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When it comes to heart rate training perhaps you have heard of the Maffetone Method -which is a calculation that uses 180 minus your age to find your maximum aerobic function.
The genius of heart rate training is that it trains your body’s systems to tap into its fat stores for energy instead of primarily burning sugar.
That’s why we are excited to have Dr. Maffetone on the podcast to pick his brain about the MAF Method, inflammation, and the over-fat pandemic.
Interview with Dr. Phil Maffetone
Dr. Philip Maffetone is an internationally recognized researcher, educator, clinician, and author in the field of nutrition, exercise and sports medicine, stress management, and biofeedback. He is the author of more than a 20 books, including The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing. He is probably best known for MAF heart rate training (180 minus your age) also referred to as the Maffetone Method. He was the first person to publish a book on heart rate training back in the 1980s.
In addition to working with top athletes he is also a musician and has published articles on the effect of music on human development. And he worked as a physician to Johnny Cash, James Taylor, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers.
The MAF Method, Calculating Your Maximum Heart Rate
Dr. Phil Maffetone developed a formula for establishing the peak heart rate you should achieve during the first three months of training. One of his mantras is, “Speed up by slowing down.” To calculate your ideal training heart zone for building your aerobic base do the following:
Subtract your age from 180 to determine your maximum aerobic heart rate. For example I’m 39 years old so . . . 180-39 = 141
Then subtract 10 if you’re recovering from a major illness or hospital visit or on regular medication for a chronic condition; subtract 5 if you have not exercised before or are just beginning to rebuild your running base; 0 if you’ve been exercising regularly without interruption. If you have been training for more than two years without any of the problems listed above and have made progress in competition without injury, add 5.
This number would represent your maximum heart rate to use for aerobic training to promote fitness gains while staying mostly in the fat burning zone. A training range from this heart rate to 10 beats below would be used as the training range. (for example my range would be a heart rate of 131-141). This provides a conservative guideline for a 3 month period of base training.
He also recommends doing a maximum aerobic fitness (MAF) test once per month to track your progress. After warming up with 10 minutes of easy walking or jogging, run 1 mile at your maximum heart rate from the above calculation (ex 141) and record the time, next run a 2nd mile at the MHR and record time, finally run a 3rd mile at MHR and record. The times from each mile should progressively get a little slower. If you do this test regularly you will see how your aerobic endurance is increasing.
Some people get frustrated because they find that their normal pace is outside the training zone. But lacking a solid aerobic base could be the reason why they’re not experiencing fitness gains or struggling with overtraining syndrome.
Take-A-Ways from This Interview
People often find the topic of heart rate training confusing because there’s no one size fits all strategy. It’s not like we can promise that if you follow Dr. Maffetone’s system (or anyone else’s system) for 3 months that you’ll be able to take 2 minutes per mile off your pace. But one big take way from this conversation is that health and fitness is about more than just setting PRs. There are many factors that go into giving you the best quality of life possible and you are an experiment of one. We’d encourage you to think about a few things:
- Measure your waist. If it’s not less than half your height consider changing how you look at training and nutrition. For example, if you’re 5’4″ (or 64 inches tall) then your waist measurement should be less than 32 inches.
- Consider whether you need to improve the functioning of your aerobic system. Have you reached a plateau with your training? Does your body always seem to be in a state of stress, inflammation, and fatigue?
- Find your MAF (maximum aerobic function) heart rate: https://philmaffetone.com/180-formula/
- Perform the MAF Test- get your baseline numbers and retest on a monthly basis: https://philmaffetone.com/maf-test/
Eight Step Methodology
You can go through the 8 Step Methodology and take the associated quizzes on Dr. Maffetone’s website to consider which areas you need to work through:
- Carbohydrate Intolerance– Do you have excess belly fat? Do you feel fatigued regularly? Do you get hangry? Do you have hormonal imbalances?
- Control Inflammation– Do you have ongoing joint or muscle pain? Are you struggling with chronic injuries? Do you deal with allergies, skin, or gut issues?
- Vitamin D Status– Get a blood test to determine what your Vitamin D levels are. Vitamin D is essential for optimum health and fitness and deficiencies are fairly common.
- Folate Status– Folate is an essential B vitamin found in vegetables, meats, and legumes. It has a role in preventing cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and much more.
- Build the aerobic system– By training to improve your aerobic (or fat burning system) you can increase energy, improve circulation and immunity, and much more.
- Manage stress– We live in a fast paced world where much is often demanded of us and we also demand a lot from ourselves. It’s important to recognize areas of harmful stress in order to take steps to manage it.
- Build a better brain– The brain controls and manages nearly every body system. Improving the functioning of our brain will help us manage the aging process better.
- Healthy aging– We can’t control the fact that we will grow older. But we can learn to maintain the quality of our life and approach the future with a positive mindset.
We recommend that you head over to Phil Maffetone’s website for more information on any of the things that we talked about on this episode.
Also Mentioned in This Episode
The Fat Adapted Eating Plan – Let us help you cut out sugar and grains.
Dr. Maffeton’s website.
Healthiq.com -Marathon Training Academy is sponsored by *Health IQ*, an insurance company that helps health conscious people get special rates on life insurance. Go to healthiq.com/mta to support the show and learn more.
Anolon Cookware -Shop Anolon’s cookware sets, baking tools, even pasta makers and culinary torches – all at Macy’s. Anolon – designed for creativity in the kitchen.
Dear Angie, I recently completed the Bournemouth Marathon following MTA’s intermediate training plan. Throughout the training I stuck to Phill Maffetone’s max heart rate (180 minus my age, which is 36). In the beginning of the race I felt a bit sluggish but when I got to 20 miles in 2:57 still monitoring my heart rate there was no wall. For the last 6.2 miles I felt more of a running flow than I’d experienced since I ran a fast half marathon in 2004. I finished with the last 3 miles at a 7:30 pace. What an experience to go slow, get to half way and have something left! I came in with a time of 3:48 which I was delighted with since I hadn’t run properly for 13 years until I came across MTA last autumn. The experience was magical and owes a tremendous amount to the wisdom, inclusive encouragement and confidence building of MTA. I did a negative split and finished really strong. My mantra ‘stay strong, stay tall, stay calm, stay positive’ (an adaption of one I’d heard on MTA) was repeated throughout the second half. Miles 20-26.2 feel like an almost sacred space. Thanks Angie and Trev, I’ve still got what it takes. Best wishes, -Tim
Great interview guys! Probably my favorite so far this year. Just kidding- they’re all my favorite. 😀
Thanks Greg! Glad you enjoyed it 🙂
Great interview. One thing I am unclear about is, which runs should we aim to get this HR for? Long runs? Recovery runs? While I don’t know yet how much effort this will be for me (HR monitor is on order), I am curious if others find that this is your long run pace, and if so, then what is your recovery run pace?
I’m training for my first marathon on March 2019, so this is a great time to implement this 🙂
Hi Rom, great question. It’s great to hear that you have a HR monitor on order. If you’re looking to target building your aerobic endurance/fat burning then typically doing a 3 month period of strict MAF training is recommended. You’d want to do an initial MAF test and then retest this every month while keeping all your training below your MAF heart rate. Some runners like to prolong this strict MAF period longer if they’re seeing progress while others then just use their MAF heart rate for easy runs.
Thanks Angie! Love the podcast!
Thanks for this info! Just a question: is there a typo in the “measure your waist if it’s not less than your height”? Is it supposed say “if it’s not HALF your height”? -thanks
Thank you Angela! It should say that your waist measurement should be less than half your height. Good catch 🙂
I am so interested in the way Dr Maffetone (and Dr. Cucuzella) talks about training. For the last few weeks I have been attempting to MAF training but am running up against a few problems. 1) I seem to have a VERY responsive heart rate — it sometimes shoots up to a high aerobic zone after the first few minutes of running. I am finding that I just can’t run slow enough to get into my target zone and power walking doesn’t get me high enough (even the slowest jog gets me to 156, walking I’m down at 110). Is there a missing link to developing this ability – is it tied to oxygen. I.e. will improving my breathing technique allow my heart rate to slow down during my jogs? Suggestions. 2) My other problem is that this slow jogging is causing me to have a fair amount of knee aching. I’ve never experienced this before with running but finding good form at an excruciatingly slow pace is very difficult. I’ve been running for about 10 years but have run from one injury to another for the most part thanks to the “no pain no gain” mentality. Now that I am over 40, I am finding that i really love to run and want to keep running into old age. Any ideas?
Thanks for the questions. Some people do have a very challenging time keeping their heart rate in that ideal range. A couple suggestions that may help would be to spend more time walking to warm up before you start running. That can often yield a more stable heart rate after your body is fully warmed up. Another thing you might want to try is to use a run/walk method. That way you’re doing a brief interval of more regularly paced running interspersed with brisk walking to bring your heart rate down. If you look at Maffetone’s 8 Step Methodology you may find that one of those issues is causing your heart rate to be so responsive. Good luck!
I’m wondering if this method is successful with other cardio training as well as running? I do a mixture of strength training, spinning, HIIT, yoga. I’ve been an athlete most of my life but because I still train a lot I know I’m overtraining and keep falling back into a bad cycle with my exercise addiction. I’ve done the suggested method for the last week and feel better already, I go crazy with sprints and hiit and feel with everything else I do I’m I’m beginning to feel less motivated. In my own experience including years of running, I believe all the cardio is taking its toll. Thank you 😊
Great question! If you feel like you’ve been overtraining or over exercising one helpful way to give your body a reset is to use Zone 2 training exclusively for approximately three months. That means you would keep all exercise in that “easy/endurance” range (which would probably rule out HIIT for a while). This would still leave room for things like strength training and yoga and low intensity cardio.
I’m 45 and I want to know, i been running for 3 years and i’m diabetic.
If i use the 180 -45= 135
But should i subtract 10 more because i use merformin forndiabetic tyoe 2, or add 5 since I been running for 3 years and i ran a 5k in 25.15 minutes.
If i add 5 my max aerobic zone woul be 140.
If i use the minus 10 my max aerobic then would be 125.
What do you recommend.
Good question. When you’re starting out with MAF training it’s typically advised that you use a conservative number when it comes to calculating your max aerobic zone. I’d subtract 10 because of the medication you’re on and then add 5 if you’ve been running for 3 years injury free. That would give you 130 as you upper number.
I’m an experienced 65-yr old runner, with about 35 years of continuous running under my belt, willing to try Maffetone as a way to reduce injury and add years to my running life. I’m wondering if it’ll even improve race times as Senior Recreational Athlete.
What should my max aerobic zone be? I’m a little unsure. 180 minus 65 gives me 115. I take Synthroid daily for hypothyroidism. I’m thinking that 125 sounds about right for me since I’m also required to add up to 10 as a 65+ running athlete.
Hi Conrad, I’ve heard of runners of all ages benefiting from using MAF for a period of time to boost their endurance. It sounds like a max HR of 125 would be a logical number for you based on the factors that you mentioned. Let me know how it goes!
Hi, I’ve been at the MAF for 5 weeks now, still at the walk/jog phase (12-14:00/mil). I want to stick with it, but I’m struggling with the “no processed carbs” element of the program. I love whole grain bread and rice, and eat both in moderation. How essential is following the dietary guidelines (no processed carbs, no alcohol) to achieving success with MAF?
Great question! I think the main reason behind the no processed carbs (no alcohol) recommendation is to lower inflammation. However I don’t see why moderate amounts of whole grain bread and rice would be a problem. Most people typically notice that they really struggle for the first 6-8 weeks of MAF and then often have a breakthrough so stick with it. Good luck!