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Maffetone Method FAQ

By May 20, 2019May 20th, 20233 Comments

List of questions and answers:
What is the Maffetone method?
Why should I bother with the Maffetone method?
How shall I start applying the Maffetone method in my training?
How could I assess if I am on the right way to improve with low heart rate training?
What if I do not improve with the Maffetone method?
What are the common causes, which might prevent the progress with the Maffetone Method?
Shall I adjust my MAF heart rate in case it is higher with 5-10 beats compared to “normal” due to heat, coffee, etc.?
Is speed training part of the Maffetone method?
What is Dr. Phil Maffetone’s favorite speed workout?
Some people use races as speed work in their training. Is this a good idea?
Why does it take a lot of time to build up a good aerobic system?
What is the importance of proper warm up and cool down?
What if I get frustrated of slow walking/running?
Can you overtrain when you train at MAF?
Is there a training schedule for the Maffetone Method?
How does the ideal strength training look like?

One topic that is often discussed in our Extramilest community is the Maffetone Method, with a focus on low heart rate running, nutrition and limiting stress. Extramilest Facebook admin Csaba Burillák (Strava) wrote this blog post below to clarify the Frequently Asked Questions on this topic. This post will be updated with more questions over time. If you have any other questions, join our Facebook Group with 1500+ athletes from 38 countries. This community is here to help each other become stronger, healthier and happier athletes. 

What is the Maffetone method?

The MAF (Max Aerobic Function) Method is a philosophy Dr. Phil Maffetone developed over the course of 40 years of scientific research and clinical practice to help individuals of all ages, athletic abilities, physical issues, and personal goals reach their human performance potential.

The MAF Method offers a variety of tools to assess your individual health situation, track progress, and create helpful feedback. It helps you personalize your approach to improve nutrition, balance exercise, and manage physical, biochemical, and mental-emotional stress. Above all, it teaches you to weave these components together to achieve better results. MAF is an open system that can be used by itself, integrated into any approach you may be currently using, or help you start all over again.

Why should I bother with the Maffetone method?

On one hand, if you examine a marathon or most endurance sports, the vast majority of the energy is brought to you from the aerobic system. Why would you first place improve only your anaerobic system when you mostly use the aerobic one to supply you with energy. The Maffetone method improves primarily or its main focus is on improving your aerobic system.

On the second hand, many athletes (for example coming from the track and field world) have training was not a healthy form of training. There are high injury rates, fatigue, many of them drift into overtraining, which can lead to depression. First they may seem effective with high heart rate training but later it turns out in many cases that they are fit but unhealthy, on the long term injured or sick.

How shall I start applying the Maffetone method in my training?

The first step is to define your max aerobic heart rate using the 180 formula.

The second step is to start working out in a smart way by not exceeding the pace defined by the above formula.

To be very effective with the Maffetone method, the third step is to reduce stress in your life. Maybe this is the hardest part. Stress can have various types:
1. Physical stress: for example a wrong shoe, too much sitting all day in front of your computer.
2. Mental/emotional stress: annoying boss, quarrel in the family with your partner, children, traffic jam when you are in a hurry.
3. Biochemical stress: can be too much caffeine, alcohol, drugs, smoking, air pollution. Wrong diet is the most common cause. Sugar is the new tobacco!

Change your diet and avoid refined carbohydrates, especially refined sugar. Many people have a hard time getting rid of the sweet taste, many are sugar addicted.

Stress impairs the aerobic system, reduces fat burning and it reduces aerobic muscle function. When you start thinking of losing a race at the start line, you increase your stress, you suppress your fat burning and probably you have worse chances going into the race.

How could I assess if I am on the right way to improve with low heart rate training?

The right method to see if your base building is working is the MAF test. You first warm up for 15 to 20 minutes, then you run 5 miles (8km) at your MAF HR and note your mile or km split and the total time you ran the 5 miles / 8km in. 

Your MAF pace should improve over time. For example, if you ran this distance in the first month in 50 minutes total (10 minute per mile average), you might see this drop at the same heart rate the next month to 47:30 minutes total (9:30 minutes per mile average). Having a GPS watch, all of your workouts may be virtually a MAF test if you go the same route, you don’t necessarily have to go to the track if you are a runner.

Log your sessions for comparison purposes or if you are on Strava, it’s totally fine because you can evaluate your progress. 

Another assessment tool is to measure the time between your heart beats, the heart rate variability, which correlates with the MAF test.

More details about the MAF test can be found on Dr. Phil Maffetone’s website

What if I do not improve with the Maffetone method?

Q: I am running/walking 12 minute miles, beforehand I was running 9 minute miles (maybe at 180 beats per minute). How long should I have the faith to stick strictly to MAF to see if it’s actually working for me?

A: There are generally 2 issues. The first is that you need to find the right heart rate, which enables your aerobic system to develop. We refer this heart rate as the Maximum Aerobic Function (MAF), being not the first letters of the name “Maffetone” :-). Use the 180 formula to find out your heart rate and if you are not sure, always go for the lower margin (you can do this in a lab, too, though the 180 formula correlates with this extremely well).

The second issue is that we have roadblocks we come up against. We might have nutritional roadblocks, stress roadblocks, all kinds of things, which may impair our natural progress.

Then you have some impairment that may be hidden away or it might be obvious that’s preventing that natural progress. Get healthier! There may be a lot of things.

In the experience of dr. Maffetone, the number 1 thing why people are not getting faster is the excess of refined carbohydrates, especially sugar and white flour.

Another example if someone is slightly anemic and does not have enough iron and therefore the red blood cells do not carry as much oxygen and more importantly the aerobic muscle fibers are not functioning well, the progress in this individual will just not happen.

Dr. Maffetone recommends to give it about a month. Within a month you should see a change between your pace on day 1 and on day 30. There may be differences how much but you should get faster.

If you start improving but you plateau (do not improve any more) at a certain point, you have 2 options:
1. You can either incorporate speed work into your training.
2. Or you could increase the mileage gradually by not hurting yourself.

What are the common causes, which might prevent the progress with the Maffetone Method?

Nutritional problems or hormonal imbalance are frequent ones, stress is a very common issue. Unfortunately, we may not get rid of all of them but we can reduce them significantly and by doing so, we unblock the things, which interfere with our natural progress.

Not being honest to yourself with the formula when you define your maximum aerobic function heart rate and you apply a wrong heart rate and run too fast. If you are not sure, always pick the lower heart rate.

Article with more details: “7 reasons why some athletes are not making progress with MAF training, and what to do about it?

Shall I adjust my MAF heart rate in case it is higher with 5-10 beats compared to “normal” due to heat, coffee, etc.?

No, you don’t want to adjust it. The body tells the brain what’s going on. The weather (for example heat, humidity, altitude) or too much coffee, running with a pack of runners we don’t want to be with, is a big stress, and we don’t want to increase our stress, we should keep it at the same level therefore we have to slow down.

People are always looking for a reason, they try to rationalize how could they increase their heart rate, which might be part of an obsession of being an athlete.

Dr. Maffetone played around with the increase of the MAF heart rate but it just did not make any sense.

Is speed training part of the Maffetone method?

Yes. Although the Maffetone method is often identified as “slow running”, the program has a full spectrum of athletic training – the smart way. It includes slower running as well as faster running, strength training as examples.

However, Dr. Maffetone emphasizes a lot of time that 98-99% of an endurance event is aerobic. He had several thousands athletes (average runners) who got into his program, they built an aerobic base for 4-6 months, they did not do any speed work and then 76% of them set their personal best in a 5 km race, they did not forget how to race (run fast). 5 km is quite short compared to a marathon race for example, still, the method worked very well. The same thing happened in cycling and in triathlon.

What is Dr. Phil Maffetone’s favorite speed workout?

1. Fartlek workout: It’s simple, ask your brain to guide your workout and you usually won’t go wrong. After all, that’s just what happens during a race, whether you’re aware of it or not. In addition to the physical body, you’re also training your brain and learning to develop better intuition and instincts. Dr. Maffetone’s favorite way to do this is with fartlek workouts, which can be done running, biking, swimming or with any other endurance activity.

Fartlek is a Swedish word for speed-play. Following a good warm-up, the athlete speeds up, typically at or near race pace, then slows down as he or she intuitively feels the body needing a brief rest of slower activity. This allows the brain to participate in the workout, so to speak, feeling the body’s response to the workout and knowing when to ease up. It’s like a natural interval workout.

For example, following your warm-up, bike above your MAF heart rate until your brain tells you to slows you down; then ease up from the higher intensity. When ready, gradually speeding up again when you feel ready. Likewise for running, or any other activity.

2. Seven second pickups: Another good speed workout is the so called “7 second pick ups.” During your normal MAF run you pick up the pace but for just 7 seconds, which is not enough to shift your metabolism into anaerobic mode. It’s kind of a downhill MAF pace where you do not stress your body too much. You are taking away some stress of the body.

3. Long downhill run: watch out to avoid over-striding because that’s one of the quickest ways to get hurt!

Some people use races as speed work in their training. Is this a good idea?

Yes, but not in the base building period. It can play an important role for getting used to racing and race stress, not just for speed training.

Why does it take a lot of time to build up a good aerobic system?

Every person is different but what is common in our bodies that all of our muscles contain aerobic muscle fibers (except for the jaw muscle) and they need to be developed well because they are the foundation of our aerobic system, which we use primarily in our endurance events and in our everyday life.

There are muscles, which help us walking, some are helping us running and some sprinting and they all need to be developed. The big, red, slow twitch muscle fibers supply oxygen, provide physical support for our fast twitch fibers and protect our joints, ligaments as well as tendons.

When we built a good aerobic base, we introduce faster training or during a race where we use fast twitch fibers.

What is the importance of proper warm up and cool down?

We train the whole body, not just part of the bodies and we should build it up a healthy way and that’s where the aerobic system come into play.
When we warm up and cool down properly, we use a significant number of muscles because we hit all of the heart rates between rest and the Max Aerobic Level and then back to the not quite resting level.

What if I get frustrated of slow walking/running?

It’s a game of patience. If you can grasp the method well and move away the roadblocks mentioned above, you should improve kind of “automatically” and you can reach a pace when you will say: “Well, I am not sure if I can do this every day.” Then you start complaining going too fast instead of too slow and you might decrease the pace otherwise working out might get “toxic” to your body.

I am time crunched and I can only find 30 minutes here and there. Can the traditional “hammering out a few miles as fast as I can” approach be successful?

It cannot be as effective as building a base with more time and once you have that, introducing speed work. When you look at the results in long term, that’s where the problems come in. The best explanation for this is to look at the overtraining syndrome. First you get better from a racing standpoint, you set PRs but later you might get injured, sick, depressed.

Article: “Overcoming frustrations with MAF low heart rate training

Can you overtrain when you train at MAF?

Yes, you can overtrain in a base building process through too much training volume. If you sacrifice your sleep for working out more is a mistake because the biggest part of training is the recovery. More is not always better, sleep deprivation and stressing yourself just to be able to squeeze in more workouts just defeats the whole purpose.

Is there a training schedule for the Maffetone Method?

There is no such thing as Maffetone method training plan. Dr. Maffetone was often asked to present a training plan but he refused since the process is very individual. Everyone is different, every person has different needs and free time. Reading the body is key, you should involve your daily life stress into your training decisions. A heart rate monitor is important because it hits you in the head in reading your body because it provides you “hard” data.

How does the ideal strength training look like?

The way Dr. Maffetone likes to maintain strength during his whole life is to do it naturally like moving big rocks, digging ditches or chopping wood in the fresh air.

Another way is to go to the gym (or do it at home) and do not lift to fatigue or exhaustion. Also important to recover between sets.

People tend to do higher reps and get to significant muscle fatigue. It actually weakens the muscle. The number of messages sent to the individual fibers to contract from the brain is impaired with the process of fatigue.

If you do not recover between sets, it maintains the fatigue issue. Ideally we talk about a 3 minute recovery.

You can also do the “slow weights” training: you do not have to leave your home. You just need to have a dumbbell or a bar in a corner of your room. If you can lift 100 pounds at one time, you should have a 80 pound weight there. Lift it 6-7 times without going into significant fatigue. You go back to your computer or workplace and for example after an hour you do another set. Maybe you’ll do it 3-4 times a day, maybe 3 times a week depending how you feel.

• You never get sore but you get incredibly strong.
• This way you’ll produce the least cortisol, you are less likely impairing your aerobic system.
• You won’t get hurt.
• As a busy person, you don’t have to find half an hour in your day to do strength training.

You can do deadlifts, lunges or squats because whole body exercise is the best, involving your bones and muscles. When you start isolating biceps or any other muscle, you get isolated strength, neglect other muscles, potentially create muscle imbalances. Dr. Maffetone hates the misused word “core strengthening” because you want full body strength.


Thank you Csaba for putting this FAQ together. If anyone has additional questions about the Maffetone Method, join our Extramilest Facebook Group here and ask away! 

You can find Csaba here:

You can find me, Floris Gierman here:




  • Paul Smart says:

    How does MAF compare with heart rate zones?

  • Jenn B says:

    I have been studying the MAF method and been utilizing it as I have gotten back into running after an injury. So I train at a range of 135-139,
    but what do I race at? Does he recommend racing at the same range or can I take liberties and race a bit higher? Half Marathons are my primary sport.

  • Aditya says:

    What’s a good way for me set a heart rate alarm when it reaches (180-my age)? I use the Apple Watch. Any apps that I can use to alert me when I’m approaching my number?

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