The 180 Review

By October 30, 2018Exercise
180 Formula Revisited

New thoughts on the 180-Formula after more than 35 years of success.

It’s been more than 35 years since I developed the 180-Formula, best known for aerobic training although initially it was for weight- and fat-loss. During this time, I’ve described it many ways, for many other uses and in many sports (including use with horses), debated the merits, and defined the distinctions. Along the way, I measured and quantified the resulting MAF Heart Rate, the aerobic threshold, the ability to improve submax and maximal performance, increased fat-burning and other important relationships.

These metrics would pave the way to help people develop both improved fitness and better health, including reducing excess body fat, and improving physical performance, metabolism and hormones, and autonomic function. A wide range of benefits have been attained for virtually all those disciplined enough to follow the formula properly.

Recently, I wondered whether a new look at the 180-Formula was needed, one that would help further clarify the original final formula, and even expand it.

One goal of the formula was, and remains, providing accurate guidance in pursuing the development of maximum aerobic function, MAF. For those wanting to burn more body fat, this would result in more energy for increased endurance, particularly the ability to run, bike or move at faster paces with the same submax HR. For those primarily interested in weight loss, or reductions in body fat, it would also be successful. The ability to better manage stress would improve, including faster recovery — whether from exercise, a day at the office, or a very stressful event. Cardiovascular, hormonal, immune functions would also improve, along with the rest of the body’s system.

A common question is how much aerobic-to-anaerobic training is best. Depending on the individual, the optimal aerobic/anaerobic balance of year-round training may be about 80:20. (It’s important to note than many people, even athletes, do well on less anaerobic training and some require none at all.) The aerobic component is based on the MAF HR surrounded by a warm up and cool down, with the same aerobic warm up and cool down used for high-intensity training and also modified for competition).

Eating for 180 success

For many people, the missing key to the 180-Formula is the food factor. A great training plan is great only when it’s supported by the biochemical aspects associated with improving metabolism, hormones, brain function. These and other values are most influenced by eating healthy food, which also means avoiding junk food. Without excellent diet, one could never get the most out of the formula, or the body.

In order to adjust the fat-burning factor for those not eating well, we’d need a new category: Twenty beats would have to be taken away from the 180-age baseline in order to reduce the heart rate in hopes of burning a bit more fat for fuel, and it still may not be enough.

And for those who try the formula without success, it’s the diet that’s usually at fault, not the formula. Even for those who improve using the formula but don’t eat as well, much more improvement could be realized.

An addition to minus 5

During the development of the Formula, there were not a lot of overfat people, especially athletes. But this has changed as most of the world is now overfat. In category 2, there are various indications of reduced health and fitness that require one to reduce the 180-age result by 5. One important addition that I want to add to that list is overfat. It’s clear when body fat is excessive — simply use the waist-to-height ratio. Your waist should be less than half your height — if it’s not, subtract 5. Excess body fat poses many possible health and fitness problems, and is often the reason people don’t get faster at the same HR.

An addition to minus 10

The fourth category of the 180-Formula is one people want to avoid as it’s indicative of more significant reductions in health. Even when they know that is where they stand, and have to reduce their exercise HR by another 10 beats after subtracting age from 180, people feel it’s undue punishment. But it’s not. It’s about finding the most appropriate, best match, personalized HR that is low-risk while allowing a high-quality workout. This, despite the perceived effort.

I must add another common condition to this category — chronic overtraining. These individuals, often athletes who are chronically burned out, those who have had a nervous breakdown or are otherwise chronically stressed, are really seriously unhealthy too. Many athletes are not progressing, continue to have poor performances, various injuries, often because they are chronically overtrained and don’t realize or can’t accept it.

When people experience how easy or slow it is to work out at this HR, they are dismayed, thinking it will be like this forever. It won’t, for two reasons:

  • First, the pace or power will improve at the same heart rate. Of course, this requires avoiding junk food (especially sugar and refined carbohydrates) to start burning more body fat. You’ll have to walk, run, ride or or otherwise exercise faster. As this process proceeds, there’s another bonus.
  • Second, after becoming more fit, and a better fat-burner, health problems, originally the reason for being in the -10 category, should improve. Then, you can modify the 180-Formula using a higher HR by moving to category 2 where you subtract 5. This modification of the formula might be accomplished if:
    • You recovered well from surgery, hospitalization or illness, graduated from rehabilitations, or recovered from overtraining (especially when the MAF Test shows improvement).
    • You were able to eliminate medication.
    • And you passed the MAF Test or MAF GPS Test, meaning you are progressing, as indicated by training faster or with more power at your MAF HR. 

As described in past articles, I emphasized to be conservative, and if you are uncertain you should choose a lower HR. Now I want to be more firm — when unsure, if in doubt, subtract 10! As you progress, it will be fun seeing your training HR move up while performance increases.

H is for Honest

Training is not a game, but a serious endeavor that’s also fun while promoting health and fitness. Unfortunately, denial is a deceptive white lie. Many believe the absence of disease is great health, but it’s not if risk of disease is high due to various abnormal signs and symptoms. Being honest about calculating an exercise HR from the formula is as essential as being truthful with your doctor, best friend or pet. So it’s vital to choose the correct category.

Just to be sure, passing the MAF Test by demonstrating that you’re running faster, cycling with more power or otherwise performing better at the same HR, virtually ensures you chose the proper category. This assumes your diet is great. Otherwise, why bother monitoring your exercise?

Do not use +5

To be perfectly clear, don’t use category 4 and add 5 beats unless you can actually demonstrate all of the below:

  • You have been training for more than two years without any of the problems listed in categories 1 and 2. This includes being without physical, biochemical or mental-emotional injury.
  • You have made progress in athletic competition.
  • You are not overfat as indicated by the waist-to-height ratio.
  • Your MAF Test is improving.

Most people don’t qualify for this category, but can work up to it by improving health and fitness.

Bonus for Getting Younger

Improving health and fitness means we are physiologically getting younger, a bonus in itself. That’s what happens when we build better aerobic function, burn more body fat, improve the immune, hormonal and other systems of the body. If you’re younger, your 180-Formula would be different, right?

Yes, another bonus is that you can change your MAF HR over time. Consider these possibilities:

  • You start at an effective training HR, progress with your program, and a year later, now faster and leaner, you are, of course, a year older. However, because you have progressed — become physiologically younger — you don’t need to reduce your MAF HR by 1 but can keep it the same.
  • Another year goes by, and you continue progressing. Another bonus — keep your two-year old younger HR the same.
  • I have found that over a five-year period, a 2-3 HR reduction is typically necessary, but only for those who continue to progress without health or fitness impairments. And only for those whose MAF Test continues improving.
  • For those who don’t progress — if the pace plateaus, excess body fat remains, injuries develop, etc. — we have to reduce the MAF HR to the previous rate that allowed you to progress.

Even when choosing the proper category to find the best starting MAF HR, the formula is adjusted over time: as health and fitness changes, and with chronological age. The most important objective indicator that guides you best is the MAF Test. Progress doesn’t lie.

21 Comments

  • josef Fettes says:

    I’m a 60-year-old endurance athlete who trains running and cycling.
    Is it possible to take over the MAF Formula 1: 1 from cycling training?
    That means cycling at the same heart rate as walking?
    Although the bike training sessions are usually longer than the running training.
    Thank you

  • Garry Bracken says:

    Hi guys…finding it hard to figure this MAF training out…have stuck to the 180 formula religiously for 7 months and very little improvement in running pace…cycling is improving…..had a race recently and was slower than previous plus it took a lot longer to recover than usual….i did finish Quest 24 in under 18hrs but had to abandon MAF HR early on to avoid cut offs and penalties, i did have a brilliant run to finish ….changed to basically keto diet at start of MAF training….i reduced training duration to prevent overtraining….warm up and cool down properly every time……maybe need to reduce my 130MAF as had burnout 8 years ago and recon i’ve overtrained since…..hard to stick at it as i feel there is no point competing and that’s really what id like to be doing…have been in the top 5 overall for last few years at my adventure races…51 in a few weeks and want to knock 1 minute off my 2.50 marathon time and get a few decent adventure race results…..pulled out of Dublin Marathon this weekend as i am running 5.30 pace per km and need to be at 4.00….will stick at MAF training for the winter and see how it goes….any good MAF coaches in ireland?
    Kind Regards
    Garry

  • Scooter123 says:

    Note, I am currently age 63. On October 9, 2018 I underwent a Mitral Valve Repair and Triple Bypass. BTW, Heart Disease is hereditary in my family, lost my older brother to it at age 59 and he was a lifelong runner and non smoker. I’ll also note that I am a 37 year ex-smoker with mild/moderate COPD. In 2012 I quite smoking and ng in May, 2015 I started exercising daily and walked off 40 lbs. that summer and worked my daily miles up to 6. In 2016 I was increasing the intensity I was working at and started using a Garmin Chest Monitor for every workout. Wasn’t real smart about the intensity early on and to be honest was overtraining with average heart rates ranging between 145 bpm and 160 bpm. Late in 2016 a friend introduced me to the MAF methodology and I slowly started implemented aspects of this method. Starting in January 2018 I had pretty much fully adopted the MAF methods with an Aerobic proportion of 85/15% Aerobic/Anaerobic. In march 2018 after a light workout I had an attack of Tachycardia while cleaning up the dishes from breakfast. That attack spanned a full hour with my HR ranging between 159 and 175. Fortunately it happened while I was still wearing my Garmin Chest Monitor so I kicked my Forerunner 235 into Indoor run to have a record of what was going on. After a very extensive series of tests it was revealed that I had Pulmonary Hypertension due to the Mitral Valve regurgitation, an LAD 80% block, one more artery 100% blocked at the terminus, and a third arteries that was 60% blocked mid artery.

    With all this going on I asked my Cardiologist about continuing to exercise and he stated that my exercising was what had kept me from having a major event and that I must continue to exercise, with a limitation on my maximum HR of 130 BPM. So, in effect I was prescribed to continue exercising at an Aerobic level 100% of the time. Last March my VO@ Max was at 36 as determined by my Garmin gear. Staring in July my Vo2 Max hit 40 and stayed there until the Friday before my surgery. Anyone reading this just think about that. A 63 year old with a bum heart AND COPD achieving a VO2 Max of 40. That is the Value of Arobic Fitness Training.

    Final note, Today it has been exactly 3 weeks since my Open Heart Surgery. Today at this point I have taken the dog for a 1.87 mile walk at a 18:30 pace, walked another 1.02 miles on my own, and have 9466 steps in today. Note, average Heart Rate for moth walks was 87 bpm. I have also returned to work. The reason for my rapid recovery from major heart surgery is due to my level of Fitness prior to surgery and my commitment to following my Doctors instructions regarding exercise and daily use of an Incentive Spirometer. I also have to give credit to Dr. Mafetone and his MAF method.

    Final Note. Prior to surgery my best mile while keeping my HR under 120 was 11:15. According to my Cardiologist after I am fully recovered I should be able to do a sub 9 minute mile. That is one of the benefits of getting my Mitral Valve repaired. I’m really looking forward to seeing that take place. Of course I am also looking at a lifetime of certain medications to protect the heart and a lifetime on the Cardiac Diet, so while I won’t be perfect I expect I’ll be around for a lot of years to come. As for the COPD the BEST therapy for this condition is Aerobic Exercise and daily use of the Spirometer.

  • Laura P says:

    Hi Dr. Maffetone,
    Since, you brought this up I have a couple of questions.

    1) Is the MAF app updated to include these new parameters?
    2) I used the app (Android) to calc my MAF sub-max HR. It subtracted 15bpm from my 180-age based on my responses to the survey. However, I got (180-age)-10 when I did the calc based on the article @ (https/philmaffetone.com/method-step-5/ ). Step 2 in the article states to pick one of the four categories (a thru d) which would only allow for a max decrease of 10 bpm, not 15 that the app came up with. Both category (a) and (b) apply in my case. So my question is: Should I deduct 10 or 15 bpm from my MAF sub-max HR?

    Lastly, I am on several medications including thyroid med for hypothyroidism. I am hoping that I can discontinue them all in time but have been told that I will have to take it forever. If this is the case, would I still have to subtract 10 if the only med I’m on is the thyroid med?

    Btw, thank you so much for making this formula available. I did the two week test and find that cravings are almost 100% gone. Am now on day 31 of no sugar or refined carbs.

    Laura

  • Tony says:

    Hola Dr. Phil greetings from the Costa Blanca in Espana. You addressed the “over 60’s” in a podcast and going beyond cutting your HR Max below 120 may not be necessary. Any updated thoughts an that? I’m 62 with elite fitness … so my Polar V800 tells me 🙂 Saludos.

  • Kamal Singh Bisht says:

    Hi Sir,
    I am 45 years, weight 84, height 174 cm, waist 34 inches,
    I run ultra and marathon, triathlon also, I had tried MAF also, but unable to decrease my weight.
    What to do and how

  • Russell Seguin says:

    I’m a 61 year old marathoner, and have had good results using MAF during the last year, dropping my MAF pace from 13.5 to 10.5 min/mi. I’m in the middle of my first 14-day no-carb test, and while my MAF pace slowed up a bit, I’ve had much better than average endurance on my weekly 18-20 mile long runs. But on my one weekly 5-mi fast group trail run, I’ve completely bonked (wiped out, a bit dizzy) at just under 4 miles, and have to walk most of the last mile! I’m fine 15 min after the run… what gives? Its as though my glycogen stores have evaporated! I’ve always done all of my runs in the morning without breakfast.

  • Scooter123 says:

    Seeing measurable improvement every day. Currently limiting my pace to produce an oxygen demand that is “comfortable”, which puts my current maximum HR at about 85-86. Took the dog for a 3 1/8 mile walk yesterday and finished with a 18:15 pace and finishing HR of 86. That’s a 15 second gain in pace and increase of 1/4 mile from the day before. My plan is to continue in this fashion for another 4-6 weeks until I can break under 15 minutes per mile, then I’ll start adding some very light jogging segments to my walks. Get to see the Cardiac Surgeon next Monday and the Cardiologist next Tuesday, really hoping to get permission to start driving because when it’s raining the only walking I can do is inside the house. If I can drive I can use a mask and surgical gloves to minimize the risk of infection at the gym an do some walking on a treadmill.

  • Beccy says:

    Are there any coaches in the UK who could make sure I am doing this correctly as feel like I’m getting nowehere 🙁 Read all the books

  • Sherry says:

    Hello!
    I am a 60 year old female with a MAF first mile time of 12:22. What can I reasonably expect my hear rate to go down to for my age and gender?
    Thanks.

    • Hello Sherry,

      It really depends. If you are fully healthy and live an unstressful lifestyle, you can expect to start seeing the first changes in 30-60 days. If you are highly stressed, recently overtrained, etc, those improvements will not come as speed but rather you’ll see the symptoms of stress, chronic illness, and overtraining begin to diminish in that timeframe.

  • Ray says:

    Can I use this method with a jump rope? I’m a solid jumper but would have long rest periods. Any advice is appreciated. Thanks.

  • Emily Bell says:

    I’m a former 2:47 (female) marathoner and Cat 2 cyclist that got in deep with over-training (training, life stress, etc). Have been trying to climb out of a hole for nearly two years now. Have recently changed diet, adjusted exercise, and working on stress management. Have taken most this year off anything endurance, however, have just really started researching MAF and have started to implement it by adding some running back in my life. I’m super excited to learn there is a path to recovery and to hopefully become the person I once was. I do have a question. I completed my first MAF test today and I am negative splitting and still averaged 2 beats below goal which is apparently wrong. I am using the MAF-10 (180-37=143-10=133) formula since I’ve had SO MANY health issues but notice that I often get quicker as I go on most runs. I feel like I warm up sufficiently although it’s completely dynamic drills (leg swings, marching, toe touches, jumping jacks, inchworms, hip & arm circles, etc) for about 10-15 mins before every run. Previously as a marathoner and road racer, my strength was negative splitting as I “loosen up/wake up” as I go. So I guess my question is, do I need to adjust my MAF, am I doing something wrong, or is this just my normal? Just an extra side note if it matters, I also lift heavy (what I heard Dr Maffetone describe as “slow” weights) to help boost hormones so not sure if this factors in to my question at all. Thanks and look forward to your response!!

    • Hi Emily,

      I’m not really sure why individuals negative-split at MAF when doing long distances.

      While the aerobic system definitely gets more tired, it’s possible that for example, the body gets more coordinated as the run goes on (hence the “loosening up” you mention). In other words, the coordination makes up for the fatigue and then some — I myself often have that issue. I’d say that it is “normal” but if you somehow managed to get that increased coordination before the run starts—say, because you did movement training over a period of months or years—you’d probably start seeing even faster times at the beginning of the run, which follow the more normal progression of slowing towards the end.

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