Welcome to the Maffetone Method training. It's surprising how such a
simple concept can be so challenging to follow. There are thousands of
success stories, but not everyone takes the same path.
Rather than writing about my personal challenges with the method, I
decided to survey runners doing Maffetone Training and find out what
their real challenges they were facing. The following is a compilation of
the survey and my recommendations to common challenges.
From the survey, I found that by far, over 80%, were challenged by
having to run slow and still having the patience to stick with the
program. Older runners felt their calculated heart rate was just too low.
About 20% were concerned about being socially isolated by not being
able to run with friends and lastly, about 20% were challenged on how
to prepare for a race in the middle of starting their MAF training. I will
address these challenges separately, each starting with a sample
response quote from the survey.
The Maffetone method is not a magic pill for running faster. If you are
unable to run the flats or just slog along at your max MAF heart rate, you may need to address some other issues that are keeping you slow.
There are several reasons you can't run fast enough:
You're overweight: Weight can have a dramatic impact on speed.
The rule of thumb is you loose 2 seconds/mile for every pound you
Taking the 2 week challenge and drastically reducing your intake of harmful carbs and oils is a start. The majority of your weight loss is from your diet, not exercise, so focus on adopting a high fat low carb diet to drop those extra pounds.
Poor Gait: Dr Phil talks a lot about proper gait. Having a poor gait can
add 5 to 10 beats to your heart rate, making it tough to maintain
running form at your MAF rate.
First, take a look at your running posture, try to run more upright if you bend at the waist. Try short runs (50-100 yards) running barefoot on grass to find your true form.
To lighten your foot strike, while running, pretend you are running
over a bead of burning coals. While you are running slow, spend that
time working on improving your cadence. Strive to get close to 180
steps per minute.
Work on improving your turnover and neuromuscular system by doing Aerobic intervals. Once or twice a week, find a moderate hill and run down it at your max aerobic heart rate keeping your cadence high.
Muscle imbalances: In the old days we talked about the importance
of stretching, mostly static stretching. Nowadays, mobility is the
focus. If you don't have good range of motion in your hip flexors or
you have tight calves, your stride will compromised and your speed
Spend just 10 minutes every night on muscle maintenance with a foam roller to start working out the kinks and loosing up your fascia.
A hidden cause of muscle imbalance is sitting all day. Studies have
shown that the positive effects of exercising 30 minutes a day can be
erased by sitting at a desk all day.
So move! At work, get up every 20 minutes and move around. If you can get a standup desk, that can help add movement variety during your day. The same goes for lounging on the couch all day after a hard workout. You're no better off than your couch potato neighbor unless you keep moving during the day.
Lack of Strength: As we age, we loose muscle mass. Other than diet,
the best anti-aging solution is strength training. For us runners, there
are just a couple of simple body weight exercises you can get started
with. A few push ups and a couple of minutes in the plank position
will build your core. Add some squats and lunges to build up your
posterior chain and you'll see improvement in your speed, especially
It's ok to have to walk up hills to keep your heart rate down when you
are first starting MAF. I like to start newbie trail runners with a few
weekend mountain hikes before running hills. When approaching a hill, shorten your stride and keep your cadence high to lower your heart rate, just like shifting gears on a bike.
If you are running too slow on the flats, while addressing the previous
issues, raise your heart rate limit up 5 to 10 bpm to be able to run with
good form. Try this for 2 weeks, then re-evaluate, and adjust downwards as you improve. It's kind of reverse MAF!
The bottom line is to use your monthly MAF test as your guide, if you are not improving, you need to change your strategy.
*Another alternative is switch to another sport such as cycling or
swimming during your initial base building. Doing an alternate exercise for 2 to 4 weeks may get your aerobic metabolism up high enough to allow your to run at your MAF heart rate.
Maffetone training is so simple, but can be very frustrating at times. I
think it is really important to remember that this method is for the long haul. The ultimate goal is for you to be a healthy and fit runner.
By adopting a low carb diet and primarily training at a low heart rate, you can switch your metabolism from sugar craving to fat burning and
dramatically reduce metabolic stress and inflammation.
For some, this can happen very quickly, from 2 to 8 weeks, for others, it may take longer. To persevere, it takes mental toughness:
What this means to you, is just as Dr. Phil is against structured training
plans, sometimes you need to reevaluate your methods and possibly
adjust your MAF heart rate up some to get over a hump, rather than
doggingly toughing it out. I'm all in favor of some variation as long as
you are sticking to your ultimate goal. This is a life changing
transformation, experiment with it, no two runners are alike.
I started my MAF journey at the age of 62. Staying under 118 bpm was a non-starter for me. I added 10 bpm so I could continue to run with good form. Now, a year and a half later, I do most of my runs at 116 - 122 bpm with good form. As I stated before, I believe maintaining good form while running is important. if you adjust your MAF heart rate upwards, it should only take 5 or 10 additional beats to get you moving more efficiently. Concentrate on taking shorter steps, focusing on improving your poor gait as explained above. As you improve your form, lower your training heart rate back to your calculated MAF heart rate.
For many of us, running with our friends is an important part of our runs.
For me, it's the only time I can connect with many of my friends. I
suggest that if it is an important part of your life, go ahead and run with your group once a week. Don't make a big deal about going over your MAF heart rate. Yes, anytime you do an extended run above MAF, you are going to affect the progress of your development. But I would argue it off-sets the stress from abandoning your friends.
Switching from a life of preparing for races with tempo runs and
intervals to just steady running is tough to adjust to. The bottom line, in a normal progression of MAF training, we don't introduce speed work until your progress has plateaued. However, as I mentioned before, once or twice a week you can do aerobic intervals during your base building phase to rebuild those neuromuscular connections and build more speed.
But what about an upcoming race? In a normal training cycle, you
should have a base building phase followed by mini cycles of
intensity,tapering, competition, rest, aerobic rebuilding. I recommend
taking the long view, that is, stick with the mini cycles during your
competition season, then continue on with your aerobic base period.
This can delay your development some, but after a couple of years,
you'll be a beast for life!
If you want some help with your challenges with the Maffetone
method, Click the link below to check out our Forever Runners Clubhouse running club
Click the button to download the Forever Runner Method guide.