Friday, January 24, 2014

Rebuilding My Base With The Maffetone Method: Test 1

In the previous post, I promised to tell you a bit more about the Maffetone Method I am using to build my aerobic base and to tell you about the testing that is done with the method. I had hoped to get it up before this, but I decided to redo the test I did earlier in the week on a flatter course. The section of the bike trail that I had used had some hills that I had not remembered from my rides there. I wanted a flatter section (as flat as I am going to get around here), for a little better numbers.

The key to Maffetone’s Method is training your body under or at its maximum aerobic training heart rate. Your maximum aerobic training heart rate is the heart rate where you are getting the optimal benefits in terms of developing your aerobic and fat burning systems. This means ignoring pace and running in relation to the aerobic effort your body is producing as measured by your heart rate.

Maffetone, through his work with athletes over many years, developed a formula to estimate what an athlete’s maximum aerobic training heart rate would be. It involved both a constant as a starting point, and a way to personalize the formula based on the athlete’s individual health and circumstances.

Maffetone’s formula is easy to calculate and goes like this. First, subtract your age from 180, which is the constant in Maffetone’s formula. Then you adjust that number up or down (or not at all) based on the following (quoted from The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing):
  • If you have or are recovering from a major illness (heart disease, any operation or hospital stay, etc.) or are on any regular medication, subtract an additional 10.
  •  If you are injured, have regressed in training or competition, get more than two colds or bouts of flu per year, have allergies or asthma, or if you have been inconsistent or are just getting back into training, subtract an additional 5.  
  • If you have been training consistently (at least four times weekly) for up to two years without any of the problems just mentioned, keep the number (180-age) the same.
  • 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.

For me, the numbers shook out like this:

180-52 = 128 - an additional 5 because I am “just getting back into training” = 123

That is my maximum aerobic training heart rate. It is a number I should not go over in training while building a base. My training range should be in the 113-123 range. That range will be optimum for both building an aerobic base and burning fat.  So far so good.

Well sort of.  Only those who have tried Maffetone’s method themselves can get a sense of how slowly one has to run to stay in that heart rate range (if they don’t already have a good aerobic base). Now back when I was first learning to run and running that slowly it was not that big a deal because I hadn’t ever done much faster. As a veteran runner, let me tell you it is excruciating to run this slowly.

There is good news, though. Aerobic fitness improves fairly quickly and steadily if a person trains regularly in this range. How quickly? Well there is a way to keep track of that in Maffetone’s Method.

Besides the formula, another key aspect of this type of training is the Maximum Aerobic Function (MAF)  tests that are done every three to four weeks on the plan. For these, after a long slow warm-up, a runner runs three to five miles at the maximum aerobic training heart rate, recording the paces. Then every three to four weeks, the athlete can retest to assess conditioning and hopefully to note progress.

So this week I did the test. Here are my first results that show my rather poor level of aerobic conditioning going into this:

Avg HR

This is quite a bit slower than the normal training pace I would be using if I had just kept running as I was, which was somewhere around 9:00-9:15. If you look at the paces above, you can see what an adjustment this is.

Truly, this is a reason why many who try Maffetone’s method don’t stay with it like they should. It is hard to run that slowly, psychologically. It requires patience a quality that is not my strong suit. I am hoping that the gains Maffetone promises will materialize. He predicts that as the months progress, I will see the progress as the paces at the same heart rate get faster and faster.

Besides the training paces, Maffetone also recommends changes in stress level and diet. I am working on those areas as well. I have switched to a lower carb diet, eliminating sugar and refined carbohydrates wherever possible. I am happy to report that after a week of eating that way, I feel terrific, have lost two pounds, and .3% body fat as measured by my scale. I will take that little success and run with it.


  1. Check out Carb Nite Solution as far as a low carb cyclical diet. Maffetone is correct about removing sugar and grains or foods that turn into sugar. Many overweight people cannot burn fat at all if they are eating carbs all the time. Also, training this way teaches the body to burn fat easier. The faster you train, the more you convince your body to be a sugar burner. Over time you will really ruin your metabolism for fat burning. Most people are not patient or intelligent enough to train the Maffetone way, to their own detriment.

  2. We need an update on your progress. Have you done the test again? How have your paces changed?


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