MAF Method - Part1

MAF method - Background

MAF stands for Maximum Aerobic Function. This method deals with building aerobic base. This is applicable to all sports >5min in duration. This is one of the most powerful way to train.
Dr Phil Maffetone pioneered this method. Many top athletes, in a variety of sports, have followed this method to achieve top success.

According to Triathlete magazine, Mark Allen is the greatest triathlete ever. He won six Ironman World-Championships.
His secret? Maffetone Method.

The approach is discussed in two parts:

People usually jump on the “how-to” part. While it is important, understand the “why” part is also critical.

Basics - Aerobic System vs Anaerobic System

  • Aerobic: The ability of the body to use more fat and less sugar (glucose) for energy. One needs oxygen to burn energy here.
  • Anaerobic: The ability of the body to use more sugar and less fat for energy. No Oxygen needed to burn energy in Anaerobic state.

The Aerobic System
The conversion of fat to energy—fat burning—takes place in the aerobic muscles (these are sometimes called slow-twitch or red muscle fibers).
Humans are well endowed with these muscles and they are the ones depended upon during activity of longer duration—they can function well for many hours and even days in a well-trained athlete.

Birds Fly More Than 10,000 Kms Nonstop In Its Annual Fall Migration. The birds weigh no more than 700gm when they leave. Half of that is fat, which they burn off completely during the flight.

This sort of fat burning is possible in humans too, if trained properly.

The Anaerobic System
Sugar (glucose) is converted to energy in the anaerobic muscles. These are sometimes called fast-twitch or white muscle fibers.
They are used for short-term power (such as weight lifting) and sprint speed (such as an all-out 100 meter race). These attributes are used very little in endurance sports.
Anaerobic energy is also very limited—relying only on this system won’t even allow a 5K race to be completed.

Aerobic vs Anaerobic


Why Aerobic System is important to train

Maffetone tells us that, in an event that lasts longer than one hour, 98% (!!!) of the endurance energy used is derived from our aerobic system.
If the event is over two hours, 99% (!!!) of the endurance energy will come from our aerobic system. Therefore, if you want to be a great endurance athlete, you’d be wise to build a VERY strong aerobic base.

Aerobic vs Anaerobic


Keep slow run slow and fast run fast.

The aerobic system–which is the most important energy system of the body–can’t be trained as effectively at higher heart rates. Few things happen when are in higher HR / Anaerobic zone:

  • Anaerobic training can decrease the number of aerobic muscle fibers, sometimes significantly. This can happen in just a few short weeks.
  • Anaerobic training raises your respiratory quotient, meaning that fat burning is reduced and sugar burning is increased, encouraging further use of anaerobic function and less aerobic activity.
  • Excessive amounts of lactic acid produced during anaerobic training may impair aerobic muscle enzymes, reducing aerobic function.
  • Anaerobic training typically causes athletes to consume more refined carbohydrates because of an increased craving for sugar. This can increase insulin levels and further interfere with fat burning, reducing aerobic function.

That’s why all elite athletes do 80% of their training at an easy speed or intensity: they (and their coaches) know the importance of aerobic development.
It’s usually the amateurs that do 60 to 80% of their training more intensely in an effort to “catch up” the miles.
But the body’s just not built for that, so they get hurt.

The MAF Formula

Dr. Maffetone, based on his research, has shown that your Maximum Aerobic Function peaks at a heart rate equal to 180 minus your Age.

Aerobic vs Anaerobic

Dr Maffetone suggests adjustments based on these factors:

  • Category 1 : Recovering from illness or on medication? Subtract 10.
  • Category 2 : Frequently sick or regressed in training? Subtract 5.
  • Category 2 : Overfat — simply use the waist-to-height ratio. Your waist should be less than half your height — if it’s not, subtract 5.
  • Category 3 : If you have been training consistently (at least four times weekly) for up to two years without any of the problems in above, keep the number (180–age) the same.
  • Category 4 : Been training regularly for 2 years without problems? Add 5.

In the next article, we will cover the training approach in detail.


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