I Tried the Maffetone Method for a Year
A runner’s strategy you may not know about
A lot of people I talk to, even runners, have not heard of the Maffetone Method. I bumped into it while researching running on YouTube and started incorporating it into my training. Let me share my experiences, and maybe you’ll give it a try.
So, what is the Maffetone Method?
The Maffetone Method, or “MAF Method,” is heart-rate training designed to keep you within your aerobic threshold. You run your training miles under a certain heart rate which you calculate by subtracting your age from the number 180. I am 35, so my Maffetone heart rate is 145. That means all my runs will be under 145 bpm. You accomplish this by using a heart rate monitor during your runs to make sure you stay under. Typically, you wouldn’t run at exactly 145 bpm but more like 125–135 bpm since it’s easy to spike over.
Why would anyone want to do this?
By running exclusively aerobic, you will increase your endurance by doing more miles with less stress to your body. As you continue Maffetone, you can increase your running speed and stay at the same low heart rate. This also drastically reduces injuries and recovery time, since you are not putting the same stress on your body as running anaerobically. Dr. Phil Maffetone, the creator of the method, identifies overtraining and recovery deficit as huge problems in the running community, and this method is primarily meant to mitigate those risk factors. Many runners have used this for success, including six-time Ironman Triathlon World Champion Mark Allen, but it still quite niche.
I like to start with the positive notes! For the most part, training this way lives up to its promises. I could run 20 miles on Saturday and feel well enough to go out Sunday and do it all over again! This is really effective when training for distance events like ultra-marathons. I did not get injured and rarely had to incorporate a lot of recovery tools like Epsom baths, Theragun, massage, or extra rest.
I was barely breaking a sweat on a lot of runs because I never reached a point of exertion. It feels like you can go forever! Watching yourself getting faster each day but staying at the same low heart rate was surreal. It was one of the primary reasons my running achievements were so high, crushing a lot of PRs while running 6 marathons as well as many smaller events in 2019. It’s remarkable how crazy my hormones, my hunger, and my achiness would fluctuate with normal running, but with Maffetone, it’s like you’re 20 years old again. It also dropped my resting heart rate drastically, at times it was 35–50 bpm! (I’m not kidding)
While I encourage you to try MAF, I am not here to sell you on it. There were some negatives that made it really difficult.
Starting MAF will frustrate you and feel ridiculous when starting out. To stay under your MAF heart rate, you may need to walk, walk then run, or do a really slow jog. It felt like I was moving in slo-mo with a tediously sluggish pace, which I disliked compared to just running like a bat out of hell usually. My initial MAF pace was 16 minutes per mile, which felt really sad and time-consuming, with people walking past me thinking something was wrong with me. They were right, it looks strange to run that slow! Eventually, I brought my time to 10 minutes per mile, but that first month required a lot of patience and humility.
Staring at my heart rate monitor definitely can take some of the fun out of running. I wanted to make sure I was staying within the desired bpm and constantly staring at my Garmin running watch. I should probably consider myself lucky I didn’t get hit by a bus. When my bpm spiked past 145, I would feel defeated by needing to slow down more.
MAF is a very holistic regimen in that diet, lifestyle choices, and other kinds of exercise can immensely influence your progress. The Maffetone Method insists on a whole-foods and balanced diet to follow while training his way. Stress, alcohol, tobacco, anything that creates inflammation or increased stress on your body will stifle progress. Even when I did anaerobic exercise like lifting weights or some sprints, I would find my heart rate harder to manage when doing Maffetone training runs.
Maffetone Running is the healthiest and sustainable form of running you can do, but it’s not the most fun. Even though running using the Maffetone Method brought increased endurance and training success, I found it too constricting. I like to lift weights, drink beer, and run at whatever heart rate I want to. I like getting a good sweat in and going fast. Ultimately, I plan on running this way for a training cycle (3–6 months) especially if I am training for an ultra. I think this is the most balanced approach which can reap the benefits without selling my soul to it.
While I think I covered most bases, there’s a lot more information available about this method at Dr. Phil Maffetone’s website.
If you want to go even deeper down the rabbit hole, check out my new article: Decoding the Maffetone Method: The V02 Max Test is Key. I also ran barefoot for 6 months and didn’t die, if you’re interested, please check out “How to Run Barefoot and Not Die”.