps most people are so accustomed to following prefab diets and workout plans that they can’t tune into their own intuition.

Cats, hamsters and many other animals have very inquisitive brains. But humans may have the most expansive cognitive abilities because we are more than merely curious — we ponder, look for meaning in life, and seek out fun more than other creatures.

Using our incredible creativity, we experiment with our most important personal findings and even the most seemingly trivial ones. It’s one of the ways we survive as a species and have developed the capacity to enjoy our lives far beyond merely existing to propagate.

However, we also are herd animals, and we have developed means to exist far beyond basic survival. For example, we have far more food choices, many of them poor, than most wild animals, and because of our success as a species, food is also more plentiful — for many far too much so. In addition, we have social forces — marketing influences such as the internet, television and print advertising — that exert control over our choices.

We thrive best among the herd. However, our society has taken a bad turn in the journey. We too often lose curiosity and follow blind directions, like zombies wandering off into a bad dream.

All of this adds up to a loss of intuition, that basic life-force instinct so important not only to survival but to optimal health, performance and enjoyment. By finding out what works best for us, regardless of what the rest of the herd is doing, we can do more than just survive.

This is the key to my MAF approach and what makes it uniquely different from other programs. In fact, it’s not really a program at all. It is a system designed to help you decide what is best for you, to help you reconnect with and take control of your own intuition about diet, health, fitness and even your own brain function.

Many people just don’t get it. For example, it’s amazing how many refer to the Two-Week Test as a “diet.” The whole idea of the Two-Week Test is for individuals to individualize — re-establish intuition and instinct about eating for your personal needs. On the spectrum of human behavior it’s actually at the opposite end from dieting.

Likewise, my entire approach to physical fitness — often called maximum aerobic function (MAF) — is really intended as a “handoff” to get people headed in a healthy direction or toward a healthier alternative. MAF is a scientific approach and refers to the development of the aerobic system, which includes improving fat-burning and balancing both health and fitness. All people have individual thresholds for exercise in terms of intensity, duration and types of activities. Despite what the running magazines may say, there is no workout guideline that spells success for everyone, and many may be formulas for injury. My system helps each person to develop their own program and stay healthy while doing it. And yes, athletes get faster too.

Of all the food, exercise, stress and other information, the most unknown, hidden, and seemingly mysterious MAF recommendation is one that may also be the most important — developing your own intuition. This information is a guide to help you individualize the physical, biochemical and mental-emotional lifestyle factors that best match your body’s needs. Just be careful not to make what you think are individualized adaptations but are really based on some old cookbook recommendation still floating around your head from years ago.

Untold numbers of unnamed individuals have succeeded with the MAF system, and I hear about new cases regularly. Among professional athletes who have best exemplified this is six-time Hawaii Ironman world champ Mark Allen. The concepts clicked for him quickly and he was able to weave all the lifestyle factors together with stunning results. Now that he’s retired from triathlon, he can use these same principles to get the most out of life.

More recently, triathlete Amanda Stevens was able to quickly accomplish great feats, both in health and fitness, by figuring out the puzzle.

Everyone can get something from MAF, but for some it may take longer. However, once they are able to break free from social trends and traditions, many are able to establish that unique individuality status — the one that helps them achieve great things in their personal quest for optimal health and fitness.


  • Arvinder says:

    Hi Ivan, I’m wondering what you and Dr. Maffetone thing about extra long, very low heart rate training and effects on the heart and aerobic engine. I’m 60 with some past health issues (not cardiovascular) and not having exercised regularly in the recent past. MAF heart rate would be 120 or lower. When I was younger, I noticed that backpacking with a 40lb pack 7-8 hrs a day for 8-10 days did wonders for my stamina. Now I’m wondering whether long walks, for example 4-5 hrs daily at a heart rate of 100 for example might lead to a enhanced training effect, possibly alternating with days of shorter training at 120 bpm. Your thoughts would be appreciated.

  • James says:

    Hi Ivan
    What do you think of Killian Jornet diet – ‘plenty of pasta, pizza not much meat’ according to an interview as well as chocolate spread on bread frequently etc. Is he just so talented that his diet doesn’t really matter?

  • Jake says:

    Can you offer any recommendations for foods to eat during long training/events. If I am cycling for 5 hours in an event what would you recommend rather than high sugar products?

    • Jake:

      Race nutrition is very specific, and is the kind of thing that’s better tested individually. Solid foods might work well for you (or not), for example. It’s very difficult to tell without testing it on long training sessions. What I can say is that high-carb foods don’t impact a well-trained body adversely when they are taken once the aerobic system is fully activated (about 30 minutes after the onset of exercise).

  • Mark Davis says:

    I would also like to add after reading some comments about how people are not getting the desired results that gradually warming up and cooling down down via HR is imperative for aerobic progression and continued performance. Every session is about ‘patience’ not ‘pain-tense.’ It takes at least 10-15 minutes to warm up the aerobic engine, even longer for session over 90 minutes in total. Thats the intuitive component of the session also. Diligently applying WU and CD principles is paramount for success. To early a rise in HR or to sudden a stop after an effort detracts from aerobic gains in my experience.

    To get the body in tone you must get the mind in tune.

    My advice is to re-evaluate your method and make sure your brain is in tune with your body.

    Warmest Regards

  • Mark Davis says:

    I have followed Phil’s concept of MAF and nutrition for just over 20 years now. It did develop my intuition and taught me how to tune into my body’s needs. I was a Physical Training Instructor in the Australian Army and taught thousands of individuals his principles. Bottom line is they never failed if used. Sadly, most did not ‘get it’ because of their inability to see through the maze and haze of mainstream culture and the fitness hype. Nevertheless those types continued to fail to keep healthy or even very fit following the dogma they read in magazines or saw on TV

    But on the flip side those that did, still maintain a very high level of function, even decades later.

    I still exclusively use and teach the MAF method for the endurance component of my training in my private physical training business and believe me – the participants love it! May be common sense and the art and science of Phil’s training methods will prevail!

    Thanks mate :).

  • Peter says:

    I did the 2 week test for 1 week. I became frustrated because I felt no change except less pain in Joints and very little to no pain in my upper back and neck which is common when I am stressed from work. Last night, day 8, I ate a normal meal and a bowl of Ice cream for dessert. I usually eat a large dinner and dessert then go straight to bed as I work midnight to 6. I woke up experiencing neck pain as if I was stressed. The thing is I had not been doing any of the things that stress me at my job. I can only say that this pain is very pronounced and unmistakable. I am going to now revisit the test paying close attention to neck pain. I ran a 1/2 on the treadmill day 7 of the test at an anaerobic HR, stretched, had no joint pain, hip and knees usually are killing me, have been for years. I am struggling to take the low no carb thing seriously due to the fact that I have historically eaten whatever I want. I run 40-60 miles a week and look at all food as fuel for the fire. I always considered the pain in my joints as the “cost of doing business” with the pavement/tread. I have not had any leg joint pain in a week though and had, up to now no neck pain either. The pain in my neck is bothering me as I just recovered from a “Crick in the Neck” a week ago. I am also frustrated with the MAF slow running. I was interested in getting my Marathon times down but with only 5 months to train I really feel that I need to work on speed at all costs. I ran a 3.49.59 last year and determined that had I been positioned closer to the front would have done a lot better. I tried running slower at my aerobic HR for a week and, though I enjoyed the runs I then ran a 1/2 marathon at my usual pace at the end of the week and I struggled to get through it and my times have suffered also. Just two weeks ago I was running 7:30 min miles for 8-10 miles, with relative ease. My concern was that I could not hold that for a full marathon. So that’s when I looked to MAF . I am having difficulty committing to aerobic training this close to race day with the goal, I won’t speak it, so lofty.

  • Javier says:

    I started MAF training a little over three months ago, after being really tired and stressed out having run three marathons in the last two years and failing to improve on my times. My first km MAF is down to 5:42 from 6:20 when I started. My best marathon time is 3:33.
    Today I ran a half marathon with my wife, and I paced her along the way, like I did last year. We ran the HM in 1:53, slower than last year’s 1:49. I checked my records and last year I ran with an average heart rate of 149, and this year it was 157! Is this right? I really expected to be lower, specially because I’ve felt less tired and stressed running below my MAF HR.
    Can you give me some feedback?

  • Iacob Gheorghita says:

    As a MD it was obvious for me how to rethink eating and training behaviour and even understanding more like insuline mediated stress-cancer relationship and physiology of ketogenesis. For me it was flawlessly and exciting as well.
    Yet, most people do not have basic physiology knowledge. They are really unable to understand. They need rules.
    For instance only understanding cooking might be a huge barrier toward healthier eating behaviour.

  • Mary says:

    I tested my intuition over a period of over 18 months. I was following blindly the no grain eat lots of broccoli recommendations but I gradually began to have a niggling feeling that my body had a different opinion. It takes a while (at least for me) to kick against the golden rules of nutrition but now I have realised that my body is better with eating a little grain based food (but not plus sugars.. mental and visual acuity abilities improved) and no broccoli or closely related vegetables though other vegetables are great. The broccoli had such a regular effect and because it is said to be a detoxifier I wondered if that is what it was doing and I should try to work through its negative effects.. ..but how does one know? After repeatedly trying eating it and then stopping I have decided to give it up.but I still have a small niggle that I ought to continue trying.

    • Iacob Gheorghita says:

      You should give your body another chance. It take some time for your body to efficiently provide ketone bodies as fuel.
      The seccond time will be with good luck.

  • Alina says:

    I do get what you are saying but I think that people also like to have some clear guidelines or cues that will let them know when they can progress. For example the thing I am straggling with is when I can add bodyweight and HIIT training. Phil says that we should give MAF training at least 3 months, most likely 6 months or even more before we should add some anaerobic exercises. I am sorry but it is too vague for me. How do I know when it is a good time for me to add some anaerobic exercise and at what volume and intensity? I do understand that the point is different for everyone but how do I know when the point is here for me?
    Also to make it more confusing Phil says that 1 hour of for example tennis playing per week is OK. So there is some anaerobic component that is allowed. Well, I would love to do body weight exercises according to Convict Conditioning. I am not sure if you familiar with it but basically it is bodyweight exercises with progression steps. As a beginner I would be doing them just twice a week. Each workout will have only 2 exercises for a total of max 6 sets. The repetitions are quite high though, even up to 50 per set but done at low speed.
    Can I add the bodyweight exercises along the MAF training? Please address the other questions that I have as well.
    Maybe a future article on that?
    Thank you very much for your help.

    • Alina:

      When Phil says that 1 hour of tennis is OK he means when you’re back to your “usual” training (so after that 3-6-9 month period of aerobic only training).

      As a rule of thumb, we go for 3 months of consecutive aerobic improvement in monthly MAF Tests. So if that only happens after you’ve been training for 3 months (or 6 months) it means that a total of 6 or 9 months of aerobic training is what your body needed to be ready for anaerobic training. If you’re an athlete with a battery of experts at his/her disposal, tracking your every biometric, then there’s a good chance that you might have the data necessary to modify that 3-month aerobic improvement period.

  • Sol says:

    For years and years you’ve told people to build an aerobic base by not exceeding a heart rate of 180 minus your age give or take a few beats. I’ve never heard you tell folks to use their intuition to determine their heart rate but I’m glad to read that you’re telling people to do that now.

    • Sol:

      Phil isn’t telling them that.

      Most people’s intuition cannot put their finger on what their physiological thresholds are for the simple reason that most people’s intuition doesn’t have any experience with physiologically correct training. This is like the difference between (a) looking up at a rock wall and simply being able to say that you can or cannot climb up it or (b) being able to have an intuition about what it would take to climb up it. Up until your body has ample experience with exercising healthily (in observation of these physiological thresholds) there is simply no data for your intuitions to tell you where your physiological thresholds lie.

      So the goal here is to gather the necessary data to develop your intuitive processes until they are robust enough that they can tell you what and when and how you should train. But doing so right off the bat because “intuitions are good” is effectively like expecting someone who has no experience with children to intuitively know how and what to do. Many of their intuitions will send them on the wrong path up until they’ve gathered enough data about children to feed those intuitions properly.

  • Tim logie says:

    This is great information. I love how it is using your intuition and there is no set program. It’s the only program I’ve seen that recognizes that everyone is different, because we are all different! Thanks for sharing.

  • Bob Coleman says:

    I recommend you build a few workouts specifically for Zwift. You keep talking about the program and the lowered HR zones, but I don’t think folks really have tools to work in the “new zones”. Zwift is a place to do that – for cyclists anyway. Even I get drowned out hearing from people trying to workout at the lower rates than talking about how hard it is to accomplish.

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