Friday, April 15, 2011


Brett posted this chart that shows the progression for his MAF (maximum aerobic function) tests. Perfect illustration of what the Maffetone method should do. In 9 weeks he's dropped ~1:45 off his pace per mile at HR 140-150.  
 And if you're new to the concept he also has a couple of great links to MAFology on his right side bar.

 And a quick note. I've been asked a ton of times about running "slow" to get fast. This method does not advocate running slow, there is a minimum HR so you need to run hard enough to keep HR up. LSD doesn't use a minimum and it is possible to run too slow or too easy. MAF advocates running at an intensity that teaches our body to become economical at burning fat. The repetition of this trains our body to become more efficient which then allows us to run faster at the same intensity. This is about building and measuring metabolic and muscular economy. Speed VS HR is nothing more than a measurement of your fitness, so if you have to run slow at a low HR it's because you are not fit. You can't ignore this and simply run faster.
 Can you imagine doing this in the weight room? Golly, I'm really weak on bench press and I can only lift 100 pounds... that sucks so I'm going to just ignore my current strength and skip straight to being strong and just put on 200 pounds. Not a great analogy but it has a sharper point.

 And in regards to whether an athlete needs to do just MAF training to get better or can you mix in different training like tempo or threshold. It depends entirely on the athlete's fitness. If an athlete comes to me and they test at, lets say 15:00 pace per mile at HR 160 then I see that they are aerobically weak and I do feel that they need to work on correcting this before moving to harder training. This athlete is also going to have a weak structure and they need to run quite easy and build up mileage first. Giving them fast running too soon will increase their risk of injury.
 If an athlete comes to me and they are running ~50 miles a week consistently with out injury and their MAF test is closer to their goal marathon pace, then I look at where their weaknesses are and how to approach correcting them. Some athletes should focus 100% on MAF and others can get away with training other systems. It's not all or none.
 And weight training is an absolute MUST for a weak athlete. Strength training does far more than just allow you to lift more weight. Along with an increase in strength comes tendon and bone strength for injury resistance. A major increase in calorie burn (I have a 15:00 strength routine that can burn 700 calories. 15:00 of running burns about 150 calories.) Increased fatigue resistance. Stronger muscles increase joint stability. A stronger muscle also carries more oxygen. And having the upper body of a 10 year old girl is neither attractive nor functional. And for those of us over the age of 35, we are no longer maintaining muscle mass or bone density and it will only get harder the older we get to stay strong. Have you ever seen a 60 year old struggle to get out of a car or a chair? That is a lack of strength and can (in most cases) be cured with weights. So even if strength training does hurt MAF progression, the trade off is well worth it.


David said...

I was looking at your Sanitas time, then I looked at my training plan, and I think I have a.......ummmmm.....MAF workout.....on July 4th. It's very important, so I will have to watch the Scar Top 12k from behind.

/does not have a training plan
//has trouble getting out of the car
///starts flipping logs

Damie said...

I couldn't have asked for a better or more fitting post this morning :)

Brett said...

"having the upper body of a 10 year old girl is neither attractive nor functional"


That chart is my coming back from 2 months off of literally no exercise. Speaking of strength training, I was doing none and not even any stretching. So I felt like I tore my knee when basically my weak hamstrings were putting my knee in a vice grip. Nearly immediately after starting some twice daily stretches and strength exercises the pain went away.

With regards to running slow to get fast, I agree whole heartedly there is such a thing as running too slow. Sometimes when I go running with our dog, I literally almost feel like I hurt because I am running so unnaturally slow.

Conversely, now with the drop of pace at MAF, its literally amazing how fast I have to run (relatively) to keep my heart rate up. If my average pace on that MAF chart shows 7:30, that means the first mile or so of my MAF test I'm running closer to 7:15s.

By the way, this will be my max weekly mileage so far in my come back at about 34 miles. Most of that chart was doing 15-25 miles per week as I was building it back up.

I'm still laughing at the 10 year old girl comment...

Lucho said...

Dave- Unless you get pounced on by a cougar no one that I know can beat you. You are not the same runner as last year.

Damie- You're doing everything in that post!

Brett- The balance in strength will be huge for keeping you healthy. The hamstring vs quad strength disparity is a very common cause of injury and is at the same time a very simple fix. You're doing great!

trudginalong said...

Pretty sure I'm on board with this, but I need to get myself a HR monitor.

James said...

To continue the discussion, since part of the MAF process is improving muscular econonmy, how is this affected by running on mixed or various terrain (road, technical trails, treadmill, treadmill @ incline, etc.)? Metabolically I would think it's all the same, just wondering how the changes in stride, cadence would affect the muscular economy part.

GZ said...

How the hell do you burn 700 cals in 15 minutes? That sounds like pure combustion to me. Are the logs you lift are on fire?

Dr. Eric said...

greg glassman of crossfit fame once said that it is weakness that puts people in nursing homes.

Lucho said...

jekirk- Good question! And I have experienced this first hand when we moved to the mountains. I think with out doubt that it is possible to run too many hills. Doing so inhibits the MAF building process and also the ability to build true speed. Big downhills can drop HR too low which affects metabolism (I have to run at ~5:30 pace down hills up here to keep my HR above 145 and on most days I just don't have the energy to do this so I will see lots of HR in the 110-120 range which is too low.) Big downhills do have other benefits like building eccentric strength and durability specific to downhill running though.
In terms of muscular economy and strength, if you are training for a very hilly race then it's fine, but a flat race needs to have a certain amount of over-all mileage done on flat terrain. If you want to run say, a 3:00 marathon then you absolutely need to spend time running at ~6:50 pace. If you do this up a steep hill then you might go anaerobic which HURTS your fitness specific to the goal (going anaerobic too often degrades aerobic fitness). And running 6:50 pace downhill does not build muscular strength specific to running 6:50 pace on the flats.
So metabolically the hills are acceptable but not ideal, and from a muscular perspective it gets a little harder to build specific muscular economy and strength for a flat race. Not too many mountain runners can run a truly fast flat 5k.

GZ- The superset that I do is pure hell. The first time I tried it I made it 6:00 before quitting and was wasted after. I still haven't gotten to 15:00! It's basically a series of 5 lifts using body weight and dumbbells and you do 1 lift for 1:00 with as many reps as possible in that 1:00 and then immediately move to the next lift. Do body weight squats and try to hit 50 in a minute, That's just 1 minute out of 15, that will give you an idea! That 700 calories also includes the 24 hours after the lift. Skatona can give you an idea as to how it feels.

Eric- Absolutely! That's what I'm saying! We have the power to lessen the effects of age through balanced exercise and good diet.

Patrick- I see we'll be racing Silver Rush. That'll be fun!

James said...

Thanks for the post, have thought about that a lot over the past month or so. Trying to be as specific as possible for Silver Rush, while living in Texas has its challenges, so having to adapt and be creative at times.

Lucho said...

J- You'll do well to incorporate squats and tons of lunges which will work the hill specific muscles. If you have a short steep hill then do repeats up and down until you collapse. Eat and drink... then get up and start over with a weighted Camelbak. And overdressing so you're boiling hot does have a slight effect on EPO production which could help a tiny bit with the altitude.

trudginalong said...

I suggest you HAMMER the bike! I'm excited though, hopefully I'll be in close to top shape by then.

Lucho said...

Ha. Of course! The plan between Evans and Silver Rush will be a complete bike focus with just 2 runs per week... I shouldn't be a problem for any fit runners.

trudginalong said...

Yeah, whatever, sounds like sandbagging to me!

Lucho said...

We'll see.

chr15 said...

There is so much in this post that fits my life right now.

I have been running (and biking and swimming) for 22 (?) years now, I have been down to a 6:50 pace (I could still run a 21 minute 5k) but, the past couple of years the stresses of life have really got on top of me. I can almiost feel the 'cortisol' running through my veins at the slightest upset, physical, mental or emotional. and I need to redress that. Plus that 21 minute 5k would leave me wiped out for days, maybe weeks afterwards.

I am getting slower
I am getting more and more tired
I am putting on weight
I am beginning to 'fear' working out

To many years of 'ingoring it and simply running faster' has burned me out.

I'm 40 now and it's time to get smart! I mapped out the next three months training over the weekend and I am dedicating the coming 12 weeks to MAF!!!

I wanted to do an initial test at the weekend, only to find that the local school (grass) track hasn't been marked out yet so the test didn't happen, I'll find a track for next weekend. However, I did go out and run 7 miles at my 'MAF intensity' and immediately noticed that my pace dropped 3-4 minutes below my 'normal' pace... I'm guessing that this is due to having very little aerobic fitness (anymore). I think I need to spend the whole 12 weeks working at this level before moving back up again.

Anyway I have a plan, I know my 'zone' and I'm on track! :)

I do have a question, though... if that is OK?

I bike as well as run. Should my 'MAF intensity' be adjusted for the bike, or should I just continue at the same HR as the running? If so how do I adjust it?

Lucho said...

chr15- I send out an extensive questionnaire to each prospective athlete that I coach that asks a ton of questions in regards to HR (and race times which are very telling also) on the bike in order to set training zones. The short answer is that yes there is usually a difference in bike and run MAF HRs but it can go either way. And people like myself who have the same LTHR on both the bike and run do not need as much adjustment. A general starting point is to lower your bike HR by 10 beats. So if your run MAF is 145 then your bike MAF is 135. This is VERY general however. I also only use MAF as a starting point and almost always adjust the numbers once I get a feel for an athlete's fitness level and lactate threshold HR and then use 20 beats below threshold as the high end of their Z2 range.
With that said, you will do everything you need by simply sticking to the MAF method.
The best thing you can do is get close on the numbers and then turn off your brain. Keep it simple.

Fred (aka ace) said...

I wish I'd seen this post 2 weeks ago. I worked with MAF a lot last year and saw some pretty awesome results. The interesting thing is after reading this post and the comments I came to the conclusion that while I got the results I was supposed to my observations about them were flawed.

Last year after racing during a plateau, I had the most dramatic improvement when I started MAF again. At the time I thought I was seeing the improvement due to the additional runs I was doing (I added daily treadmill runs to my training). Now what I think happened is the treadmill allowed me to run at my optimal HR for MAF to work while also allowing for a better turnover.

Lucho said...

That's a great point Ace and something I have considered in regards to the neuromuscular component of MAF training. When you set a treadmill at 0% your leg turnover (speed of movement and stride length) is increased considerably at the same MAF HR that might have one plodding at a much slower pace outside. IE: A runner might need to walk hills and jog at 14:00 pace outside at MAF... but on a treadmill set at 0% they are able to run at maybe 10:00 pace at MAF thereby increasing the muscular stress which is a good thing.

chr15 said...

Thanks for your comments, really helpful. Cheers.

goran said...

so it is ok to do maf on hilly trails?

Lucho said...

Yes. As long as you stick to the correct HR ranges. In my early base periods when I'm coming off a break I usually have to walk the steeper climbs to keep my metabolism/ Hr in check.

goran said...

Thanks,it seems to be a great method but it is a bit of a problem to find out correct HR ranges.Maybe to take the 180 formula and then adjust it on the feeling.

Lucho said...

You can also take your average HR from a 10k and subtract 20-30 beats for the range. Or HR from a half marathon and subtract ~10-20 beats. Basing the correct range off of lactate threshold HR is far better, but again, it can be tricky to find. The 180-Age is a good starting point. It will work in helping to strengthen your metabolic/fat burning economy.

goran said...

Ok,it is good for ultra running that i am now interested in..i will try this and see how it is working..thanks for the advice