No Pain No Gain? Think Again! What if you could exercise regularly, stay healthy, burn more body fat for fuel and be injury-free?
If your performances have plateaued, you find that you get ill too often or have recurring “niggles” and injuries, MAF training could be part of the solution to getting back on track.
Table of Contents
What is MAF training?
MAF stands for Maximum Aerobic Function.
This training method focuses on improving the function of the aerobic system, the fat-burning engine responsible for fuelling all of the body’s needs through controlled, low-intensity training.
MAF training is one part of the bigger health improvement picture which includes strength training, nutrition, sleep and stress control.
While you will derive improvements from just training in your MAF training zone, you will have much more benefit if you address the other factors as well.
What tools are required for MAF training?
MAF training is a controlled, heart rate-based training protocol, so the use of a accurate and reliable heart rate monitor is a prerequisite.
Be sure to choose a heart rate monitor model that will allow you to set your own training zones as well as have an audible warning for when your heart rate exceeds or drops under your MAF training zone. Vibrating warnings are a useful additional feature if you want to perform your swimming sessions in your MAF training zone.
Using a heart rate monitor allows athletes to maintain and monitor their MAF training intensity with greater ease.
We wholeheartedly advocate the use of the POLAR brand of Heart Rate Monitors.
How is MAF training different from other training methods?
The importance and effectivity of “anaerobic” (speed work) training for endurance sports is well documented. There is no doubt that it works.
We do, however, feel strongly that the accepted dosage and prescription thereof is over emphasised. It is, unfortunately, exacerbated by the outdated “No pain, no gain!” catchphrase still used by many trainers and coaches today which results in a new crop of overtrained, injured and ill athletes every season.
MAF zone training is a training philosophy developed over many years by Dr Phil Maffetone as a way to reduce injuries in runners while maximising the benefits of their training.
Dr Maffetone observed that there was a correlation between reduced running economy and a heart rate that corresponded to approximately 180 minus the age of the athlete.
This training method focuses on improving the function of the aerobic system, the fat-burning engine responsible for fuelling all of the body’s needs. It usually requires that athletes slow down in the first few weeks of training to stay within their calculated range.
This method is often viewed as a very conservative approach to training, but it does work and its long term benefits far outweigh the short term blows to the athlete’s ego.
Other benefits are reduced injury rates (especially in runners) and a reduction in days lost due to illness.
While it is very beneficial to strictly stay within the calculated MAF zone, it is not set in stone. It should be noted that a difference of 1 beat of the heart will not mean that the body has shifted from burning fat to burning carbohydrates.
The body will adapt to the training stimulus and improve in terms of efficiency and economy of movement.
Efficiency improvements will mean burning more fat (percentage-wise) at higher heart rates.
More economical movements will mean faster paces at the same heart rate.
The MAF range is, however, a very good starting point.
Calculate your MAF Training Zone
How can you benefit from implementing MAF Training?
There are many good reasons for slowing your training paces down as well as increasing the amount of submaximal training you do for endurance events.
A well-functioning aerobic system leads to:
- Burning more body fat for fuel and a leaner body as a result.
- An overall increase in energy and brain function.
- Greater endurance, strength, speed and physical fitness.
- Injury and illness prevention, as well as
- Improvements in other areas of life!
Increasingly, you will read or hear coaches say that you should “slow down to go fast”.
While there is a need to train at other intensities other than MAF, there appears that the amount of training in these zones is far less than was generally accepted.
Developing the aerobic system before attempting any “quality” work is ideal as your speed improves without the “wear and tear” (and possible injuries) that often accompany anaerobic training.
There is much debate about HIIT training and “Reverse Periodisation” and their effectiveness in boosting race performances. We agree, they are useful protocols, but should you not be sufficiently aerobically developed, you will limit the benefits you could derive from these.
We believe that the athletes deriving the most benefit from these protocols have many years of aerobic conditioning in their evolution from novice to advanced.
Far too many athletes want to mimic the training regimes of the most successful athletes without developing the skills, physical and physiological adaptations that these advanced athletes have had to accomplish to develop into the athletes that they are now.
When training aerobically, your immune system is also put under far less pressure .
This means that you are far less likely to succumb to infections or lose training days due to illness.
Training Consistency probably has the greatest influence on determining how much you can achieve in a sport.
Why is MAF zone training so slow?
This is a question we get from many of our athletes when we migrate them from a “classic” to a MAF based training program.
Should your aerobic system be underdeveloped, it will take a few weeks for your head to get used to the lower intensity training. Don’t worry, the body is very adaptable and improvements will happen.
Initially, it will be hard on the ego to go so slow, but if you have a little patience, you will be very happy with the results.
Is there one training zone for all Sports?
Although each sport will have a different maximum heart rate, MAF training focuses primarily on aerobic functioning so only one training zone is used for all sports.
If you practice different sports, for example in triathlon, different disciplines will feel easier than others when trying to stay in your MAF training zone.
Perceived exertion vs MAF Heart Rate
Each sport places different stresses on the body and as a result, your perceived exertion for the same heart rate will differ. This means that your perceived exertion during Running will be lower than while Cycling and far lower than that for Swimming.
While different sports will tax your system in different ways, it is best to stay in your training zone regardless of how slow the effort feels.
Is MAF heart rate zone training effective?
There are many benefits to slowing your training paces down.
Spending more time training slower, in our experience, has benefited our athletes more than adding more and more intensity to their weekly training schedules.
There are many sports training theories that work but we feel that we achieve our goals for our athletes more consistently by teaching them to adopt MAF-friendly life choices and doing the vast majority of their training in their MAF training zone.
You can get faster by first training slower.