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Training Utilizing the MAF Formula
A few years ago my daughter introduced me to podcasts that I could access on my iPad. While heeding to a couple of her suggestions, I also found numerous podcasts that featured my interests in trail running and endurance training. Soon I heard a repeated name - Phil Maffetone.
Over time, instead of testing on the treadmill to determine maximal aerobic function (MAF), he deduced the formula 180 - age to be the threshold in which one's system will change over from working aerobically to anaerobically (Treadmill testing reveals this heart rate formula to be within a beat or two). For example, 180 beats per minute - 50 years old equals 130 beats per minute. This number and below gives one the target heart rate zone for training aerobically. 95 to 99% of the energy used in endurance sports is derived from the aerobic system. Maffetone throws in a few variables to this number:
1. If you have or are recovering from a major illness, or are taking medications, subtract an additional 10.
2. If you have not exercised before, or inconsistently, or injured, or have occasional illnesses, subtract an additional
3. If you have been exercising regularly up to four times a week consistently for the past two years without any listed in 1 or 2, keep the number the same at 180 - age.
4. If you have been competing for the past two years without injury, add 5.
For example, if you are 30 years old and fit into category 2: 180 minus 30 = 150, then 150 - 5 = 145.
Benefits of MAF
Why the importance of staying in at MAF and below? First, training in this zone reduces the risk of injury, not only to our musculoskeletal system, but also our hormonal and nervous systems. Secondly, this is the zone that facilitates fat burning, of which we all have greater supply as opposed to glycogen. Thirdly, the biochemical response of developing free radicals is minimal compared to training at higher heart rates. A fourth benefit is that it leaves you refreshed for your next workout!
Maffetone worked with Mark Allen and Mike Pigg when they were approaching the top of the triathlon world during their respective careers. By adopting this training, their training pace became much slower. However, over time, by developing a more efficient aerobic system their training pace approached that of previous years, all the while keeping their heart rate in the aerobic zone! Most importantly, they cited that training using the MAF formula kept them injury free, reduced burn out, and produced results that placed them on the podium.
How do you know you are improving your efficiency while training at MAF and below? Once a month do a test. Keep the variables the same, such as time of day, day of week, and course (track works well). After a mile or two warm up, run two miles at MAF. Over time you will find that your two-mile time test will be done faster than when you first tested. Your aerobic system is becoming more efficient!
This is what Allen and Pigg recognized, for Maffetone eluded to the fact that early on their pace per mile, whether on the bike or running, slowed considerably. Prior to MAF Allen was performing his training runs at mid to upper five minute per mile pace. After adopting the MAF method, his pace changed to mid eight minute miles. However, over time he was able to reduce his pace back to the upper five minutes, for his aerobic system became more efficient.
What about speed work? Maffetone does advocate a couple days a week of speed work for four weeks prior to main competition. I have inserted this myself so as to emphasize leg turnover that I will feel during my competitive event. Do my times suffer because of lack of speed work during other periods of my training? No, for my aerobic system has been developed and is much more efficient. Remember, most of an 800-meter race is run aerobically, same for a 400-meter race!
If one follows the MAF formula, does that mean my race pace is 180 - age? No. Maffetone has published a paper that gives an average pace per mile for races that is lower than ones MAF. For instance, take 1 minute 30 seconds off your mile MAF pace for a 5k. If your MAF pace is 9 minutes a mile, your 5k pace will be roughly 7:30 per mile. For a marathon take 15 seconds off your mile MAF pace. I have personally experienced this, and have been very pleased with the results.