Optimal Heart Rate for Workouts

Using MAF 180 to REBUiLD Your Aerobic System

The MAF 180 system has been used for a long time to target the perfect heart rate to improve aerobic capacity, burn fat, maximize endurance and general health and fitness. If you are trying to get the most out of your body, Dr. Phil Maffetone has spent 40 years proving the system through clinical and scientific research. He's helped countless top tier athletes in all sports, especially in endurance athletes.

Most likely you have used the system before on the most basic level. Subtract your age from 180 and that's the high end of where your heart rate should be consistently when training. What most people don't know are the ways to optimize it according to your training age and current health status.

What is Training Age?

When we refer to training age we are talking about how long you have consistently been working out. This is not over your entire life span. This deals with current training. If you are 40 years old and consistently show up to the gym 3 times a week for the past 2 years, your training age would be 2. Even if you spent your high school and college years (8 years) hitting the gym 5x/week but took 14 years off, your training age would still be two. Don't compound all the years of training. Be humble about it to get the most out of the MAF 180 system.

Once again this is the basic version of the MAF 180 and it's helpful. We can optimize it even more. I've added the actual formula and categories directly from Dr. Maffetone's book, MAF Method.

MAF 180 (Maximum Aerobic Function)

The MAF 180 Formula: Determining your MAF HR

1. Subtract your age from 180.

2. Modify this number by choosing one category below that best applies to you:

a. If you have or are recovering from a major illness (including any operation or hospital stay), are in rehabilitation, have been prescribed any regular medication, or are chronically overtrained, subtract an additional 10.

b. If you are injured, have regressed or not improved in training (such as poor MAF Tests) or competition, get more than two colds, flu or other infections per year, have seasonal allergies or asthma, are overfat, are acutely overtraining, or if you have been inconsistent, just beginning or returning to exercise, 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 mentioned in a) or b), no modification is necessary (use 180 minus age as your MAF HR).

d. If you have been training for more than two years without any of the problems listed above, have made progress in your MAF Tests, and have improved competitively, add 5.

The resulting HR is the high end of the HR range with the low being 10 beats below. For example, a 40-year old in category b) would have an exercise range of 125-135 bpm. Users can self-select any intensity within this range.

While the 180 Formula is best known for guiding aerobic exercise, initially it was for used for weight- and fat-loss. It soon became popular with athletes in virtually all sports to boost performance (including use with performance horses beginning in the early 1980s), and continues to help virtually all types of people monitor their heart rate. Success is demonstrated by increased fat-burning, improved health, and the ability of athletes to run, bike and otherwise perform at faster paces and increased power at the same MAF HR as determined by the 180 Formula.

My Thoughts

Everyone is looking for an advantage when it comes to fat loss and performance. With the world believing our bodies are like Amazon Prime and can change in a couple days, this is one way to speed up the process properly. When you take a breather during the workout quickly check your heart rate. Use your fingers on your wrist, watch the clock and count how many heart beats over six seconds. Multiply times ten and that's your current heart rate. From here you can determine if you need to pick the pace up or slow it down a tad.

Now there are always exceptions to this rule and you might find you fall into a couple categories. So set a number you want to maintain and try it out. Just like all things fitness, we can read about it until we are blue in the face but we won't have the knowledge and understanding unless we implement it into your program.

I used the MAF 180 system after I had ankle surgery and wanted to speed up my recovery. It helped me know I was in the target heart rate to prevent pushing it too hard. I occasionally use the system when I have tough workouts. When I perform steady state workouts I keep my heart rate at the lower end of my MAF 180. Use the system as much or as little as you want, it's another tool for your bag to pull from.

I'm skeptical on wrist wearable heart rate monitors/watches. I highly suggest you take your own heart rate and compare to what your watch is saying. They aren't the most accurate. A chest strap monitor works the best until you know how to go off feel. That might sound silly but when you pay attention to your HR (heart rate) you know when you are in the zone. You can always skip all the technology and check your heart rate routinely throughout your workout, it only takes six seconds.

Overall, I'm a fan of the system and it has it place in training. If you want something to track, HR is one of the first components I like to look at. Find your optimal HR and jump on a rower or air bike. Once you are in the target HR zone look at your watt output. see how long you can maintain those watts along with your HR. Retest every month and see if the watts increase at the same HR.

Just like tempo training, weightlifting, or any other type of training, MAF 180 is no different. Like I said before, use it as much or as little as you want. This system have been proven to stand the test of time and works for all types of athletes and general fitness people. This is another way to up your fitness and be more aware of your performance in workouts.

"There are no bad movements, just more efficient ones."