The New Aerobic Revolution

Your wish list includes ridding the body of excess fat and losing weight, getting strong with unlimited energy, and improving sports performance while getting healthier—it’s about time.

JB came to my clinic with a dilemma, having worked out regularly, while keeping calories in check for over a year. Yet, body fat would not budge, muscles felt weak, and mental and physical energy levels were low. After an extensive physical evaluation and dietary analysis, the remedy seemed simple: slow down, avoid junk food, stay off the scale, and eat healthy fats. JB was game. Within two weeks, JB felt like a new person. Longstanding hunger was gone, food was enjoyable again, and workouts were fun and exhilarating. Within a month, friends were asking whether weight was reduced. “Don’t know, I’m not supposed to get on the scale,” JB said—a comment that got some strange looks. But when clothes clearly began fitting more loosely, JB just had to take a peek at the scale—no weight loss! Having called my clinic in a panic, I explained how the loss of body fat resulted in leanness: Because more body fat was being burned—resulting in increased energy—both fatigue and hunger dissolved. While workouts seemed easy, muscles strengthened. The combination of a slight increase in muscle, whose mass added a few pounds of weight, and body fat loss, which doesn’t weigh much but takes up more space, scale weight evened out. JB finally understood what was going on, happily declaring, “It’s about time.”

Humans are among the most amazing endurance animals on earth. One reason is our built-in ability to have almost unlimited energy for nearly fatigue-free long-term physical activity. This comes from our capacity to use stored body fat for fueling our movements. Even the leanest among us has sufficient body fat to travel on foot for hundreds of miles. This aerobic system also helps with stable blood sugar, reducing hunger, balancing hormones, and ensuring better brain function. Fully developing and properly feeding the aerobic system is the key to achieving optimal human performance.

When this most human of systems is not developed, aerobic deficiency follows.

Defining Aerobic

Most people think they know what aerobic means, (or so they say). Many associate it with breathing or oxygen, confuse it with “cardio,” aerobic dance or other popular classes. In fact, the workout term aerobics is not even a half-century old, although humans have been doing it for millions of years. In the late 1960s, Dr. Kenneth Cooper, an exercise physiologist for the San Antonio Air Force Hospital in Texas, coined the term “aerobics” to describe the system of exercise that he devised to help prevent coronary artery disease that included jogging, running, walking and biking. His book Aerobics came out in 1968 and became an immediate national bestseller.

But since that time, the number of overweight people has significantly increased: obesity has more than doubled, while 75 percent of people have become overfat. There are also millions who are run down, injured and unhealthy. Not even athletes are immune.

Cooper’s aerobic revolution was successful on paper, but it failed in practice for two reasons. Many people fell into overtraining through anaerobic workouts that neglected the aerobic system. In addition, the wrong foods were eaten to excess—foods that not only don’t fuel the aerobic body but actually suppress fat burning.

Any workout can become anaerobic when the intensity of running, biking, dance and other workouts is too high. While these efforts may burn more sugar calories, the process does not train the body to burn more stored fat calories.

Calorie-Count Myths

For generations, calorie counting was the way to prevent excess accumulation of body fat, and has been the foundation for almost all weight-loss programs. No only do most people know this has been a spectacular failure, scientists know too: Calorie counting reduces metabolism, meaning that a lot of the weight is lost from muscle, not fat. Less muscle means lower metabolism and reduced fat burning.

In a recent review of 31 published weight loss studies, UCLA researcher Dr. Traci Mann and colleagues found that over a period of two to five years, the majority of people regained all the weight lost, plus more. She stated that “diets do not lead to sustained weight loss or health benefits for the majority of people.”

Another study by Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School at Tufts University, concludes on a similar note: “Our findings suggest we should not only emphasise specific protein-rich foods like fish, nuts and yogurt to prevent weight gain, but also focus on avoiding refined grains, starches and sugars in order to maximize the benefits of these healthful protein-rich foods, [and] create new benefits for other foods like eggs and cheese.”

The myth of calorie counting has contributed to the overconsumption of refined carbohydrates, mostly in the form of flour and sugar, in an attempt to reduce body fat. But up to half of the “fat-free” calories we consume are quickly converted to fat and stored in the body.

It’s time to stop the calorie-counting game. Instead, let’s live a healthy life, get more fit, and burn off body fat by developing the aerobic system.

The New Aerobic Revolution

It’s time for another fitness revolution—one that’s easier to implement, more practical, and with a rapid return of physical, biochemical and mental-emotional benefits. I have been implementing this type of approach with athletes and other patients for almost 40 years.

While most people know a little bit about the muscle, hormonal, skeletal and various other systems of the body, the full strength of the aerobic system is very rarely discussed even though it significantly influences all the others.

A powerful aerobic muscle system is a key feature of any healthy individual. The same goes for all high-performance athletes—those involved in endurance rely on it for competitive success, and strength-based athletes depend upon aerobic function to help power muscles.

Aerobic muscle fibers are the muscle cells associated with fatigue-free, fat-burning activities. They are the primary form of physical support for our joints, bones, other muscles, and essentially the entire body. Aerobic fibers are mixed into virtually all our muscles alongside smaller numbers of anaerobic fibers, which are involved in very short-term strength activity.

The function of the aerobic system also affects (and is affected by) the body’s natural stress response. When the workout gets intense enough, our body secretes stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol to increase our heart rate and allow the anaerobic mechanism to kick in. This means that when the aerobic system is underdeveloped, the body has to rely on the anaerobic system and sugar-burning to keep us functioning in the day-to-day. The result is that we are constantly stressed, and can’t seem to relax.

Too much anaerobic exercise creates excessive muscle damage. A recent review article in The Scientific World Journal argued that running economy was significantly reduced after eccentric muscle activity—the kind that helps decelerate your body and limbs, such as stopping abruptly in soccer or keeping yourself aligned at the bottom of a squat. Only a small amount of your training should be spent doing these movements; the rest should be spent developing aerobic function.

We are aerobic beings. This is how our bodies should work. Unfortunately, problematic social trends such as “no pain, no gain” and the popularity of junk food (especially food full of refined carbohydrates), have impaired aerobic function in far too many people.

The result of these common habits has been a serious, ongoing epidemic called aerobic deficiency syndrome, which affects millions of people.

The Aerobic Deficiency Syndrome (ADS)

This condition can be devastating for athletes, since it contributes to reduced endurance. It is often associated with quickened fatigue, loss of aerobic speed, and overtraining. A variety of chronic conditions that we think of as problems themselves are sometimes important signs and symptoms of ADS.

The first and most obvious of these is chronic fatigue. While sometimes caused by other conditions, chronic fatigue is typically due to the lack of aerobic power, resulting in greater reliance on sugar for energy—not just during a workout but at all other times of day and night.

Another symptom of ADS is increased body fat: because fatigue reduces fat-burning activity, less fat is used for energy and more remains stored throughout the body.

Increased body fat is strongly associated with chronic inflammation. As discussed in another article [LINK: INFLAMMATION], inflammation can also trigger pain, various injuries, ill health and even disease.

Because the structural muscles that support the body are primarily aerobic, the lack of good aerobic muscle function is a common cause of injury. The most frequently injured areas include the low back, knee, ankle and foot.

Aerobic deficiency means that the anaerobic system is working harder. This typically means that heart rates are elevated, resulting in high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. In turn, this can lead to reductions in hormones including estrogen and testosterone in both men and women, and imbalances in various others. These imbalances can impair water and electrolyte regulation, adversely affect muscles, bones and sexual function, and cause premenstrual syndrome and menopausal symptoms in women.

Dietary problems are often associated with ADS, especially in those who consume refined carbohydrates or have low intakes of fat and protein. Sometimes, existing nutritional imbalance can worsen ADS, while other imbalances—such as those from vitamin D, iron, and other vitamins and nutrients—can contribute to its cause.

Real Aerobic Activity

Certain types of easy exercise—aerobic workouts—will provide benefits that will build the aerobic system in the long term. Activities, such as running, biking, swimming and walking can accomplish this as long as the intensity of these workouts is not too high.

Decades ago I discovered that it is necessary to take a period of three to six months to specifically develop the aerobic system. A heart rate monitor can be an excellent tool to monitor aerobic development, as I discuss in The 180-Formula.

Your heart rate is an accurate indicator of intensity—lower heart rate exercise tends to be aerobic while performing the same workout with a higher heart rate would be anaerobic. This does not mean you will always be slow: building the aerobic system allows the body to move faster over time. A runner, for example, will get faster over time with the same heart rate and level of effort. In order to figure out if you are exercising aerobically, follow the 180-Formula and complete the MAF Test.

This is where the issues get more complicated. Done in the short-term, almost any activity—even very hard efforts—can help build the aerobic muscles. But continue these kinds of exercise routines for too long and your body will begin to break down. You’ll become injured, fatigued, and your health will suffer. You’ll become a casualty—part of the “fit but unhealthy” crowd. Instead, the best approach is to first build a great aerobic system.

The key is to be able to differentiate an aerobic exercise program from an anaerobic one. For a workout to be truly aerobic, you should be able to exercise the same way for many weeks and months, experiencing continued benefits. When you’ve finished each workout, you should feel great—not tired or sore, and certainly not ready to collapse on the couch. Nor should you crave sugar or other carbohydrates: aerobic workouts program your body to burn stored fat, not sugar. Craving sugar during or after a workout means it’s anaerobic.

If you’re not getting the benefits you want from working out, it’s possible that your aerobic system is not being developed.

Join the discussion 34 Comments

  • Van says:

    Fabulous article, and the last point is a succinct one – high intensity works in the short term, but over the long term the best results are achieved by specifically targeting the aerobic system with an appropriate amount of anaerobic work to keep balanced. Unfortunately it speaks of today’s society when we want instant results people ignore the long term picture in favour of the short term gain.

  • Ignacio says:

    Hi,

    I wanted to know if the method can be applied to soccer and soccer training.

    A soccer match is usually pretty anerobic and heart rate can skyrocket because of succesive spints during a match.

    Is it just that soccer is an unhealthy sport to train and practice for?

    Thank you very much,

    Ignacio

    • Ignacio:

      Soccer is quite a healthy sport. The problem is that most of us train anaerobically (high intensity) far too much of the time. For example, there have been studies that find that when you reduce your percentage of high intensity training from 35% to 20%, your performance actually increases. It’s not that training or playing at high intensity is bad: the problem is that high intensity exercise is just about the only kind of exercise most of us do. That’s what contributes to chronic illness and overtraining in athletes a lot of the time.

      When you’re in a match, don’t worry about your heart rate that much, although it would be good to know, for example, your resting heart rate the morning of and the morning after a match, to see how well you hold up. Speaking of training, for example, a member of our developer team trained lacrosse for a few months while remaining at the MAF heart rate, and it helped develop his aerobic base a LOT. That said, since soccer training has a big running component, you could do your runs at the MAF heart rate, and just make sure that no more than 20% of your training is high-intensity.

  • James says:

    Great article, has helped clear some things up for me.
    I run, have for severla years. Have run several half marathons, and a total of 4 marathons. My next one is in about 10 weeks. I often run long, maybe 2hrs, once or twice a week. Average 40-70km a week.
    However after recently (coming across Maffetone Method) and reading more about it, I have been running with HRM, and aim to keep my HR below 133 (180 – 53, +5 as feel I fit into that category).
    As most seem to say, I found it frustratingly slow, but have already increased km rate by about 1 min, thats after just over a week. Still about 20% slower than my marathon average (aprox 10km/hr).
    My real concern/queston had been do I run my marathon at HR132, or do I run it as I would normally. From the above article, I assume I run as I would normally, just concentrate on training at 132 HR – is that correct. Should I also do some faster training (I’ll stick with HR 132 for a couple more weeks anyway.)
    As an aside, even on my long runs, I never felt particularly tired, and even after 2+hrs, including hill work often felt I could keep going. It never feels a chore – I love it.
    I am also doing the eating plan, almost 2 weeks through that. I don’t feel particulary better, but have lost some weight.
    Love to hear thoughts.
    (Best marathon time has been 4:15, my goal has to go under 4hrs.)

    • James:

      Typically, your marathon heart rate should be 10-12 BPM above your MAF heart rate. Also, most people don’t really need faster training for the marathon, unless they’re trying to go below the 3 hour mark. When you’ve been training MAF, it’s very easy to go 10-12 BPM above MAF, which should be squarely between your aerobic and anaerobic thresholds. What is more difficult when having trained MAF for a while is getting above your anaerobic threshold.

      So, when do you start training to go over your anaerobic threshold? When you’ve been building an aerobic base for 3 months, and/or have been healthy, uninjured, and un-overtrained for at least 6 months. And even then, only 20% of your total athletic activity should be high-intensity.

      Hope this helps.

  • James says:

    Hi Ivan my sister plans to start aerobic training with a hrm using the 180 formula. She is 22 and has asthma. What hr do you think would be best to use? 153? I know its hard to say without knowing full background.
    Thanks
    James

  • Mircea Andrei Ghinea says:

    hello!
    great article!

    Ivan, you say:
    “When you’ve been training MAF, it’s very easy to go 10-12 BPM above MAF, which should be squarely between your aerobic and anaerobic thresholds.”

    -does it mean that half of the muscles/body is working aerobic and the other half anaerobic, something like that?

    -then at about what BPM above MAF one turns completely anaerobic?

    thank you!
    best regards!
    Mircea

    • Mircea:

      Within the same muscle you have cells that are primarily aerobic and others that are primarily anaerobic. The more you go above MAF, the more those anaerobic cells activate.

      Just to be clear, the intent of that particular quote is to say that you don’t really need to have done a lot of anaerobic training in order to go a few BPM (10-15) above MAF during a race situation. Generally speaking, you go completely anaerobic at your MAX HR, whatever that may be, and you start seeing aerobic function increase and anaerobic function decrease as your heart rate lowers. The anaerobic threshold is when the amount of anaerobic function exceeds the amount of aerobic function.

      The MAF HR—also known as the aerobic threshold—is therefore the point where you have both (1) a very high degree of aerobic function and (2) an infinitesimally small amount of anaerobic function.

      Does this answer your question?

  • Mircea Andrei Ghinea says:

    thank you, Ivan!

    so, generally speaking:
    -max-HR means totally anaerobic,
    -MAF-HR means the moment when the anaerobic starts to build up,
    -the anaerobic is found between MAF-HR and max-HR (less closer to MAF-HR, more closer to max-HR),
    -everything under MAF-HR is totally aerobic.

    hope i understood right.

    thank you!
    best regards,
    Mircea

    • Mircea:

      Right on all counts, except that to be absolutely strict about it, there’s always going to be some anaerobic function (by which I mean that under the MAF HR you may find 1% or so of energy being produced anaerobically).

  • Mircea Andrei Ghinea says:

    Ivan, thank you! it’s more clear now.

    there is something which i don’t understand. in the article is written,
    “When the workout gets intense enough, our body secretes stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol to increase our heart rate and allow the anaerobic mechanism to kick in. ”

    the more intense the effort the more the HR goes up. and it make sense, more blood to the muscles, more oxygen, etc. then we hit the MAF-HR where the body is in the most aerobic state, so the heart pumps and beats harder to supply the blood to the muscles. then we get above the MAF-HR and we go towards the max-HR, so the heart works even harder.

    my question is:
    -why the heart keeps working harder as long as above the MAF-HR the body does not need extra blood as long as it goes into anaerobic state?

    “increase our heart rate and allow the anaerobic mechanism to kick in”. this i don’t understand.

    thank you and best regards,
    Mircea

    • Mircea:

      The muscles need more blood the more activity, regardless of aerobic and anaerobic. For example, when you go completely anaerobic, even though your muscles aren’t using oxygen then, your body knows that seven seconds later, they’re going to need oxygen to process all the lactate you just created, transport all other by-products to the liver and kidneys, and take the lactate, once transformed into CO2, to the lungs to be expelled.

      The main issue is that anaerobic exercise creates negative hydrogen ions in the body—it basically causes whatever tissue is working anaerobically to become more acidic. So in effect, as soon as there is any anaerobic activity, the body rushes to bring oxygen to the muscles in order to create aerobic activity so that the acidosis is counteracted. If those hydrogen ions were to just sit there, muscle tissue would start to break down.

      So, the muscles do need extra blood—even more so than when they’re working aerobically—when they’re working anaerobically. But they’re not moving that extra blood there to create anaerobic function, but rather to do whatever it takes to make it stop: in other words, bring oxygen so that all the anaerobic by-products can be churned through the aerobic engine and expelled as CO2.

      As long as that oxygen isn’t there, anaerobic function will continue, the body will continue to get acidic, and muscles will continue to deteriorate.

      To answer your last question—the anaerobic system and the stress response (which increases the heart rate) have to be very tightly linked within the body’s functioning: if there were any situation where you could get a lot of anaerobic function, but no increase in heart rate, oxygenated blood wouldn’t get to the muscles, and they would break down. (Actually, the most important reason our bodies use oxygen isn’t to fuel ourselves—although fueling with oxygen is another extremely important function—but to allow the removal of hydrogen ions due to converting lactate into CO2. Our bodies get poisoned with the acidic by-products of anaerobic function faster than we run out of energy).

      So, when you relax yourself by meditating or doing breathing exercises, what you’re really doing is allowing your stress response to subside, and your heart rate to lower. But because anaerobic function is so tied to heart rate, it comes down as well.

      Does this answer your question?

  • Mircea Andrei Ghinea says:

    Ivan,
    yes, it answers more than i can comprehend at the moment. i’ll read it again, and again, to understand it.
    thank you very much!
    best regards,
    Mircea

  • Anthony says:

    Hi! I am working on developing my Aerobic engine while staying under MAF. Even though my ultimate goal is to compete in running events, will doing some cross training including biking and elliptical for example, at or below MAF of course, make me a better runner? I know that the best way to be a faster runner is to do more running, but running spikes my HR from 92 walking into the low 130s instantly, even at a slow trot . Maybe with biking I can more gradually raise the HR and easily keep it below my MAF for a longer time while developing my aerobic capacity. Will my aerobic gains biking eventually translate into faster MAF times while running as well?

    • Anthony:

      They will, except that gains made in running usually translate to biking far more readily. The reason is because in running, your aerobic system is far more “spread-out” than in biking: the running body has to activate a whole bunch of muscles all the time to remain correctly stabilized, since at best you are only supported on 1 point (your foot). On the bike, your aerobic system is pouring its energy into very few muscles since the stability requirements are far lower: you are supported on 5 points at all times (handlebars, seat, and pedals).

      So, if you train an activity that has a higher stability requirement, those gains cross over to an activity with a lower stability requirement far more readily than vice versa.

      You should know that exercising at a given heart rate, regardless of sport, means that you’re burning a very similar amount (and kind) of fuel. So, if you’re training at the MAF heart rate on the bike, you won’t burn any more fuel than in running, even if it feels harder. As I mentioned above, that fuel is just being distributed in a different way.

      That said, adding some bike training to shake it up (while still doing some running) is a good idea. Also, a great way to train running-specific stability is by jumping rope—particularly if you alternate legs (and generally play around with jump-rope drills). So, potentially, you don’t have to run at first: a combination of biking, jumping rope, and brisk walking could create a very smooth transition into running a few months down the line.

      Hope this helps!

  • Jeff Webb says:

    I have a question about personalization of the 180 formula. I have a very high max heart rate – I can easily hit 195+ on a hard effort at age 45. I’ve tested ~210 for max HR (it’s been a few years since that). I know I that I’m looking at this from the “old” HR Zones perspective but do you feel that this type of “high HR max” can impact the lower aerobic zone?

    Like most when I “run” at the MAF HR (I use 135 for my age + experience) it feels very slow and very non-taxing. I’m comfortable using this HR and gaining speed at that rate vs. trying to push. I am curious if there is a way to better pinpoint a more precise HR where you cross the threshold of losing aerobic training. I would think doing a “VO2 Max” style test could help find this point (although how do you measure). Just curious if anyone thinks there is a way to test this manually over several runs.

    Unrelated question #1: I assume this would be the HR for all exercise, including weights / conditioning unless part of your 20% anaerobic training?

    Unrelated question #2: How do you feel about wattage vs HR as a metric in this area?

    Unrelated question #3: Any plans for an Android App?

    Thanks,

    Jeff

    • Jeff:

      Typically, what you want to find is your FAT MAX, the heart rate at which you are burning fats at the maximum rate. But this takes a series of laboratory tests and calculations regarding your total energy expenditure. Such a test can be quite expensive. While no formula will ever compare to a laboratory test that extracts the exact information you need, the reason we use the 180-formula and no, say, a percentage of HR MAX or VO2 MAX is that FAT MAX occurs at wildly different percentages of VO2 MAX and HR MAX for different people. (Accounting for these wildly varying differences is explicitly what the 180-Formula was designed to do).

      In fact, MAX HR is actually quite unrelated to substrate utilization (whether you’re burning fats or sugars): burning fats depends on a hormone mixture that tends to occur at a lower absolute heart rate: as you pile in more stress hormones (which elevate the heart rate), you destroy the hormonal mixture necessary to burn fats. So, if your body is capable of piling on more and more stress hormones to elevate the heart rate to an astonishing level, that really doesn’t do much to change the point at which the hormonal mixture changed enough tostop burning fats. Indeed, you need to be able to produce more hormones of the other kind (relaxation hormones and their derivatives) in order to be able to burn fats at higher heart rates.

      This is something that highly-trained athletes seem to be quite capable of doing (which is why there exists a provision in the 180-Formula for exactly this situation).

      In regards to your unrelated questions:

      1) Yes.

      2) Heart rate, Never watts. Let’s suppose that you had seven cups of coffee, you got fired from work, your house burned down, and you never got a chance to have breakfast. At a wattage that may have represented an aerobic heart rate yesterday, today you may be going at a heart rate that is easily 30-35 BPM higher.

      3) Not yet.

  • Alyssa says:

    Great article.
    I work with a number of folks from differing backgrounds and fitness abilities- these ideas will really come in handy for exercise prescription as most of my health coaching is done telephonically.

    Is the 180 principle applicable to morbidly obese individuals that want to begin an exercise program? Are there any recommendations you can provide to help prescribe exercise for weight loss to them based on your findings?

    Thanks

  • Juma Majid says:

    I am 48 years old and I am overweight. I am in the program to reduce weight (still 10kg to go) and getting fit. I have been doing a kind of HIIT exercise, 4x a week with rest in between. I have lowered my cholesterol total 100 points to 143 and LDL to 75 from 165 within 10 weeks. I also avoid animal protein and lost 6kg during the program.

    I just discovered this MAF and felt deep down that I am going at wrong direction with my exercise. I normally clock my HR to 165 during running. So, mostly anaerobic type.But again since my diet is mostly carbo and protein with little fat, my exercise will burn those carbo, so I thought. If I change my exercise regime to MAF then is it necessary to change my diet?

    Thanks.
    Juma.

  • Ryan says:

    Hello! Thanks for the fantastic article (and site full of them). I stumbled on this site at just the right time, I think. I am a 39 year old male who crashed about six months ago from what I think was too much high intensity exercise (I was doing CrossFit type routines with some very heavy, to-failure lifting) and either too few carbs or too few total calories. I am wondering if this program could help me recover from this situation? I have been walking the past three days at 131 beats per minute or less: 180-39 = 141 and then I took another 10 off due to being so burned out.

    However, I have a few questions, if you don’t mind:
    1. The first two times I went out, I felt great. However, last evening when I got back from my 45 minute walk at 110-130BPM and was craving carbs a lot. You mention above that indicates that I have crossed the threshold into anaerobic. Is that right? Because I felt like my cortisol had increased significantly somehow. Am I going at too high of a rate? Perhaps I did not eat enough during the day? Any suggestions?

    2. I was on Paleo-type diet for some time. However, that seemed to really stress my adrenal glands too much. If I eat too few carbs, my body doesn’t seem to do well. Have you heard of this? Any suggestions for people like me?

    Thank you!
    Ryan

    • Ryan:

      For various metabolic reasons, the body is at its healthiest when it depends primarily on fat, rather than primarily on sugar. The quickest way to explain this is that sugar burns quite dirty whereas fat burns quite clean. In effect, a body that “does better” on sugar is a body that is hooked on sugar. There is no example of a human body that is at its healthiest when it defaults to carbs as its primary source of energy.

      If a paleo diet stresses your adrenal glands, then your adrenals may be overtaxed due to a variety of other stressors (work, lifestyle, bad sleep, chemical stress, etc.) If this is the case, it’s a good idea to start taking an inventory of these stressors and removing them from your life.

      On this note, if you are walking at your MAF HR and you are still crashing, it’s likely that you are more severely overtrained than you think. It would be a good idea to start looking into a 4-8 week period of complete rest before starting any kind of significant activity. For overtraining, think of the aerobic system as having been broken in the same way that a bone can be broken. What I mean is this: you cannot do physical therapy on a broken bone. You need to let it rest and repair, and once it is fully healthy, you need to train it back to full strength.

  • Kyle says:

    “Not counting calories” is something I’ve preached for a long time, and YET, every time I keep a detailed track of my weight and calories and macros, I never lose body fat when I exceed a certain number of calories each day. This has been true with ketogenic eating, Paleo, balanced, or carb-heavy plans. Certain macro proportions have accelerated the process better than others, but NO diet plan has ever worked for me that hasn’t had some attention paid to total calories consumed. Saying that calories aren’t to be given any attention means that there is no such thing as an upper limit to calories. 25,000 calories per day of any macro combination you best respond to, with normal activity accounted for, will cause weight gain. So will 15,000. So will 10,000. But at some point, the more calories you reduce from those absurd figures, you’ll finally reach a point of energy balance for your age, gender, hormonal milieu, activity level, etc. More = weight gain; less = weight loss, understanding that going too low is unquestionably a bad strategy. But going too high HAS to also be a bad strategy. And how shall we know what “too high” is without counting? Is this not correct? (I’m taking the argument to an absurd level not to be argumentative, but to highlight the flaw in saying that “counting calories”, in and of itself, is an outdated strategy. Whatever else you get right, if you eat double the calories your body needs to do what it does, regardless of macros, you just cannot prevent the body from storing it somehow. Where the heck else will those excess calories go if they’re not used???

    • Kyle:

      Yes, going too high will inevitably cause weight gain. But keep in mind that your body is an organism that is designed for energy balance. It does not, as many suggest, just want to put on weight. It only puts on weight under the conditions of energy insecurity—be they external energy insecurity such as under the threat of famine, or internal energy insecurity such as diabetes and metabolic syndrome. But under healthy conditions, the appetite is the regulatory mechanism that says how much is too much. To that effect, the hormones which regulate appetite, ghrelin and leptin, only activate when there is a scarcity of available energy within the body, or when there is energy sufficiency within the body.

      In every way that matters, your body already has the mechanisms built in to say how much is too much. In effect, by procuring a healthy metabolism so that your appetite becomes representative of the actual energy needs of your body (that is one of the hallmarks of a healthy metabolism), your eating habits will exist within a “goldilocks zone” where you never really come close to the upper or lower limits of caloric needs because your appetite prompts you to eat very reasonable macronutrient ratios and very reasonable amounts.

      Within this framework, “not counting calories” means relying on those built-in mechanisms to do a set of far more frequent, far more constant, far more informed, and far more complex calculations than you ever could while “counting calories.”

  • Georgi says:

    I have been practicing the MAF method since November last year and I do see improvement. I am running a specific 5km distance twice a month to check my progress. I started at 41 something minutes and the best I did a month ago was 33:40, so I am a believer. I also do mountain biking and used to do swimming. I do have 2 questions:
    1. as I do not have a HRM for swimming I am not sure what my HR is when swimming. I am not pushing myself hard – I would usually do 1.5km in about 45 min. I am measuring my pulse between the laps and I believe it is above my MAF threshold (MAF 143, while the pulse should be about 150). I guess this counts as an anaerobic workout and is impairing my aerobic base. Then I stopped swimming and my results started improve faster. I am not able to correlate the fact that I am not swimming now with my MAF test. Do you have experience which can help me?
    2. The second question is somewhat related: without the swim I feel the upper part of my body weaker. I want to be more balanced I wonder if other sports like rowing within MAF zone are counting as aerobic training. Let say kayaking or just rowing. Any advice here?

    • Georgi:

      1. Generally, any activity above the MAF HR, particularly when it is sustained, will slow down your aerobic improvements. This is simply because your body is allocating more energy to develop anaerobic systems and recover from anaerobic activity. Keep in mind that the most important part of training is not to maximize your aerobic development—that’s called “aerobic base-building”—but rather to keep your aerobic system healthy. And when your MAF speed is increasing, you know that your aerobic system is not only healthy, it is healthy enough to continue getting stronger. So, as long as that requirement is satisfied, it’s really a matter of what you’re trying to train at any given moment.

      2. Yes, both kayaking and rowing at the MAF HR (and any protracted exercise where your heart rate doesn’t rise over MAF) counts as aerobic training.

  • Christian says:

    So it seems that doing High Intensity Interval Training Workouts with heart rates far above MAF HR might end up with chronic fatigue if you are doing it for long time in ketosis or low carb? It will squeeze the kidneys to produce cortisol and burns the body proteins to refill the muscels with glycogen?

  • Caro1 says:

    I have question regarding MAF training. I have been unknowingly building more my anaerobic base for about 2 years rather then my aerobic base. Im one those those that usually ran at a moderate effort. I now would like to focus on my aerobic base since I’ve been doing it wrong.

    I did however gain a huge amount of fitness over that time and wont consider myself aerobically unfit at all.

    I’ve been training now @ MAF hr for about 2 – 3 weeks and my pace has already dropped about 25 secs since I started. I plan on doing this for about the next 3 months till race season starts. Im able to easily run 10-15 km at MAF hr everyday.

    So my questions are below:

    1) How does one increase speed while keeping MAF training in mind? Surly the pace that drops has to stop at some point?

    2) Can one throw in a tempo or fartlek run once a week or every 2 weeks and still get the benefits of MAF training? 80-90% of the training will still be at MAF heart rate. These would be shorter runs & the med to long runs will all be at MAF pace.

    • Caro1

      1) The easiest way is to let yourself keep training MAF until your speed starts to plateau (which it will, usually 1-2 minutes per mile faster than where you started). So that is the surest point to get benefits from introducing a small amount of anaerobic training.

      2) So you won’t develop your aerobic base as fast, but what will happen is that you’ll keep developing both aerobically and anaerobically.

  • Ghibli says:

    Fantastic article, and very interesting reading, as it the entire website. I have two questions here having recently come across this method of training and reading through the above replies (although still reading up on it, not practised it yet…). I run regularly amongst other things and compete at a reasonable level in age-group triathlon and ultramarathons. I run/train largely by feel, although I do religiously wear a HRM to make sure I’m not going crazy, cross-train often (swimming and cycling obviously, with CrossFit and other forms of HIIT and weight training) . However, it seems I could potentially unlock a lot more speed over time with MAF. Questions are as thus:

    Number 1 – how do you go about accounting for hills when limiting HR to MAF? Do you simply adjust speed accordingly to keep within the limit or take the hill as you find and then back off to find MAF again on levelling out?

    Number 2 – tied in with Caro1’s point and your answer; where could you expect your plateau pace to be? At 36, my current PB for a half marathon is 1:28 (dead-flat course), which gives me about a 6:43/mi pace; by using this method and your answer, could that mean I could potentially (assuming all went to plan) run a 1:15 half at a 5:43/mi pace? Granted I’ll slow with age a bit….

    Very interested in your answers!

    • Ghibli:

      1 – The best, surest approach is to adjust speed to stay within MAF. The more that you go outside of MAF, the less your workout will be an aerobic training session, and the more it will be an interval session.

      2 – I think you could shave 10 minutes off your half-marathon, but it really depends on a lot of variables.

  • Edo says:

    Wery interestin article.I run halfmarathon 66min,and in age of 50 I run 75 min.After long steady aerobic runs which I do twice a week I feel tyred and slow.After interval training two times a week I feel energetic and fast.Same is after hill strides an strenght training which I do twice a week.Is it possible to do interval training aerobicly??Simply I wouldn’t be so good if I only run slow and long.

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