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The MAF test

MAF test

The MAF test was invented by Dr Phil Maffetone who helped scientifically confirm Arthur Lydiard’s theories that you first need to develop your aerobic foundation to its maximum and then you should build “harder” training.


Calculate Your Own Maximum Aerobic Training Heart Rate:

To find your maximum aerobic training heart rate, there are two important steps. First, subtract your age from 180. Next, find the best category for your present state of fitness and health, and make the appropriate adjustments:

  • 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.

Warm-up well (at least 15 minutes)

  • Wear a heart rate monitor and ensure it is working properly before starting the test.
  • Setup your watch to take splits, preferably every kilometre.
  • Once your heart rate is close to your target,begin the test
  • Run as close to your target heart rate for the entire duration. Ensure that splits are recorded.

If done correctly, ever kilometer should be slightly slower than the first.

The test does not need to be done more frequently than monthly.

Interpreting the results

If your splits are generally slower than in a previous test this usually means one of two things:

  • Your recent training has been too hard and not balanced with enough easier running and your aerobic capacity has suffered as a result; OR
  • You were unusually fatigued before going into the test, this could be the first indicator of general under recovery/under performance.
  • If your splits get progressively faster during each individual test (for example if your first is 7:30, then 7:25 then 7:20), first check that you are running at the correct heart rate. If you were, the results may indicate errors with your heart rate monitor or insufficient warm-up taken before beginning the test.

Important points

  • Always warm-up well to get your heart rate settled before beginning.
  • Check your heart rate monitor is working properly: slightly wet the sensor pads, ensure it is tucked securely under your pectoralis muscles (chest) and does not slide around. Ensure you do not have too many loose layers of clothing creating friction and static electricity.
  • Ensure you access the same course for each test and preferably at the same point of each week following exactly the same preparations. The less variety in your testing routine, the more reliable results you will get.
  • Wear the same shoes or type of shoes whenever possible.
  • Check your heart rate regularly to ensure you do not deviate too much from the intensity but try, over time, to learn how the pace “feels like” so you do not have to look at your monitor every few seconds.
  • Setup your watch to show your heart rate very visibly so checking the reading does not disturb your rhythm too much.

Here’s some info I found on elite performers…

This test works exactly the same for experienced competitors and elites. Such athletes should expect to have very low heart rate readings at speeds up to 3:40 minutes/km or beyond. However, sometimes even these runners have severe problems with their aerobic capacity and this test will help them rectify it.

A great example of this is how Mark Allen, the six time Ironman champion, used the test to establish the best training intensity for his aerobic workouts. Working with Dr Phil Maffetone, Allen discovered that at his target heart rate of 155bpm he could run no faster than 8:15 min/mile. Shocked by this findings, Allen proceeded to train for a full year at only aerobic intensities and a year later his pace at 155bpm improved to a blistering 5:20 min/mile. Even better, he reduced his risk of injury and overtraining and propelled himself to unprecedented success in the Ironman event.

During my 15 years of racing in the sport of triathlons I searched for those few golden tools that would allow me to maximize my training time and come up with the race results I envisioned. At the top of that list was heart rate training. It was and still is the single most potent tool an endurance athlete can use to set the intensity levels of workouts in a way that will allow for long-term athletic performance. Yes, there are other options like lactate testing, power output and pace, but all of these have certain shortcomings that make them less universally applicable than heart rate. – Mark Allen, Working your heart – the secret of training smart

Should you still harbour doubts about whether this test will add value to your health and fitness consider Phil Maffetone’s comment on why it is so important to know what energy system is dominating during your runs/exercise:

The real question is which system is predominating—which are you relying on? Is your body burning mostly sugar and less fat? If this is so, your anaerobic system is the one turned on more than your aerobic body. While you may not notice this, especially if it’s an ongoing problem, but your energy and endurance is not what it should be, you are vulnerable to aches and pains, body fat content is too high, and you’re under too much stress as the anaerobic system is connected with our fight or flight stress mechanism. In short, your health is compromised. Instead, you want long?term energy to be free of fatigue, maximum support for your joints and bones, injury?free muscles, good circulation, and increased fat burning to slim down. You want both optimal health and great fitness. – Dr Phil Maffetone, Think you know what being aerobic is?

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