Quick Tip: Measuring Your Progress with Heart Rate Training the MAF Way

Admittedly, when you commit to heart rate training it can be difficult to feel like you’re making much progress.

No matter what the science says, and it’s pretty conclusive about the benefits of heart rate training, it can be tough to “see” much progress.

And let’s not kid ourselves, while science is great if we can’t see our own progress we start to wonder if any progress is actually happening.

That’s fair NDT, but it would be nice if there was a way to tangibly see/measure progress when focusing on heart rate training, just so we can set our minds at ease and continue to trust the science.

Thankfully, there is.

Time Trials Don’t Measure Aerobic Fitness

When you commit to heart rate training, the goal is to build your aerobic fitness.

Put simply, the goal is to become more efficient in order to increase your pace at the same level of intensity.

And that can’t be measured with a time trial.

In a time trial, the goal is simple: run a predetermined distance in the shortest amount of time possible.

That means that, if you’re doing the time trial right, you are busting your ass to finish.

Ergo, your heart rate is going to be above your aerobic limit.

In a time trial, the distance remains constant every time you do the test and the variable that is measured is time.

Did you get faster?

The problem is, you can get faster at a time trial without improving your aerobic fitness.

And while that may sound like progress, and it absolutely is, those fitness gains aren’t going to help you much if your goal race is longer than the time trial.

Measuring Your Aerobic Fitness via the MAF Test

The MAF test, or maximum aerobic fitness test, is designed to help quantify your progress if you are focusing on training by heart rate.

LIke with a time trial, you run a set distance but unlike with a time trail, your aim is to keep your heart rate right at your aerobic limit.

Want to test your aerobic fitness? Here’s what you need to do to properly execute a MAF test:

Determine Your Maximum Aerobic Heart Rate

The formula is simple: subtract your age from 180. I’m 36, so my max aerobic heart rate is 144.

Select an Easily Repeatable Route for Your MAF Test

In order for your MAF test results to be accurate over time, you need to run the same route every time you do your test.

If you have access to a nearby track, that is probably the best option as the distance around the track will always be the same and you’ll never have to worry about cars or crowded sidewalks or anything like that.

Whatever course you choosed, flat is better. Remember, the idea is to hold your HR as constant as possible. That is much easier to do if you can avoid abunch of climbing and descending on a hillier route.

Determine Your Distance

There is no “set distance” when it comes to setting up your MAF test.

In most cases, your route should be at least a couple of miles. If you’ve been running for years and are pretty fit, then a longer route (up to about 5 miles or so) is ideal.

But as long as it’s an easily repeatable route that will have you running for 30+ minutes, you are good.

Plan an Easy Warm Up

You don’t want to step right out your door and begin your MAF test.

Instead, you want to bring your HR up to your aerobic maximum gradually before beginning the test.

Do the Test

Once you put the pieces in place, you’re ready to go.

Start your warm up, and keep the pace really easy.

As you near the starting point of your predetermined route, pick up the pace slightly to edge your HR a bit closer to your aerobic max.

Once you get to the starting point, hit the lap button on your watch and the test is on.

Remember, the goal is to keep your HR as close to your aerobic max as possible. I have mine set for 138-141, and my goal is to stay in that window for the entire MAF test.

Run your entire predetermined route as close to your aerobic max as possible, and stop your watch when you reach the end of your route.

Check the Numbers

Once the MAF test is finished, it’s time to look at the data.

Check your overall average pace and the total time it took to run the set distance.

If you want some more data points, check your splits for each mile (or even each shorter segment if you want more data points). Most likely, you will notice your pace slowing with each segment of your test. That’s to be expected, so don’t worry about it.

This is Your Baseline

The first test becomes your baseline test.

Every month or so, do another MAF test (running the exact same route) to measure your progress.

Over time, you should notice that your pace is getting faster while your HR is staying the same on the same route.

Seeing that progress every month (hopefully!), can provide the incentive to keep going with heart rate training because you now have a way to quantify your progress.

Other Ways to Increase Accuracy of Your MAF Test

As of this post/episode, I’ve completed four MAF tests.

(Here are the links to my Garmin data for each test, if you’re instested: #1, #2, #3, #4)

I’m still working out some kinks, but I’ve learned a few things the hard way in the past few months.

If you’re planning to incorporate a regular MAF test into your training program, and I would encourage you to think about it, here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • Do your test at the same time of day each time, ideally in the morning.
  • No coffee/cafeine before your test.
  • If you’re stressed or tired or fatigued, postpone your test. (Your results won’t be good, I promise!)

Measureable Progress Takes Time

In order to improve your aerobic effeciency, you need to be patient and consistent with your training.

It’s tough being patient, and it can be difficult slowing down.

But stick with it, because it will pay off.

I Guarantee It

Measuring your aerobic fitness is easy with a MAF test. #runchat Click To Tweet

Have You Ever Done a MAF Test?

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4 replies
    • Denny
      Denny says:

      Not your overall max, your aerobic max. Two different things completely. Sorry if I didn’t make that clear.

  1. Susan Andersen
    Susan Andersen says:

    Late to the party on this but I am nearly 60. So I should target running at a pace that keeps my HR 118-122? (To test this theory I tried to keep it under 160, with an average rate of 142 for a 3 mile run and ended up with an average pace of 13:40.) It’s not really running at that point? Any thoughts?

    • Denny
      Denny says:

      If you’re having a hard time keeping your HR below 160, that’s a pretty clear sign that your aerobic fitness is poor! Not saying you have to adopt a MAF/HR training style, but if you do then keeping your HR below 120 is the target even if that means walking. What will happen in time, assuming you stick with the program, is that you’ll eventually be able to run at a HR in the 110s. It’ll take some time, but that is how HR training works.

      Of course, if you don’t want to do HR training you don’t have to! It’s all up to you!


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