MAF Testing and Why it is Important

What is the MAF test?

Among the important benefits of using a heart monitor is the ability to objectively measure your aerobic progress. Objectively measuring improvement is just as important. Measuring aerobic progress can be easily accomplished using the maximum aerobic function (MAF) Test.


(Reprinted and edited from Dr. Maffetone's website) Without objective measurements, it’s easy to fool yourself into thinking all is well with training. The MAF Test tells you if you’re headed in the wrong direction, either from too much anaerobic exercise, too little aerobic exercise or any imbalance that is having an adverse effect on the aerobic system. (Stress and poor diet are two salient examples of this.)

One of the great benefits of the MAF Test is its ability to objectively inform you of an obstacle long before you feel bad or get injured. Your training will progress much more smoothly—and quickly—by regularly performing the MAF test.

The MAF Test can be done with any exercise except weight-lifting. The test can also be performed on stationary equipment such as a treadmill or other apparatus that measures power output. For our purposes we will test using a pre-measured standardized 5k run for HS and a two mile run for MS. The 5K course starts at the rec center and follows the Triathlon course down Francis, left on buffalo over the river bridge and turns around just past the first street over the interstate bridge. The two-mile course starts the same goes over the river bridge and the turn around is just as you begin heading up on the interstate bridge.

To perform the test, normally you must first obtain your maximum aerobic heart rate with the help of the 180 Formula. For HS and MS ((age 18 and under) Dr. Maffetone suggests using a HR of 165. While working out at that heart rate, determine your walking, jogging or running pace—the time that it takes you to cover a certain distance—in minutes per mile, cycling speed in miles per hour, or repetitions (such as laps in a pool over time), and make a note of it. This is the parameter you will test for improvement later on.

Below is an actual example of an MAF Test performed by walking on a track, at a heart rate of 145, calculating time in minutes per mile:

Mile 1       16:32
Mile 2      16:46
Mile 3      17:09

During any MAF Test, your times should always get slower with successive repetitions: the first mile should always be the fastest, and the last should be the slowest. If that’s not the case, it usually means you haven’t warmed up enough. (This is discussed later.) This is different than what we want in racing but remember this is NOT a race. It is critical to keep you HR below that 165 mark for this test.

The MAF Test should indicate faster times as the months go by. This means the aerobic system is developing and you’re burning more fat, enabling you to do more work with the same effort. Even if you walk or run longer distances, your MAF Test should show the same progression of results, providing you heed your maximum aerobic heart rate. Below is an example showing the improvement of the same person from above:

Miles    September    October     November      December
Mile 1       16:32            15:49            15:35                15:10
Mile 2      16:46            16:06            15:43                15:22
Mile 3      17:09            16:14             15:57                15:31

Perform the MAF Test regularly throughout the year, and chart your results. Dr. Maffetone recommends doing the test every month. Testing yourself too often may result in obsession—you won’t improve significantly within one week.

The point of the MAF test is to help you chart your progress and to know when your aerobic system is getting off-course. Performing the test irregularly (or not often enough) defeats its purpose. If something interferes with your progress, such as exercise itself, diet or stress, you don’t want to wait until you’re feeling bad or gaining weight to find that out. In the situations where your aerobic system is no longer getting benefits, your MAF Test will show it by getting worse, or not improving.