New Running Journey: Heart Rate Training with MAF

After completing my first two full marathons just three months apart, I have decided (with the pleading from my husband and children) to set aside my distance running goals for a few months.  I will continue to race each month, focusing more on the fun factor and why I love running.  However, my running journey has taken an interesting turn.  I will be running and training through heart rate training, using the MAF training program.

Let me back track a bit for you.  While training for the LA Marathon, I felt that my longer runs were really a struggle: both physically and mentally.  I would cover the distance and prescribed pace… but it was harder than it should have been.  It was a combination of nutrition, hydration and a bit of overtraining.  I was tired and worn out.  I needed to recover and really get to the bottom of what was going on.

MAF heart rate training, running heart rate training, maf training

When I shared my interest in starting heart rate training for running, I was given many helpful articles and words of encouragement from the running community.  Many Polar Ambassadors stepped up with their advice as well as fellow FitFluential Ambassador MissZippy1.  In fact, Amanda introduced me to the MAF method and shared her successful experience running and training using MAF.

What is MAF Training (also referred to as the Maffetone Method)?

MAF training is essentially training aerobically (and avoiding anaerobic training) based on your individual maximum aerobic training heart rate with a goal of building a strong aerobic base. The focus is on heart rate instead of pace.

According to Dr. Philip Maffetone, author and endurance training expert, building a good aerobic base takes about three months and requires consistent use of a heart rate monitor to accurately monitor and properly interpret your unique physiological response to exercise.

overall health, heart health, individual health training plan

I love the quote shared in the above image, “… the only way to make long-lasting changes with one’s health and fitness is to think in terms of the individual.  Meaning YOU!”  Health isn’t a one stop, one-size-fits-all, shop.  God created our bodies to be uniquely YOU… and in order to achieve long-lasting changes in your (MY) health and fitness goals I need to individualize my goals and training.

There is a bunch of information on the web about heart rate training and MAF training.  I am not an expert in this field, by any means, and am still doing my research.  Below are three most used resources to find information to the questions you might have regarding heart rate training and MAF.

MAF Resources

Dr. Phil Maffetone
Trail Runner Nation Podcasts
Sock Doc

My Goals and Starting point

My goal: Commit 16 weeks of heart rate training for every run, with MAF tests every 4 weeks.

There are several methods and at least one other formula for determining heart rates and training zones. I used the 180 Formula and Heart Rate Monitoring developed by Dr. Maffetone to calculate my Maximum Aerobic Training Heart Rate. This formula allows for adjustments based on the individual.


Resting Heart Rate: 47
Maximum Aerobic Training Heart Rate: 152
Training Heart Rate Ranges: 142-152 Target Training

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:

1. Subtract your age from 180.
2. Modify this number by selecting among the following categories the one that best matches your fitness and health profile:
a. 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.
b. 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.
c. 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.
d. 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 example, if you are thirty years old and fit into category (b), you get the following:
180–30=150. Then 150–5=145 beats per minute (bpm).

I have done a few training runs while using my polar FT40 heart rate monitor.  It is not GPS enabled so I use my iPhone GPS apps to track speed while running (rather power walking) outside or the treadmill’s speed min/mile guide.

I have not officially taken the MAF Test yet… but plan on doing it this weekend.  I have used it on two of my runs the past week and found that in order to reach my goal heart rate zone (142-152) I am not able to run… but rather I power walk at a 13-14 minute mile pace.  Honestly, this frustrates and concerns me… but I know that trusting the program and following it, I should be successful.

The methodology is that you train by running slower to run faster.  It does seem backwards… but if it works… I am all for trying it!

As always, I will keep you updated on my progress and experience.  I am hopeful and positive that this will be just the thing I need to help me run faster  and run further while staying healthy and injury free so I can run for many more years!

Do you train with a heart rate monitor?
When running do you gauge your effort by feel or heart rate?


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  1. says

    That’s great that you are dedicating the time to this. I did it for a little bit last year and it’s HARD at the beginning because you feel like you are running/walking at such a slow pace. It’s frustrating but stick with it. It takes some time.

    • says

      Yes. I totally understand. I want to run FASTER not SLOWER. BUT I also know that sometimes in order to run faster you must run slower. ;) I figure this is as good of a time as ever to try this! :)

  2. says

    This sounds like a great program to use in the off season, or while not training for a race. I’m sure it would help me – my HR is constantly super high and it’s not uncommon to hit my max when I’m running up a hill or something. I’ve been surprised to see that since I’ve started using it again lately.

    I think I would struggle to keep it so low – what is the percentage range that you keep your HR in? Or does the normal “max heart rate” number just go out the window?

    Thanks for sharing, looking forward to reading more and seeing how it goes!

    • says

      Hi. From what I have read during these heart rate training runs the max heart rate is thrown out the window. You are to stay within your specific frame/zone through the duration of the run (walking if you have to to get it down). Once a week I am able to do strides to keep turnover going… but other than that it is basically retraining my heart/body to work more effieiently at a lower hr.

  3. says

    I really hope it all works well for you. I think you are going into it with the right mindset which truly is most of the battle with MAF. I am excited to watch your progress! Thanks for the shootout.

    • says

      Yes frustrating. To be in my zone (142-152) I am power walking. The MOMENT I start running (even in place super slow) my heart goes to 155-165 (my happy running pace is there). So I go back to walking. I MISS running… but I am going to give it a go…

      • says

        When you first start out on a run, you are immediately working out anaerobically, and your heart rate will spike. Because you are highly trained, it will actually take you a while to transition into your aerobic zone – the better trained you are, the longer it takes. Once you do transition into your aerobic zone, your heart rate will immediately drop off. Have you tried running for 10 min with the heart rate monitor to see if your heart rate comes down closer to the targets that MAF specifies?

        • says

          I have not… but I am willing to give it a go. :) At this point… my MAF training zone is at a strong power walk. But the MOMENT I start jogging (even at the same pace as the power walk my heart rate increases).

  4. says

    Being that I’ve had open heart surgery, I always run with a heart rate monitor, Polar RCX5 is my beast of choice, with all the bells and whistles attached. I will definitely be looking into this training method.

  5. says

    So anxious to hear how this goes. I tried it today on my two mile run. Well, like you, as soon as I started running my heart rate went above. I run slow anyway, but to keep my heart rate down I have to walk, barely jog, at a 15 min mi pace….but I want to give it a try. I’m afraid I’ll never get faster unless I try something like this. Thanks!

  6. says

    Interesting – I’m all old school and do aerobic high intensity interval workouts to try and increase my VO2 Max once a week, strength train twice a week, and do my long run at a 30 sec/km pace slower than my goal race pace.

  7. says

    Hi! I found you via instagram because you liked one of my photos. :-) I’m interested to know how it’s going with the MAF training, since I’ve never heard of this method before! I have never really focused on trying to increase my running speed, but I’d love to know different people’s ways of doing it effectively! I have asthma, so my heart rate tends to spike pretty easily, which is why I tend to stick with 11-12 minute miles most of the time. Would love to hear an update on what you thought of this method!
    Tabitha recently posted..Dolores Mae Lund Palmquist

    • says

      Hi. I will say that it DOES work. But it takes a LOT of patience and time.

      My time has improved… but I still feel like I can run faster and further by going above that MAF HR. So it is weird to me.

      For example. According to the MAF method… I shoudl always run in the 140′s. BUT I can run a half marathon comfortably (not challenging myself at.all) with my heart rate in the 170-180′s and not feel taxed physically.

      SO… you can give it a shot. It can’t hurt.

      If you don’t have races lined up and have time to slow things down and focus on this… go for it! :)


  1. […] to try to run faster by running more efficiently.  I will be doing this by still giving the whole heart rate training method a good try.  As well as training my body to run more efficiently with a higher cadence and better […]

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