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Maffetone Training for Cycling

MAF or Maffetone training for cycling. Dr. Phil Maffetone’s principles on diet, fat burning, stress reduction, motivation and so much more.

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Maffetone Training for Cycling

My continuous extremely positive experience with the MAF Method can be found under the Me and MAF tag.

You have to start with ‘Wow!’ One of the biggest wow moments as far as cycling and probably training in general for me to this date was being introduced to The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing by Dr. Phil Maffetone. After many seasons of going harder and doing more and more, I had gotten to the point where even something I was good at, time trialling, was becoming slower and slower, I knew I had to change from the ground up if I wanted to get somewhere with the sport I have grown to love so much. To say that Dr. Maffetone goes completely against the grain of everything that is out there as far as endurance training, utilising fat (fat burning for energy rather than carbohydrates), healthy living, balanced nutrition, injury prevention, body balance, mental focus and such, would be a huge huge understatement. In simple terms he goes down to the bare bone fundamentals that are behind endurance – from physiology, to muscle function to psychology.

Dr. Maffetone is not without his critiques, particularly because his methods are the polar opposite of the ‘no pain, no gain.’ and the ‘do more…faster!!!’ slogans that scream at you from virtually everywhere as well as against the hugely popular cookbook and formula approaches that are now the mainstream norm for ‘successful training/coaching.’ A modest person himself he doesn’t have to go and showcase his successes. The most famous of his athletes was Mark Allen. Mark who you say? For those not familiar with the Ironman Hawaii Triathlon (2.4-mile (3.86 km)swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and a marathon 26.2-mile (42.2 km) run, raced in that order and without a break). Mark Allen won it, SIX times. Before that he was a swimmer in college and had gotten himself injured and burned out before starting his successful collaboration with Dr. Maffetone. Long haul bomber pilots, race car drivers, runners, music stars (Johnny Cash) all have nothing but praise to say for Dr. Phil Maffetone.

Needless to say, if you look for them though, you will come across a number of quite unhappy people who tried Dr. Maffetone’s methods and were quite unsuccessful or worse they critiqued him without even trying to make sense of his ideas.  By briefly reading quite a number of those ‘negative experiences’ I couldn’t help but notice that every single one of those people missed one or more of the following, I would call them commandments of the Maffetone method. I absolutely recommend that you go and read his work, since putting decades of hands on clinical and coaching experience in just a blog post is impossible, however, I will get you started. In addition the Maffetone crowd seems to be mostly runners and triathletes so I want to put a ‘cycling spin’ on it. Here we go.

The Commandments of Maffetone Training for Cycling

1. Understand the Big Picture

Having two legs for walking and running, the ability to sweat and regulate our body temperature allowed us as species to cover vast amounts of land in search for food and water as well as provided an advantage versus the large predators in the African savannah who had to rest in the shade during the day. In short – we have endured, so it is safe to say endurance is hardwired into every human. Fast forward to the recent past and we have started doing all of the above (minus escaping saber-toothed tigers) in an organised fashion and we have called in running, cycling, triathlon, swimming etc.

Therefore, as ‘something we all have,’ endurance is the culmination of the whole complexity that is the human body. As described by Dr. Maffetone the best way to illustrate it is an equilateral triangle.


Structure – the muscles and bones and neurons that make up the body. The constant wear and tear we put on our body also falls into this category.

Chemistry – the body functions due to cascades of highly regulated biochemical processes. Any changes due to prescription drugs, inadequate diet, etc. all contribute to changes in the chemical part of the endurance triangle.

Mental and emotional – as mentioned above the brain is the most important and yet often overlooked part when it comes to training and racing. Sensations, perceptions, emotions, pain, motivation just to name a few.

All three are interrelated and cannot be viewed entirely in isolation. A very general example: Entirely neglecting the pain signals your body is sending you as you keep ‘giving it all’ day after day (mental emotional) would lead to increasing levels of inflammation (chemical) and ultimately an injury due to the the incomplete recovery (structure).

In addition developing our fat burning as a primary energy system is an ability that allows us to use the 40.000+kcal available even to the leanest athletes rather than the limited ~2000kcal of carbohydrates.

2. Take Control

African hunters chase antelopes for hours in the midday desert heat. No highly sophisticated coaching, heart rate monitors, power meters or the ‘latest and greatest’ equipment. Also no time to stop and drink water since one thing that antelopes are good at is running fast…very fast. Yet the hunters survive and manage remarkable feats of strength.  Why? They are in tune to their bodies. The brain is the best governor we have and everything we do starts there. The way we sense our environment and the feedback that comes from the brain is very important.  In addition continuously asking why and educating yourself about training, nutrition etc., is a significant part of the mental and emotional part of endurance. Take control and listen to your body.

3. MAF, the 180 Formula and Fat Burning

The 180 formula is pretty much the only formula that Dr. Maffetone mentions. My aside here is that most athletes only focus on this point of Maffetone training while ignoring points 1 and 2 and hence get suboptimal results.

I am probably repeating myself and I whole heartedly agree with him that the best schedule is the one not written down and no formula can suit everybody. Though through his experience by examining a LOT of athletes he has come up with a formula which in his words represents your maximum aerobic function (MAF) heart rate where you are developing your fat burning, or utilising the virtually endless fuel your body has at its disposal.

How to calculate your MAF

Subtract your age from 180 and further adjust that number by the following 4 conditions (quoted directly)

a. If you have or are recovering from a major illness (heart disease, operations, hospital stays) or are on any regular medication – subtract 10.

b. If you are injured, have regressed in training or competition, get more than two colds or bouts of flu per year, have allergies or asthma, or if you have been inconsistent or are just getting back into training – subtract additional 5.

c. If you have been training consistently (at least four times weekly) for up to two years without any kind of the problems mentioned in a and b, keep the number (180-age) the same

d. If you have been training for more than two years without any of the problems listed above, and have made progress in competition without injury, add 5.

If you have any questions, look at points 1 and 2 again. Good.

Better be 5bpm lower rather than too high. No but’s, no if’s, no I know better and this zone does not correspond to my zone, etc. Ideally Dr. Maffetone would test you on a treadmill/track, however, this is the next best thing. Your fat burning/MAF/training zone is 10bpm from that.

For example if you are 30 years old and have no injuries/conditions/prescription medications and are just starting training you get 180-30-5 = 145bpm. Your training zone is the 10bpm range 135-145bpm.

Bike, swim, run or walk, 1h, 45min, 100hours, uphill, downhill, flats, rolling terrain of training this is the maximum heart rate you should be training at any time (ie not the average over the whole workout). No but’s, no if’s. Period.

Why heart rate when we have all this advances, power meters, etc.? It’s quite simple really. The common ‘wisdom’ is that heart rate is too variable to be a reliable training metric. It gets affected by (lack of) sleep, stress, coffee, etc. This is exactly why it is the most important metric – it is the biofeedback you are receiving from your body. With the current state, stress, fatigue you are experiencing this is what you are capable of achieving aerobically while burning fat rather than sugar (glucose). How would you know if you are improving? More on that a bit later.

4. Commit and Reduce Stress

To the whole idea and give it 3-6months. You will go sloooooow at first, I mean dead slow. Another misconception is that Maffetone training is about training slow. No, it isn’t, you are slow because if you have been following the popular “no pain, no gain” approach as well as eating the currently (as of 2015) typical western diet based on carbohydrates – your body has simply become aerobically deficient – it doesn’t know how to burn fat efficiently yet so you have to start slow – you have to learn to walk before you can run.

Rumor has it Mark Allen ran an 11 minute mile pace (2x slower than a competitive pace) as he was starting and he was not out of shape. That being said for cycling you will have to avoid hills and if not possible, get a compact crankset and a wide gearing cassette – 11/28, 11/32 and (gasp!) even triple chainrings. Hills will be even slower, be patient. Joining the weekly group ride (hammer fest) and racing is out of the question. You will have to get used to the company of only your bike and heart rate monitor. The positive is that since you are not redlining it all the time and all you have to keep in check is your HR you can actually start to enjoy riding, find new roads, notice things you were too busy to see before. It’s all wonderful stimulation for your brain as well.

In addition although stress sometimes is labeled as a badge of honour in our modern fast paced lifestyles, mother nature put it there as our ‘fight-or-flight’ response and was never intended as a long term state. Therefore chronic stress is counter-productive towards endurance. Stress can affect each three parts of the triangle in point 1 such as: physical/structural stress – poorly fitting bike, chemical stress – caffeine, prescription and/or over the counter drugs, mental and emotional stress – job deadlines, relationship problems, etc. Write down all the stressors you feel are having and start reducing/eliminating the ones that you can control.

5. Test

Every month if possible and keep a diary. Test what? Your MAF or how fast/how much power are you producing at your MAF heart rate. Find a course with no traffic that takes 30ish min to ride and record your times/speed. Having a power meter and/or indoor trainer is the best in my opinion; simply warm up building to your MAF (12-15min), ride at it for 30min and cooldown (12-15min). More watts/speed at the same MAF HR = improved aerobic fitness. If you are progressing you are on the right track, if you are stagnating or regressing shortly after beginning (1-2months) you have to re evaluate your MAF HR (usually set too high), stress, diet – check your diary. Once your MAF tests plateau you are ready to add some intensity and/or racing. Once they start regressing, it is time to continue building your aerobic base again.


Endurance is something that is part of being human and as such is no simple task to put into a single blog post. However, if nothing else the take away points from this article are that you should take charge of your training and keep educating yourself and ignore the ‘no pain no gain’ mentality that has sadly become the norm of athletic endeavour. You cannot reach your full athletic potential by focusing on the training alone, it requires a full holistic approach starting with your body as the combination of the structural, chemical, mental and emotional aspects of it. Last but not least reducing stress as well training your body to utilize fat as fuel/developing your maximum aerobic function (MAF).

My continuous experience with the MAF Method can be found under the Me and MAF tag.

For further information check the ever-increasing Reading List

I welcome comments, however, before asking a question please visit the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page.

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Home » The Training Hours » Maffetone Training for Cycling

28 replies on “Maffetone Training for Cycling”

Hi, I’m just beginning to sketch out my winter training plan around Maffetone’s advice and came across your post. How has it worked out for you so far?

Hi Jim,

Thank you for your comment apologies for the delayed response, I was away from my emails.

I have been truly impressed by the Maffetone method, and as I mention in my post it is a hollistic approach. Among the first things that I educated myself about and changed was diet, you can read about it in my cycling nutrition series. I skipped the 2 week test altogether and went cold turkey straight into low carb/high fat. I have been very impressed with my improved energy levels throughout the whole day and most importantly gut function, the latter was completely unexpected and something I’ve been having problems with for 8+ years. Also my weight has been almost the same with the expected day to day variation for the last 4+ months.

Currently I am exploring functional training aspects, including addressing and correcting body muscle imbalances, tightness, lack of range of motion, etc. The series of articles on that is coming soon, so stay tuned.=)

As far as cycling is concerned, I am still not breaking any speed/power records, though I see a gradual progress in my power at MAF heartrate as well as in my MAF tests. It is still too early to tell and I am going to do a detailed recap around end of February/mid March (when racing starts here). Some examples I can give you, I was able to ride 5h with just water and felt like I can ride 5h more afterwards (before 2-3h was nearly bonktime for me). I avoid group rides since they are hammerfests, however, I do need to show my face every once and a while to my team – of the two group rides I did one 3h group ride was amazing and afterwards I felt like I could do one more, the second was a huge huge hammerfest and although I did have to push harder, I was not ‘dead’ afterwards, though i could clearly tell i was not ready for high-intensity/race just yet (that was mid-December).

The other thing is that I don’t really have a schedule set in stone. I loosely follow Dr. Maffetone’s weekly recommendations and I take Monday/Friday of so I can ride long on the weekends and recover afterwards. Though I have had to cut rides short/take day off when I wasn’t feeling great and vice versa. I have started to ride by ‘feel’ much more and I am beginning to teach myself to listen to my body – a constant process.

These are the points that I can tell you that jump out at me. I have found tremendous new motivation getting in tune with my body/nature and to be honest and it surprised me as well, racing is not a big priority for me – improving myself (on and off the bike) is million times more fun. Though I will be pinning a number when the time comes.=)

Best of luck with Dr. Maffetone’s methods and let me know if you have any questions.

As well come back often to the blog and stay tuned for my post(s) about my Maffetone training experience.



Hi Rocky,

A sidenote first, please avoid using all capital letters since it makes it difficult to read.

On to your question. First MAF HR represents the zone where your body is using predominantly fat as a fuel. However, if you are eating refined carbohydrates (flour and baked goods, sugar, corn etc.) and your body is producing insulin you are in energy storage mode – making fat rather than burning it so no matter the HR you are not training your fat burning endurance. Some with emphasis on some(very few) small spikes 3-5bpm as you are training are ok during a ride as wind and terrain etc changes, though you MAF HR should be your goal zone.

So assuming that you have the diet component in order, above MAF HR you start using more glucose. Glucose metabolism is more stressful and in a way more ‘dirty’ so it puts more strain on your body and as well relies on the limited (~2000kcal) glycogen. You might go faster though at much higher (health and metabolic) cost. My advice is stick with MAF, even if it is slow at first. If your diet and stress management are in order you will make progress; keep testing every 3-5weeks to make sure you are on track. Once the MAF tests plateau you can add some (limited number) higher pace workouts.

Best of luck with MAF training and let me know if you have more questions.


Hi Nikola,

First of all, thanks a lot for this post.
I recently discovered MAF formula through my friends.
I’m very new to Cycling (any form of workout for that matter) and been cycling since little more than couple of months. I realised I over-trained all this while after getting to know about MAF.
I did one ride couple of days ago with MAF HR in mind and it felt really good! My only problem is to keep my HR within the 10 BPM band since the trail here is not flatish. Can I add 5 BPM on the lower band? My MAF band is 139 to 149, is it okay of I train at 134 to 149?

Hi Prashanth,

Just to make sure I understand; you were overtrained before starting with MAF, if you overtrained while on MAF, definitely take a step back and reevaluate things (more on that in the paragraph below).

The MAF (Maximum Aerobic Function) heart rate represents the point (also called FatMAX) where your body utilises the highest amount of fat for energy, beyond that point (even a couple of beats) there is a big shift towards utilising glucose and as I mentioned above, this has many health and fitness disadvantages. Obviously a test with a gas mask is the best way to find FatMAX, the next best thing is running on the track where you can see a gait change around that point (this is what Dr. Maffetone used at the beginning). Therefore the 180 formula is the most practical approach and you may or may not have to tweak it a bit (try it as it is and see if you progress without injuries, etc at your MAF tests in the future). What I am trying to tell you is that by going ABOVE it is where you run into problems, and being couple of beats under contrary to what the popular “no pain, no gain” would tell you, you are ok. Especially as in your experiences I assume your hr drops on the downhills. Do MAF tests regularly, I post some practical tips in my article here on how to perform them on the bike and that should be your guide. If you improve you are doing thigns right, if not and even when you regress you need to readress in no particualr order – MAF hr possibly set up too high, eating a diet rich in carbohydrates so you produce to much insulin that impairs fat burning, too much stress. Eventually you will get a feel for it all and see what your body is doing.

Let me know how you fare and good luck with your cycling!


Hi there.

Thanks for the article. I am fully on board with the Maffetone method. I’ve bought into the whole thing. But I have an issue, especially on the bike, which maybe you’ve experienced or can advise on. My heart rate zone is 133-143bpm (180-37). However, I have to HAMMER the bike on an indoor trainer to get up to this. If I run, I barely go above walking pace before I’m in the zone. Same with swimming. Am I missing something, do you think?


Hi Dom,

What you describe is not entirely unreasonable since when we walk/run there is gravity that we have to work against and on the bike and to more or less similar degree in swimming, we don’t have to use energy to support our bodyweight. Number of people report something similar and although I have no personal experience with running and swimming at MAF yet, I have some suggestions:

1. Does it take the same amount of effort to staying the MAF zone when biking outdoors? If yes, i think it points towards your muscles (neuromuscular system) not being used to cycling and it takes some adaptation. I do not know your cycling background and/or your fit on the bike, to give you more information.

2. If you do NOT have to really hammer on the bike when outdoors, maybe a bit more information on the type of indoor trainer you are using and could be a problem with setting up the resistance correctly. Do you have a powermeter or any other way to measure your actual effort?

From the information you have given me, i think it is fine, though with more I should be able to assist further.



Hi Nikola

Thanks very much for your reply. I don’t have a power meter, but I suspect you’re right. I certainly can’t maintain the cadence I use on the trainer when I’m out on the road.

I’ve tended towards high cadence over higher resistance to get into and maintain HR. I thought this may be better, in terms of wear and tear to my legs. Trying to keep everything low impact.

Does that sound sensible or would you recommend something else?

Thanks again

Hi Dom,

I suggest that a cadence in the 80-90rpm is a decent range and try to get the needed resistance on the trainer so you can get into your MAF zone by being in that cadence.

While higher cadence is in theory easier on the joints, besides crashes most injuries in cycling are overuse ones as a result of poor biomechanics, higher stress/impact only adds to what is already there. I point you towards an excellent article by bike fitter Steve Hogg. You can take a look at the rest of his articles and bike fitting principles and there is Steve Hogg certified fitter in the UK (Newbury) that I can recommend very highly. You can read my experience with Scherrit Knoesen here.

I agree with your approach that starting easier and keeping things low impact is a very sensible way of doing things, though you better address any other issues before you start adding strength and power to the equation and problems start creeping up. There is plenty of information on Steve Hogg’s site to keep you busy. That doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with your current setup, though as I say better start on the correct foot.=)



Great article Nikola…just wanted to say thanks. You should check out Chris McDougall’s new book ‘Natural Born Heroes’. It’s a fascinating read where the author shares amazing stories about the defence of Crete in the Second World War alongside the training insights of Phil Maffetone. I read the book and started using the MAF method the next day.

Hi Jonathan,
Thanks for the comment. As the saying goes: “There is more than one road to Rome” or in this case the MAF method.=) I read Natural Born Heroes pretty much in one go a month or two ago. As a matter of fact, just last week I updated the Bookshelf section of the site with both of Christopher McDougall’s books. I personally found Born to Run equally fascinating.

Best of luck with MAF, you will be amazed I am positive,


Thanks Nikola…where I am struggling to understand the MAF method is in terms of my normal cycling program. I live in a city with a lot of world tour level riders. At least 5 of our morning bunch rides are hard…some very hard. What happens if your trying to use the MAF method but sometimes you just have to raise your HR to stay with your regular rides?

Hi Jonathan,
My first advice is not to look at the MAF method (and life in general) in such a clinical and compartmentalized manner. It is called ‘the MAF method,’ though it is a very wide and far reaching subject; I hate the word, though holistic, is one way of calling it. It focuses on every aspect (food, managing stress, training, motivation, etc.) and most importantly, YOU taking charge of it all and seeing what works best in your situation (job, family, etc). It starts with regaining your health and fitness. With that being said (I am going only on the information you have given me), you mentioned you went to the MAF method after reading Natural Born Heroes, and as far as I remember the information in the book was very very limited. As such, I can’t recommend high enough reading “The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing;” in addition Dr. Maffetone is a guest on many podcasts (Endurance Planet is one) where he answers lots of common questions people have. My point being, it is NOT just training at 180-age heart rate, this is probably 5% of the big picture. Always look at the big picture and ask why.

Going further, if your regular rides require you to go harder than your MAF HR, then quite simply this is not the place for you to be training. Also you mention 5 rides, if that number is per week, it is far too much intensity for ANY level, pro or not. Almost all group rides tend to turn into sprint for everything, out of every corner hammerfests (both my personal experience and looking at others around me points to that fact unfortunately); most successful coaches tell their athletes to ride in groups only occasionally, mostly for pack riding skills and final pre-race preparation.

Why and what happens if you go much harder than you are supposed to? Above your MAF HR, glucose (carbohydrates) starts to become the predominantly used fuel, you train anaerobically. I am simplifying it, though this metabolism is our fight or flight response, it is not designed to be used for prolonged periods of time since it is highly stressful (I point you towards my article on stress) as well as it is highly pro-inflammatory (oxidative damage). Sometimes (huge emphasis on sometimes) it is ok to sprint and ramp up the intensity since all systems (fat metabolism, glucose metabolism, etc) need to be optimized (an article coming on that soon), though you only need very little amount of intensity for it to have a positive effect. You getting in tune with your body and aerobic (fat burning) base should always take priority, you will know when you are ready to go hard, trust me on that. How much is too much? Your MAF tests should be your guide. If you progress WITHOUT injuries, colds, fatigue, gut distress, etc, you are doing fine, if you regress, whatever is happening in your life is too much (I am just finishing an article with my experience with that, and it should be published hopefuly by the end of first week of Jan 2017).

I understand that the whole thing seems opposite to what the media is screaming at us, and it is a major shift in perspective and way of doing things, though my advice is after reading Dr. Maffetone’s book is to take a step back and objectively and honestly evaluate things such as diet, stressors, training methods, etc. Also do a MAF test to have a baseline, if you have to pedal very easy while doing it and every little hint of effort sends your HR up, there are most likely many things that need fixing and as I mentioned above, group rides, especially with Worldtour riders should not be part of your training regimen for a while. I really don’t know much about your health and cycling background to give you more specific pointers.

A final tip, this is a long term (lifetime) journey, not jsut somethign you do for x number of hours per week and you can’t change it all at once, you have to be patient at first, you are looking for sustained positive experiences and progress over time. You can view my ME and MAF tagged articles to get an idea of how MY OWN journey started and is continuing (practical tips on doing MAF tests, etc). As the saying goes: “Your mileage may vary.”

Of course if you have other questions, just ask.=)



P.S. You can subscribe via email (Link at top right corner) since i have 2 articles coming up that I am sure would answer some of the questions you have and provide some background on the why behind the MAF method.

Hi Nikola..sorry for the delay. I want to say a huge thanks for your reply. It was so very helpful. I am loving your blog. I think you have such an important message to share with so many of us. It is a big transition for me to move from the intensity of what I have been doing for so long. However, I have loved the experience of allowing myself to ride with the lower HR. It seems I have rediscovered what I loved cycling for in the first place. I am waiting for a copy of Phil’s book to arrive but have also just received a copy of ‘Primal Endurance’ by Mark Sisson. Have you read that yet?

Hi Jonathan,
Thank you for the nice words and it is my turn to apologise for the delay…I am trying to handle too many prohjects at once. Sound like you are discovering what most of us seem to find once we slow down and really take a better look at the whole picture. Regarding Mark Sisson’s work, I discovered it much later after Dr. Maffetone’s publications and all the low carb, functional training literature I read. As such – all the Primal stuff was a very nice confirmation. There is a Primal endurance Podcast where Dr. Maffetone is a guest and the host(s) answer listener questions frequently as well. My experience with those books is that they are written in a more accessible way – ie if you are completely new to the whole thing, how to start and avoid the most commonly encountered mistakes and/or frustrations. The original authors (Dr. Maffetone, Drs. Phinney and Volek, etc.) and such go into VERY great detail on how everything works at the barebone fundamentals and at times can sound a bit clinical and maybe a touch overwhelming and a touch confusing for the beginner. Though as I say, you have to become a student of it all and how your journey progresses is personal. I myself revisit past books and with new knowledge I discover ideas I was not yet ready to comprehend. It’s a journey not a destination.=)


Is it important to ramp up the intensity gradually too? My understanding is that if you’re at resting HR and your power is at the 180 minus age power, it becomes aerobic once your HR catches up. An example would be commuting with many stops.

Hi Han-Lin,

Thank you for the comment. I am not quite sure I completely understand your question, though I will do my best to explain, you can reply to this comment for further clarification.=)

To use an example so it is easier to illustrate. You have a MAF power of 200W and MAF HR zone 130-140bpm. When commuting and stopped you are at 0W and say 100bpm, so if I understand correctly your question, you want to know if you are still ‘aerobic’ @ 100bpm even though you are not doing anything. The short answer is ‘yes’. How much less of an effect is it if you are riding at 130-140bpm and 190-200W? I don’t know and unless somebody can strap a gas exchange metabolic testing equipment (currently quite bulky) and actually measure it, it is all guesswork. The important thing to consider is that in biology/physiology things very and I do mean very rarely work in a black and white binary fashion as such it is not a case that everything just goes on immediate standby when you stop as you are commuting. You are still being active. This is another reason why having an active lifestyle, rather than sitting down for 8+h is very important for fat burning/health and ultimately fitness. It is simply a game of numbers – you live 24h a day not just the time you dedicate to athletic activities.

Here is an important point to make that is in regards as ramping up the intensity. It is quite easy to really ‘slam it’ each time you restart and even though your HR takes time to catch up, those little ‘sprints’ add up and definitely cause fatigue and soreness. For the last year and a half 8-9 out of my 10-12 weekly riding hours are done on quite a hilly commute where you have downhills to add up to the traffic lights so I experienced first hand how those little accelerations can add up (it takes time such as weeks and moths though it adds up if you are not careful). Riding at a constant *sustainable* pace is the most efficient way and learning how to do it is a skill (quite important for bicycle racing as well). On the other hand I see constant progress both on some MAF segments I have on my commute (faster times) and on my road bike (where I have a power meter). How much more or less progress would I have seen if I ‘trained’ rather than commuted? Unless I have a time machine and can mimic everything else (work/life stress, diet, sleep, etc.) I won’t ever know. Though, this is not important and not the point I am trying to make.

The whole idea of the MAF method is how to make it all (stress, training time, work, family, diet, etc) work in YOUR particular situation. It takes some experimentation and getting it wrong occasionally.=)



If your MAF power is 200W and suddenly start at 200W when your HR is say 80BPM, I guess the reduced blood flow at first would make it anaerobic. HR takes a while to respond. I have a better idea of the feel of proper pacing when I used a trainer. Don’t power meters make ramping up the intensity without mini sprints easier?


It is more clear for me now what your initial question was and you make a very important point. I think it is good to separate metabolical (fat burning for energy) and neuromuscular (amount of force your muscles have to produce in order to get from 0 to 200W as a start). Standing start is pretty much the highest torque you can put on a bicycle frame so if you are in a way ‘making an acceleration’ you have to engage more muscle fibers (neuromuscular) in order to do that and as such it is more towards a sprint and it *might* tap into the glucose/ATP-phosphocreatine systems until you settle down into a nicer rhythm and the fat burnign system can take over. It is a different type of effort than going steady at 200W @ MAF HR. As I mentioned earlier to you, you can overdo it (stop and go accelerations) and it adds up fatigue/body stress wise. Whether it is anaerobic, I am not completely certain what you can call it, and not sure how exactly blood flow is related to it. Though Dr. Maffetone himself says that warm-up is important in order to get the blood flow slowly increased, otherwise going straight at your MAF HR would be interpreted as a stress.

Power meters are a nice tool and they give you a number that you can correlate to your MAF HR, though a lot of times (and I was like that not too long ago) we get hung up on numbers and forget to listen to what our bodies are telling us. Yes you can use it to see how not to overdo it and ramp up steadily, though again the most important is to realise how it *feels* since our condition is variable – we have days with good and with bad legs.=)



Thanks for your words and experience about Maffetone Method. I think we have several things in common. LCHF diet, Steve Hogg (been reading his articles for a long time) and now I’m thinking about going to see The Bike Whisperer. It’s a long journey, South Spain, but I guess it’s worth it.


Hi and thank you for the nice words,

Indeed it was Steve Hogg that highly recommended Dr. Maffetone’s Big yellow book and for that I am forever grateful. I can also say only positive things regarding my visit at The Bike Whisperer ( It is definitely worth it. Though as Steve Hogg says himself we function on the bike only as well as we function off it, therefore something that I always advise is mobilisation work – Kelly Starrett comes to mind and his excellent book – “Becoming a Supple Leopard.” Therefore by using Steve’s articles (and your head=) ) and improving your functionality (what does that mean you can read more in my article here: off the bike you can get massive improvements.

One thing that can be more challenging is foot correction since it involves patented methods that only 5-6 people in the world can use, although Steve Hogg has quite some information on that in his series of articles here:

Have fun with all your cycling endeavours!


HI Nicola, I came across your article while trying to find information on nutrition during rides and races while following MAF and low carb diet. I gave only been following the MAF way of training/living for a month and being that I am 57, making my maximum training heart rate 123, I am finding it to be a bit limiting but am determined to persevere. My problem is that I am used to using carbohydrate/electrolyte drinks and gels or bats during long training sessions and during triathlons and I am not sure what to replace this with. I understand the concept is for the body to burn fat for fuel, but does that mean that if you are doing 4-6 hour rides, or doing 1/2 Iron man triathlons, you only take water and nothing else?

Hi Brenda,

Thank you for the comment. You ask a very common question, which crops quite often among those new to MAF (and myself included at one point). While being metabolically limited aka relying on the tiny reserves of carbohydrates we have (~2000kcal), bonking or hitting the wall is always a possibility, therefore it is inconceivable how can you train and let alone race at a sustained high pace for long duration without eating. Fat burning is exremely potent and as you train your body to do that more efficiently you will need less or none external calories/less food to take during a race/long rides. Also keep in mind that is not a question of getting into extremes, however, of becomming metabolically efficient – burning both fat and carbohydrates when needed. For more information you can check my article here ( ALso metabolicaly efficient does NOT mean, not taking any food if you need it.

Regarding how much to eat during long rides/races, you will have to experiment *in training* to see what works and yes that means getting it wrong every once in a while. In my opinion for training you should be fine with just water. The take home message here is that the brain is the best fitness tracker and in it we already have all the necessary programs evolved over many thousands of years, we just have to (re)learn how to listen to our bodies. There is no formula and I send you a word of caution that if anybody claims oterhwise they are either lying or misinformed.=)

Stick with MAF and while frustrating at first, you are doing it for *your* own wellbening and health and no need to comapre yourself to others. It’s a lifetime journey and a lifestyle. The positive benefits will come, don’t worry.=)

Best of luck with MAF!

My husband is 50 – has spent 3 months fully dedicated to maf. This morning he went for a ride with local bunch for then first time in ages and has come home very despondent as he was the slowest there and had no zip Hey stated that maf is not good for cyclists because it kills top end speed. When will that top end speed return? Or does he just need to start doing say 1 or 2 intervals a week? Or should he be giving it a bit more time?

Hi Tania,

Thank you for the comment. If every time i got a dollar when (a cyclist) told me that MAF kills top speed, I would be a much wealthier man.=) Jokes aside, you asked some very common questions.

First, I am just going from what you described in the message, with more specific information i would be able to advise you(r husband) further. You just mention he has been doing MAF for three months, though most importantly did he change his diet, lower stress and last but not least did he perform regular MAF tests and did they show regular improvement? These are fundamentals (of MAF).

Regarding MAF killing top speed, this is very misunderstood. If you ask any athlete what would happen if they stop training, they would probably laugh and say they will lose form. This is obvious, however, what athletes ignore is the same happens when you don’t train your top speed. However, MAF training says that you should train strictly aerobically (or call it slow) and everything else is too stressful and should be avoided. This gets treated as gospel and people stop doing any speed/high intensity stuff altogether. In my opinion, since most people come to MAF from years of chronic overtraining and/or years of inactivity coupled with the A-type personality most endurance athletes have, the best course of action is to slow down and that means some drastic measures (*zero* anaerobic training). The truth is that you can do anything AS LONG AS your MAF tests keep improving over the long term (months) and you do not get injured, sick , etc. The tricky part is to be able to do the * really * hard workouts at really maximum in order to have breakthroughs in fitness and performance. Most people always train at medium so they are too tired to really go hard an improve in the long term and never go easy in order to recover.This is where MAF training really shines since it is low stress so it creates the ‘base’ from which you can build on.

So something a bit more specific (with some suggestions at the end of my answer)– the only 2 aspects that one should be training are metabolic and neuromuscular. Let me explain.

In very simple terms, metabolic provides the fuel for the neuromuscular. Metabolic is fat burning. Neuromuscular comes for your ability of the muscles to produce Maximum Sustainable Power (MSP). This means you have the brain activating maximum number of motor units in the muscles. This is STRENGTH or how you produce force – or pushing hard. Strength is s skill – neuromsucular phenomena. You train this by maximal efforts in the gym – (2-3 reps at ~80% of your maximum). AFTERWARDS you take all those activated muscle units and you teach them to contract FAST. This is Power – hard AND fast. This is the ‘nutrition’ (ie full of controversy and misunderstanding) of the strength and conditioning world. Why?

When you do for example big chairing/overgeared efforts you are not engaging maximum number of motor units (the effort does not cause neuromuscular overload) and the speed of contraction is slow. You learn to be a tow truck. When you do ‘intervals/speedwork’ all you are doing is again engaging limited number of muscle motor units fast – ie you are overrevving at third gear – you are the tiny compact car trying to go full speed on the highway. Almost all workouts are a combination of the above and as such don’t train MAXIMAL power – you get suboptimal results for a lot of effort. In the end it is Maximal Sustainable Power (MSP) that makes you go fast, win races, be the hammer on the local group ride rather than the nail. You want to be the Ferrari and not the tow truck or the tiny compact car.

How do yo do this? I cannot recommend highly enough the book “Maximum Overload for Cyclists” by Jacques DeVore. It is a 12 week problem developing MSP. It works wonders. I have extremely positive experience with it and it is probably the most significant thing that has happened to my training (together with MAF). I am not saying this lightly since I have decades of gym experience and have done it all – the good, the bad and sadly the ugly. Without trying to give you any preconceived notions before getting the book…

1. It is a bit of a confusing read – write out the program down (really). And it will make sense and do NOT skip the evaluations and body mobilizations. Also Jacques DeVore runs a gym – Sirens and Titans and he coaches cyclists via distance at very reasonable rates and he also answers questions regarding the book. Look him up and he will help you.
2. During the first 4-5 weeks you will be VERY stiff and sore (and you thought MAF was slow…). Give it time.

As final advice, the whole thing (MAF, etc) takes time. 3 months is enough to give you glimpse of what you can achieve in the long term, while at the same time is too short of a time to get back to ‘your previous numbers.’ Gotta look at the big picture and keep that long term goal in mind.

I have given you a LOT of information so if you have any questions please let me know either in the comments here or via my email (contact info in the top menu).

Best of luck!


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