Aerobic or Anaerobic? – The Right Way At The Right Time

Most athletes exercise anaerobically the majority of the time, rather than aerobically. Aerobic exercise (not aerobics, such as “aerobics” class), is when you are exercising within a specific heart rate zone, (a certain intensity), which will be discussed. Please see the Sock Doc Training Principles for a thorough understanding of aerobic, anaerobic, interval training, and strength training. Anaerobic activity is whenever you exercising withing a higher intensity zone and usually whenever you lift weights or perform some type of strength training. Read on to learn how to build an aerobic base and know when to exercise anaerobically. Not only will your fitness improve like never before, but your health will too.


  • BUILD YOUR AEROBIC BASE: For optimum health and performance it is critical to develop the aerobic system. Many athletes are not as fit as they should be because they have never fully developed the aerobic system.
  • It takes months, sometimes even years, to fully build the aerobic system. A healthy aerobic base is advised before implementation of any anaerobic interval training, “speed work.” Doing anaerobic work  too early can lead to physical and mental burnout, illness, injury, and poor aerobic development.
  • Strength and conditioning may be perfectly fine and advised during your aerobic base building period.
  • Use a heart rate monitor along with the following methods to build your aerobic base.



Option 1: Use the Maffetone Method described below
Option 2: Use Joe Friel’s Field Test and Zone Training described below
Option 3: Find a lab (often at a university) to perform metabolic testing (gas analyzer and/or lactate testing). These usually cost around $150 and their accuracy is somewhat dependent upon the technician skill level. For some this may be the most accurate, though most inconvenient test.


This method, developed  by Dr. Phil Maffetone, focuses on finding your aerobic training zone using the following simple formula and then conducting periodic tests to see when you should no longer be exercising within that heart rate zone. It is the simplest of all three options, and the one I use most to help athletes build their aerobic base.

First – The Formula:

1) Subtract your age from 180
2) Modify this number by choosing below:
a. If you have or are recovering from a major illness or if you are on medication, subtract an additional 10
b. If you have not exercised before or have been exercising but have been injured, sick, going “down hill” or have asthma or allergies, subtract an additional 5
c. If you have been exercising for more than two years and making progress without any problems, add 5
d. If you have been exercising for up to two years without any significant problems, then keep the result of 180 – your age

Next – Put the number to work:

Now that you have your Maximum Aerobic Heart Rate number, it is important that you exercise accordingly.

  • Warm-Up for 10-15 minutes at a heart rate of 10-20 beats below your Max aerobic HR.
  • Exercise at an intensity 0-10 beats below your max aerobic heart rate, but not over.
  • Cool-Down for 10-15 minutes at a HR similar to the warm-up, but now with decreasing intensity.
  • If you plan to exercise only 20-30 minutes, your workout will be a warm-up & cool-down.

You are 40 years old, have exercised 2-3 times a week for the last 3 years but have general nagging health problems including sore knees when you run.
180 – 40 – 5(b) = 135

Let’s say you have 40 minutes to go for a jog/run:

  • Warm-Up while increasing your HR up to 115-125 for 15 minutes
  • Keep your heart rate between 125-135 for 10 minutes
  • Cool-Down while decreasing your HR from 125 down to your normal walking heart rate


Many individuals starting this program will realize that they have been exercising well over their maximum aerobic heart rate and will think the number is wrong and “not applicable to them.” Give it time, it will pay off. It may take months.

If you were once running, you may need to “jog,” or even walk. If you come to a hill, you may need to walk up it. If you exercise with friends, you now have to exercise alone unless they are able to work out at your true aerobic heart rate. (Aerobic activity allows you to talk to friends.)

“When Can I Exercise Harder?”

Ideally you should add anaerobic endurance activity when your maximum aerobic function levels off, or “plateaus.” This is determined by your Maximum Aerobic Function Test (MAF). In the following example, it is when this runner went through month #7 and month #8 with no improvement in their mile split, at the same consistent (135) HR. So in month #9, this person would start to add in some anaerobic workouts.


1 135 9:05
2 135 8:48
3 135 8:22
4 135 8:05
5 135 8:00
6 135 7:40
7 135 7:24
8 135 7:24



  • Anaerobic endurance activity can be very stressful to the body; if done too soon (without an aerobic base) or too often, your health will suffer.
  • Anaerobic activity is performed whenever you are working above your maximum aerobic heart rate, most types of weight lifting (regardless of HR), and racing.
  • Do not exceed 3 anaerobic workouts per week, never back-to-back, never more than 5 weeks in an “anaerobic block”, and never over 90% of your MAX HR (not aerobic max), other than during short (20 second) sprints.
  • Anaerobic activity increases free radicals very quickly when done too much or too often, thereby diminishing health.
  • Excess anaerobic activity can limit aerobic function so you’re burning more sugar and less fat. Check out Sock Doc’s “Warning Signs of Overtraining”


This test was developed by Joe Friel – a well known running, cycling, and triathlon coach. The test is explained below and then put into his formula to obtain training zones.

There are external variables to consider for this test. Your diet (such as sugar and caffeine) can impact the results of the test. For example, if you drink a lot of caffeine or ate a lot of sugar before one test and not the other, you most likely will get different results. The same goes if you are under a lot of emotional stress one day and not the other. Weather and equipment are factors too. The point of this test is to get an accurate measurement of your lactate threshold to base your training zones off of. Lactate levels are “moving targets” – they are never the same and many factors influence lactate levels. Your lactate threshold (also known as your anaerobic threshold), is the point when lactate (from lactic acid) builds up in the body faster than it can be removed – and it is occurring at a constant heart rate. Many athletes refer to this as “the red line” and a perceived exertion of 7 or 8 on a 1-10 scale (10 being the hardest).

*Note* This method is for the more advanced athlete who perhaps needs to further expand their aerobic system and/or another method is not working for them. However, please note that this test is based off your LTHR (described next) and that can change, even from day to day. Also, you’re still training aerobically no matter what method you use. In this method, Zone 2 most often correlates with the 180-Age Formula.

  • Step 1: Determine your lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR)

To find your LTHR do a 30-minute time trial all by yourself (no training partners and not in a race). It should be done as if it was a race for the entire 30 minutes. At 10 minutes into the test click the lap button on your heart rate monitor. When done look to see what your average heart rate was for the last 20 minutes. That number is an approximation of your LTHR. Go hard for the entire 30 minutes. Be aware that most people doing this test go too hard the first few minutes and then gradually slow down for the remainder. That will give you inaccurate results. The more times you do this test the more accurate your LTHR will become as you will learn to pace yourself better at the start.

  • Step 2: Establish your training zones with the following guide to establish each zone for running & cycling

Run Zones:

Zone 1 – Less than 85% of LTHR – these are recovery workouts

Zone 2  – 85% to 89% of LTHR – long workouts – very aerobic – Ironman pace

Zone 3 – 90% to 94% of LTHR – high aerobic – ½ Ironman pace

Zone 4 – 95% to 99% of LTHR – race pace up to 1 hour – don’t train here too much

Zone 5 – 100% and higher of LTHR – all Zone 5 are sprints, hills, anaerobic short intensities


Bike Zones:

Zone 1 – Less than 81% of LTHR

Zone 2 – 81% to 89% of LTHR

Zone 3 – 90% to 93% of LTHR

Zone 4 – 94% to 99% of LTHR

Zone 5 – 100% to 102% of LTHR



  • The majority of training should be done within Zone 2, and for more experienced athletes with a well developed aerobic foundation, Zone 3 training is advised. These are your main aerobic building zones. Zone 1 is for very easy recovery days and Zone 4 should be avoided most often because training too close to LTHR is a great way to overtrain. Keep Zone 4 to those group rides/runs maybe one time a week max; racing too.
  • The amount of aerobic training you perform depends on what you’re training for. Obviously training for an Ironman is going to involve much more aerobic activity (and much less anaerobic) than if you are training for a 5K trail run. Training for an IM might mean 15 or more total hours per week of aerobic activity while the 5K training could be as little as a few runs a week of 30-40 minutes each.
  • As with Maffetone’s Method, you should be testing yourself every so often – typically every 3 to 6 weeks – to see your progress (hopefully not regression) – and adjust your training accordingly. Testing is done by keeping your HR within a certain range/zone over a certain distance, and seeing if your time is better, or worse.
  • All the previous points regarding aerobic and anaerobic training are applicable with both methods.
  • Again, weight lifting and other types of strength conditioning should be tailored to your specific need/activity and modified throughout your training plan.

Ready to do some anaerobic endurance? Think short and fast and warm-up aerobically at least 15 minutes first. Here’s a few anaerobic workout examples:

  • Sprint 20-30 seconds with 60-90 second recoveries for 4-5 repeats
  • Run hills – find a steep hill that takes your HR into Zone 5 for 60 seconds. Recover on the way down. 4-5 repeats
  • After the warm-up, stay in Zone 4 for 4-5 minutes. Drop it back to Zone 1-2 for 10 minutes. Then back to Zone 4 for another 4-5 minutes.
  • Plyometic exercises like box jumps and power lunges are a great way to develop balance, power, speed, and your anaerobic system too.

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  1. Frederic Devos says

    Interesting article you wrote there! I like the fact you pulled together views of 2 of the most influencial people in endurance sports. Good decision! And again a few little tips I can incorporate into my training strategy/philosophy.

    My main observation is that Joe Friel describes a difference between bike and run in terms of HR zones. Since about 5 months or so, I’ve been reading up a lot on Phil Maffetone’s knowledge and advice. Phil recommends the same maximum aerobic HR for both bike and run. While 145-155bpm is just right for me when running, I am pushing it pretty hard when on the bike. I reckon the fact that bike workouts are generally much longer automatically brings the ideal HR zone down by about 10 beats. I choose to stay within 130-145 when cycling. That’s where I think Joe Friel gets it pretty spot-on…

    With respect to the explaining for each of Joe Friel’s training zones, I would have to add that a half-ironman pace is, in my opinion, too high an intensity as a main aerobic building zone, even for experienced athletes wiith well-developped MAP. I would suggest zone 1 for ‘beginners’ (to use a simplistic term) as well as for the more experienced, and zone 2 for the more experienced only.

    I hope you appreciate my thought :)
    Lovely website, by the way!

    Frederic Devos, MChiro (and amateur triathlon-enthusiast)

  2. tristanjenkin says

    This article completely contradicts the training philosophy on I can’t see how training exclusively in the aerobic zone would make you faster on race day when you are clearly pushing your body into anaerobic. ALso, you are forgetting to mention that when you train your anaerobic zone, you are inherently training your aerobic because anaerobic is supported by aerobic. Is this not true? I understand people have different schools of thought, but this article is totally opposite of all the contemporary literature I have been reading.

    • says

      Sure, and it probably contradicts a lot of other philosophies out there. Aerobic is the foundation for endurance fitness, no matter how you look at it – even if you’re completely anaerobic during your race, such as in a 400m track race. Also, if you read everything I say, you’ll see that training your aerobic base is only advised up until a certain point, and then some anaerobic activity is recommended. Problem is, most people train anaerobic way too much and many train more anaerobic than aerobic. I did not forget to mention that when you are anaerobic you are training your aerobic to some degree. You’re always training BOTH to some degree, unless you’re in an all-out sprint. Again, this is explained in the articles.

      • tristanjenkin says

        Thank you for the reply. The content on your site is great and I really appreciate your videos. Please keep them coming!

    • says

      I noticed your comment while reading some older articles on my holiday break and thought I’d mention something about it:

      Crossfit Endurance too easily discounts the long, slow, distance (lsd) training effect of mitochondrial development and capillarization (check out their FAQ page). These ensure far better fat burning and recovery. As far as I understand, anaerobic training does not produce the same effect. Training the Crossfit Endurance way during a competitive season may be okay as long as a decent aerobic base is worked on in the off season.

      Sock-Doc, is it correct to say that no significant mitochondrial development or capillarization occurs with anaerobic training?

      • says

        Hi Sam, good question and I hope to have a big post up on this later this week. The Crossfitters and others who have recently been trashing aerobic exercise saying it increases cortisol and is very damaging to the body don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. They’re talking extremes, and it’s just as bad as someone who only does aerobic day in, day out, and thinks anaerobic is harmful.

        Mitochondria love to burn fat, and sugar too, (but they prefer fat), but if you’re always training the same intensity & duration aerobically you’re not going to keep making more and more mitochondria. They need a challenge, so that means you increase the aerobic activity (intensity/frequency) or obviously add in some anaerobic to stimulate them; sprints or power exercises are great. So, since you’re asking, your statement is not correct. Anaerobic training does help with mitochondrial development. People forget that nutrients such as vitamin B3, biotin, and carnitine are necessary for healthy mitochondria. So if you lack those, which can happen with overtraining, then the mitochondria will also suffer.

        • says

          Great, thanks! So I guess the main issues to discuss in the aerobic versus anaerobic debate are over training and combating that through seasonalizing and a balance of intensity?

          I have a bunch of questions bouncing around in my head about different types of muscle fibers, mitochondria, and capillarization, but I’ll hold off until your article comes out.

          Thanks again, Steve. I really appreciate your willingness to take the time to share all of this useful knowledge.

          • says

            You got it right Sam. There are definitely a lot of questions surrounding this and I’m sure it will be a huge debate. Just what I like :)

  3. Steve says

    Thanks for the article. As you know there are many resources on the internet offering crazy ways to establish heart rate zones. I am a competetive mountain bike & cyclocross racer; have had a cycling coach for more than year and ride year round (not always easy in Michigan). I recently shelled out the money for a performance lab test locally and can say, without a doubt, there is no accurate way other than a formal lab test to establish heart rate zones. Let me explain: During my first year of coaching I completed 4 CTS Field Tests. Protocol was alway indoor on a trainer. Each test resulted in a max heart rate of 184, 185, 185 & 186; indicating we are sure of my max (max heart rate is also another over used, rarely understood term, but don’t get me started). With this information we created HR Zones according to conventional wisdom, being Zone 1 = a certain percentage of max, Zone 2 = a certain percentage of max, etc. Therefore we established my heart rate zones as:
    Z1: <= 126
    Z2: 127 – 142 (which we all know is one of the most important zones)
    Z3: 143 – 161
    Z4: 162 – 177
    Z5: 178+
    The results of the performance lab test (VO2 P.A.S. technology) changed my zones DRAMATICALLY:
    Z1: <= 155
    Z2: 156 – 166 (Aerobic Base = 161)
    Z3: 167 – 174
    Z4: 175 – 184
    Z5: 185+
    I was riding base miles & sub lactic efforts in recovery, lactic intervals in SLE, etc!

    As you can see (I know I am not in the "norm", but that is precisely the point), my coach and I established all my base rides a full 18 – 20bpm lower than what my body actually needed.


    • says

      Thanks for the info Steve. But I’m a bit confused. Z4 range is typically the top of lactate threshold. So you have that at 175-184 (184 being your LT). That’s the same as your max HR, which is of course, impossible. It also puts you at a very high Z2 aerobic base – close to 90% of your max HR. With a 184-185 max your aerobic zone (Z2 and Z3) would span from approx 140-160 HR. Can you clarify or am I lost?

      • Brent Buckner says

        The CTS Field Tests were indicating that Steve’s maximum heart rate was 184-185. Apparently, his actual maximum heart rate was significantly higher than the CTS Field Tests were indicating. Presumably, CTS Field Tests are submaximal tests for estimating maximum.

  4. Scott says

    Hi Sock Doc, I am training for a marathon and after reading your blog and the Big Book of Endurance I am a bit confused at the results of my HR Testing. Based on the MAF testing I should be training aerobically at 131-141 AHR which is approx 10:30 min/mile however based on Joe Friels testing I should be training at 151 – 158 AHR which is more like a 9:15 – 9:30 min/mile.

    I prefer the 9 min mile because that is confortable for me but want to make sure I have a good aerobic base before completing a marathon in 10 weeks.

    Thanks, Scott

    Heart Rate Testing
    MAF 180 – Age = 141
    MAF Test Time Average HR
    Mile 1 10:01 140
    Mile 2 10:15 141
    Mile 3 10:35 140
    Mile 4 10:41 140
    Mile 5 10:52 141

    Joe Friel’s Lactate Threshold heart Rate (LTHR)
    Average: 178 Max HR 182
    Low end HR High end HR
    Z1 (0<85%) 151.3
    Z2 (85-89%) 151.3 158.4
    Z3 (90-94%) 160.2 167.3
    Z4 (95-99%) 169.1 176.2
    Z5 (100% or higher) 178

    • says

      If you’re in good health with no injuries and eat well and are under low stress, and you feel you did an accurate LT test, then I’d use that number. Monitor your performance though, and if you’re not seeing improvements (in time at same HR) then you will want to adjust.

        • says

          I had the same doubt. Thanks Scott.
          And I have a new doubt, Sock Doc.

          Suppose I chose to follow Friel’s zone 2.
          When you say “Monitor your performance though, and if you’re not seeing improvements (in time at same HR) then you will want to adjust.” the heart rate should be based on Friel’s test or on Maffetone’s formula?

          PS: I have some data on MAF tests with HR based on Maffetone’s 180-age formula.

          • says

            You may change your training based off neither. Ideally you should have a lactate test done. I think everybody should have one done at least once, and although it’s a “moving target” and changes (should change), it’s your best indicator of where to train.

            And of course maybe it’s time to stick in some speed – anaerobic; hills/intervals/strength endurance.

  5. Davy says

    I have followed Arthur Lydiards Aerobic training for 2 yrs and have gone from running 10k in 36m10 to 32m56 last wk. I am 31 and my 3kSteeplechase time fell from 11m16 to 9m46 and I plan sub 32min 10k and 9m15Steeplechase this summer. Aerobic conditioning makes u fast very fast and Lydiard wrote about 400m runners winning Olympic gold that ran 100miles a wk aerobic. I ran 100miles in a wk at my top aerobic level “pleasantly tired” and my 150bpm time avg dropped from 8min per mile to 6m30. The only thing that makes me run poor is too much anaerobic training. U see with aerobic training ur whole life improves and u feel invincible and want to run fast train hard as it feels easy. But as as Lydiard said Anaerobic conditioning is important but too much will ruin the good condition aerobic training has built up. U don’t want to run today? How often do u say this after a hard workout? Never after a nice aerobic run at the top aerobic pace. Just before u go anaerobic. I ran 32m56 off aerobic training now I start anaerobic to get a bit faster but 95% of full fitness comes from aerobic training alone. Add a fast last mile if u want to an aerobic run it won’t tax u too much and all those fast last miles add up by the way!!

    • says

      Great info and a testimonial to the superior benefits of aerobic training. I have read Lydiar’s stuff too; it’s awesome. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Ben says

    Sock Doc:

    1. New to training aerobically. In two weeks I’ve already started to feel way better than with anaaerobic training 100% of the time. My body can’t wait to go running everyday now!. Change is happening fast.

    How do I gauge the amount of aerobic running I should do daily and weekly?

    Feels like I can now suddenly run 6 or 7 miles a day without any of the old soreness, problems, etc. Should I just run to my hearts content as I am making massive aerobic gains right now?

    2. At first I was worried that because I am not burning the same amount of calories (or sweating as much it seems), that this type of workout will not help me lose weight nearly as much. Should I use my heart rate monitor and run aerobically “long enough” to compensate for the “trade-off” in calories?

    Thanks so much. Addicted to your site.

    • says

      Awesome to hear; thanks Ben!

      The amount of aerobic is based off your goals and your progress, as I touch upon in the Sock Doc Training Principles. Yes, if you’re making gains on 6-7mi/day then keep going.

      No, calories don’t mean everything. You’re going to burn roughly the same amount of calories whether you walk 6 miles or run them, or crawl them, but what you burn will be drastically different. You’re now burning fat more, not just during the run but after too. When you’re anaerobic you’re burning more sugar than fat and that process continues for up to 10 hours later – that’s not healthy.

      My advice is to not worry about miles. Measure time and heart rate only.

  7. John C says

    Hey Sock Doc gotta say I love the info here and i love the 5 training priciples articles i just fiinished reading as well. I now understand I need to incorporate in some aerobic work with my basketball training, I am a college basketball player and I am great shape my BMI is around 5% (probably even a little lower now that i have been on a strict Paleo diet the last few months).My diet is on point and so is my sleep and recovery. My cardiovascular endurance has always been good all my life I have been in the best shape on my team but when i train in the offseason and even in season i feel most of the warning signs of overtraining and have dealt with shin splints and plantar fascitis before (however not anymore thanks to you).
    I just am not sure about how to really use this aerobic training as it pertains to my goals the idea of doing anything aerobic to train for basketball is completely new to me. I am pretty fast with some good explosiveness but it could be better, When it comes to basketball I am really skilled and have a lot of the mental game developed, now i need to increase my speed, vertical, and agility to put me over the hump and really become a great player. So as I am getting ready to train again this offseason my main goal is to become faster, quicker, and jump higher. My plan was to do strength training and plyometrics on my lower body 2 times a week like Monday and Friday and then also train my upperbody 2-3 times a week like Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday. Paired up with this I can not neglect still improving on the court so mostly on my upper body days i will be doing some skill work on the court or playing pick up games. On Monday and Friday nights i will do some light jump shooting because of the intensity of my leg workout earlier that day. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays I will be doing some skill work or playing some pick up games to work on playing against other people. I will basically be training twice a day about 4-5 days a week and have sundays as recovery days. My question is do you think this is just going to lead me down the road of over training? I also must note that I roughly followed this schedule last year and was definitely overtraining but when i did my skill work i was going too hard and training very anaerobic so majority of my workouts were anaerobic. If i simply adjust my skill work and playing pick up games to more of an aerobic intesity while I leave my strength and explosiveness days to do my anaerobic work will it better suite me for my goals? Is that how I should be incoporating my aerobic exercise into my training? I would love to hear you thoughts on all this Thanks doc!!

    • says

      Hi John, thanks for the comments and glad to hear the post has helped. Sorry I can’t give you specific advice. Just no time to do it and there’s more involved than just training, as you know from everything I talk about on sock-doc. Until I clone a few more of me, you’ll have to settle for what’s here. Thanks for understanding.

  8. Dustin Brown says

    Hey Sock Doc, great article. I have a question about my son. He’s 12 and is interested in going out for Cross Country next fall. I’d like to start helping him build his aerobic base over the spring and summer. Do these same heart rate guidelines apply to kids and teenagers?

    Since he’s 12, would his aerobic zone be 158-168? Thanks!

    • says

      Thanks. For ages 18 and under, stick with a zone around the 160s. Watch how their form and breathing is at that certain heart rate zone and then you can figure out if your 12 year old should be say 150-160, or in the upper 160s.

  9. suzanne says

    This is a great article and I’m learning a lot. However, I’m very confused. Can you please help clarify for someone new to all this? You say:

    Strength and conditioning may be perfectly fine and advised during your aerobic base building period.

    I read that as meaning strength training is ok, though elsewhere you state that weight lifting is an anaerobic activity, and in the paragraph before this quote you say no anaerobic speed training. So it’s okay to continue to do some strength training whilst building the aerobic base?

    Later on (in the When Can I Exercise Harder paragraph) you say:

    Ideally you should not add anaerobic endurance activity when your maximum aerobic function levels off, or “plateaus.

    followed, in the same paragraph with:

    So in month #9, this person would start to add in some anaerobic workouts.

    Please clarify. since you don’t want us adding anaerobic endurance activity at the plateau, I assume that means anaerobic strength training only is what you meant, though it appears you said that was okay all along while building the aerobic base. Is that not the case? Also, if you should NOT add anaerobic endurance at the plateau, when should you add it?

    I hope you don’t think I’m too dumb, but I want to make sure I get it right. Basically my question boils down to…if I train aerobically, periodically testing aerobic function, when can I add weight training and HIIT? Also, is moderate intensity aerobic training okay every day? Or should I limit my workouts until I’ve built a better base? I am not a super athlete or anything, but I have had exercise related health issues in the past, so I’d like to do it right this time.
    Thank you for the wealth of information you’re providing and for taking the time to answer questions.

    • says

      Have you read all the 5 Training Principles? – it explains this all in detail. I don’t want you to be afraid to ask and I don’t think you’re dumb, but these are explained in that manifesto of mine.

      • suzanne says

        Sorry I didn’t realize at first that this was a whole series. I’ve been perusing your other articles and I think I get the gist of it. I still think those couple of passages are confusing, however. They may be typos or whatever, but just FYI.

  10. Andrew says

    I’ve been using the 180-age formula (adjusted up 5bpm based on cycling/running for several years) and it feels pretty accurate based on my breathing if I go much above the target. What I didn’t see in your article is how to estimate the lower limit of the aerobic training range. Thanks.

  11. Jeff Haynes says

    Well Sock Doc I am really inspired by all your guidelines on Aerobic training. So much so that I went out and bought my first heart monitor! I have been resting from running for about 6 weeks to help my left heel recover from AT but still do my cycling to and from work on 3 days a week and I have always thought that the trip was very aerobic. So I thought I would use heart monitor to check out my cycling to see how actually aerobic it is. I got a bit of a shock! I have to negotiate quite a few hills on the way to work and some hills put my heart rate well up above my Max aerobic rate which is for me 123. So I do a total of about 5 minutes of anaerobic cycling on each journey. 6 journeys – so I doing 6 small anaerobic workouts per week. Should I be concerned about this? as this is only 5min out 1 hour on each session? Or is any anaerobic not good before I am fully areobically fit?

    • says

      Good to hear Jeff. Probably not a big deal but ideally you should try to stay aerobic 100% of the time for more of them. Even once you’re out of the “anaerobic zone” you’re still pumping out a lot of cortisol – stress hormone – which will have lasting effects long after your HR is back down.

      • Jeff Haynes says

        Thanks for that sock doc. I think I have been stressing myself out for years with my training, running 6 days a week, and cycling to work and back as well, who knows how much of that was anaerobic, probably a lot of it. Its time I did things a bit more sensibly, I will have to give myself longer to get to work and maybe even walk up some steep bits until I am completely aerobically fit anyway. I will let you know how things go in a while.

  12. Cason says

    Great article! The arguement I see is that Friels’ zone 2 is higher than MAF’s. It looks like zone 3. Isn’t zone 3 no mans land when it comes to training? What science backs up Friels’ percentages that he establishes? Are there case studies where somebody has tried both methods and had better results from one or the other? I, like others, have jumped on the Friel bandwagon because I get to go faster.

    • says

      I’m not sure what science there is with Friels and really in this case I don’t think that’s important. There are many different formulas out there, but they are all somewhat close to one another. Find the one that works for you – or get LT testing done to be certain. Zone 4 is considered “no mans land”.

  13. Rand says

    This is pure GOLD!! (I hope) I listened to your podcasts on Trail Runner Nation and read a tonne of stuff here. It all fits now.
    I have been running steady (when not overtrained or burned out) for the last three years and not really getting anywhere – but working like a mofo. Like you say – I “survived” two marathons. Complete failures in my mind, ending in major cramping and stumbling to the line. I fit your chronic anaerobic over-excerciser profile perfectly; 5k=22min, 10k=49min, 1/2Mar=1:55, FullMar=4:22. Now I understand why I might be disproportionally faster at short dists than I am when it comes to going long.
    The stress added by training anaerobically all the time also probably has something to do with why I cant seem to lose any weight either – despite all of my running and eating more carefully…. Everybody tells me that running is good stress relief, but I have never felt that way. Though I love it, I have realized that running stresses me out – now I understand why, and will quit doing that until I am healthy.

    You have given me hope. Thanks Sock-Doc

  14. says

    Yeah, I just have to echo what Suzanne was saying about the “can I train harder” portion and how it seemed ambiguous. The first sentence says not to add anaerobic exercise once you plateau, but then the chart below shows the person adding anaerobic exercise once they plateau.

    I believe that the “not” in the first sentence of that paragraph should be omitted if I am reading that section correctly. I don’t think that the confusion comes from Suzanne’s not having read the other posts.

    Hope that helps and keep up the good work.

    • says

      You are absolutely correct. Damn, that was a major typo. Thanks for catching that for me. It should, and now does, read:
      Ideally you should add anaerobic endurance activity when your maximum aerobic function levels off, or “plateaus.”

  15. Christina Curran says

    Dear Sock-Doc,
    I am so overwhelmed reading this.
    For years I have been trying to increase my running endurance and I still can’t make it 2 miles without having to stop in between! I am a perfectly healthy 21 year old at 5’4 120 and 18% body fat and I eat super healthy and I lift and do cardio everyday with rest days on weekends.
    So I read this and now i’m thinking maybe it’s because I always ran in my anaerobic zone, always trying to push myself to go a little longer on runs. Other people I know that have no idea about what their zones are or how to traint just go out and run and get faster as they keep running consistently and it makes me so frusterated. Should I really spend months running super slow (my aerobic zone is 149 to 161, and on the treadmill I have to stay under speed 4.7!) to increase my endurance before I can start running in races?

  16. Paul says

    Hey Sock-Doc,

    Thanks for the great articles on your web site and your highly informative appearances on Trail Runner Nation.

    It’s clear that running in the aerobic zone burns calories from fat rather than sugar. So it’s not surprising that many people argue a benefit of staying in your aerobic zone is that you will lose more weight.

    Being very skinny (145 lb, 6’1″, BMI 19), I do not to lose weight, and I wonder if my aerobic training endurance could be limited by not having enough fat stores. I find I pretty consistently start to bonk between 90 and 120 minutes of activity, though up to 90 minutes I’m fine. I’ve been putting about 4 hours of aerobic training (~ 145 HR = 180 minus my age) for about a year and a half now, and started from a position of pretty good fitness.

    I have a long run goal of running an ultra marathon, but I wonder if I need a different training / racing strategy that someone with a little more fat to draw on.

    Since approximately 100% of training web sites begin from the assumption that losing weight is desirable, I’m struggling to find a good training plan that takes my starting BMI into account.

    • says

      Oh you’ve got plenty of fat stores to run for hours – just look at the very lean Kenyan and Ethiopian marathoners. Your body has a lot of fat stored, even if you’re lean. Look at Michale Phelps – guy is ripped – he’s supposedly 8% body fat. If you’re bonking into a 2hr run then you’re not efficiently using fat for energy. It’s got nothing to do with weight loss, but the more you condition your aerobic system the more you will lose fat.

      • paul says

        Thanks for the reply – that’s what I thought you would say. But like I said it’s hard to find information about fitness that isn’t also about weight loss!

  17. Thomas says


    I have been running most of my life (I’m 48 will be 49 in Dec) but I have just recently been shown your article and have started to run with a HR monitor. My question is about your formula. You state ” if you are on medication, subtract an additional 10″. Is this any medication or specific ones? I have been on cholesterol medication (vytorin) for years. If I take this in account my maximum HR zone will be only 122. Today I tried the “JOE FRIEL’S FIELD TEST”. My maximum HR was 162 and the average during the last 20 minutes was 147. 89% of 147 (131) is very close to 180-48 (132). So which to I go with 122 or 132 as my maximum anaerobic HR?

    Thank you for your feedback

    • says

      The reason you subtract 10 is because being on any medication – especially a statin (part of your combo drug) – increases stress to your nervous system which in essence makes you more anaerobic although it may not represent itself in your actual HR being increased. You’re taking a drug that blocks important biochemical reactions from normally occurring – more on that here:

      So although you may be okay at a zone of 122-132 (aerobic zone – not anaerobic as you state); you’d be much safer at a 112-122 unless you’re under proper guidance. After all, you don’t want to be one of those “fit” guys who winds up dead ( and if you’re on a cholesterol medication, or have high cholesterol, you’re not healthy.

      • Thomas says

        Thank you for the feedback. It will be very hard to jog in the 112-122 zone. It seems once I start jogging I go almost immediately to the 130’s. I am in the Army so I have been in a “fitness” program for most of my adult life. What do you consider “under proper guidance”? The doctors I have seen believe that my high cholesterol is mostly biological (have a large family history). Early on we changed my diet quite a bit and my cholesterol did not change much. One doctor stated “you just make the stuff!” Vytorin has helped kept it in the “normal” range. It did effect my running when I first started taking it. Over the years (more than 9 now) I have adjusted. Thank you very much once again for your input.

        • says

          Right that’s hard to find “proper guidance”. As I often say the slogan “when diet and exercise are not enough” is bullshit – they are if your diet is correct and the exercise is correct. But most are told to eat low fat (wrong) and just exercise (not aerobically) so then they don’t see changes and they think their cholesterol is heredity. I’ve never seen it that way. I’ve never seen someone not be able to improve their numbers through PROPER diet and exercise. I have some patients, as mentioned in the article, with a high total, but their HDL and ratios are excellent. Heck I thought mine was heredity being so low for so long, but then I hunkered down and was even more diligent with my diet. I went from years (decades) of a low 130-150 to now, actually just last week, to 187.

          Last thing – don’t think you have “adjusted”. No way. You don’t adjust, you compensate. You get used to it. If it affected your running nine years ago then it most surely is doing the same thing now, probably more so.

  18. Paul Bassett says

    Hi People,

    I was wondering if any of you struggle with consistent MAF Test results?

    I’ve significantly reduced my bad food intake and I’m in the middle of the two week test having greatly improved my diet since starting Aerobic training.

    On the plus side I lost significant weight, around 6kg since august and 1.5kg in a week on the 2week test. Now normally that’s pretty damn fast weight loss but I feel better than ever and I have more energy and never feel hungary. However, my MAF tests are all over the place.

    my average pace on my initial maf test was around 11.15, my second was 12.27 roughly, the next day I took it again and it was 10.15 my last one was 13.27!

    Now my Girlfriend is a doc and it seems that my heart rate monitor is working. I felt a little achey from a 1 hour run the day before but my weekly training regime is totally aerobic and consists of 3 1hr runs and 2-3 30min runs.

    I’m finding the randomness a little difficult to rationalise, I believe I’m doing everything right (I’ve run all my life, so this isn’t new).
    I was initially surprised with my pace on the initial maf test and put that down to the fact generally most people have poor aerobic fitness. What confuses me is that the progression is flat or even very small it’s just a little random.

    Anyone else experience this? My thoughts are that I may just have to suck it up and do the base training for 6months.


    • says

      Those are definitely some wide ranges but a couple things to consider. 1) You’re in the middle of the 2WT – and that could definitely account for your recent 13:27. It doesn’t mean your aerobic conditioning is worse, but your HR could be higher due to just being somewhat fatigued from the low carbs. 2) You shouldn’t be doing the MAF weekly. I recommend every four weeks, maybe three.

      So finish up your 2WT and figure out your carb tolerance/intolerance and then after a few more weeks of consistent aerobic training go ahead and do another MAF test.

      • Paul says

        This is very useful!

        I’ve been doing the MAF once a month, however i did it twice in a week because I didn’t trust the initial result in my second month. The lower one on the second day seemed to reflect progression.

        The fact that fatigue due to the change in diet during the 2wt never occurred to me, I suppose I was expecting an improvement due to feeling better and being lighter. So that would have once a balance has been met with my carb intake.

        But yes, i can see how the change in diet would effect the balance my body has been used to.

  19. kaveh says

    Thanks for the great articles.
    i was going for 180-age
    my friend age is 22 so max aerobic heart rate is 180-22=148
    the heart rate for Warm-Up is 10 or 20 below Max aerobic so it is 148=138-128
    it’s so much isn’t it?

  20. Saurabh Sharma says

    Just today I took a field test to find out my LTHR as per Joe Friel’s (Cyclist training Bible). I went as hard as I could for 30 minutes on my bicycle and took the average heart rate of the last 20 minutes as the LTHR. This was done afer a 15 minute of easy warm up. But that average Heart rate came out to be 199. My maximum heart rate on the Bicycle is about 204 as seen a couple of weeks ago when I was racing uphills with my friends. Even then I was was mostly climbing with a Heart rate of about 195-199 for at least 10-15 minutes when I checked.
    Now from what I am reading around an LTHR of 199 with the max heart rate of 204 seems too high (Although I have seen it go to 214 when I am running). This 30 minute trial was an all out effort. I felt like I could have thrown up towards the end. All through the time trial I had an eye on my heart rate monitor and it stayed between 196 and 202. Another thing some note is that while on the LTHR the perceived exertion should be around 7. Mine must have been around 9.
    So does this seem really abnormal to you? I can’t really start training effectively according to Joe Friel till I know my LTHR and so it seems that I am stuck.

    • says

      Well I don’t necessarily say abnormal, but not common. How old are you? Though even if you’re 18 that’s still a very high HR. You could be one of those people who can sustain a very high lactate level for a long period of time. So really what you need to do is have your lactate level measured. That is really the only way to be sure and end the confusion.

  21. Steve P says

    Hi Steve…

    Love your Podcasts on TRN, which is how I found and now subscribe to your website/blog.

    Here’s my situation and I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind commenting…

    I am 61 and have been running for 37 years. Most of those years were of the low HR training, just running to and from work (5 miles each way) and with that training, with an occasional race, I was running marathons in the 2:40’s and on the other end 5K’s in the mid 16’s. No HR monitor back then (80’s), but used the talk test to keep it low and slow. I started to do this after reading the Ernst Van Aaken book on the Endurance Method.

    In 2004 (age 53) I started using a monitor and followed Maffetone’s formula of 180-age + 5, which brought my training pace down from 8-9 mpm,to 11-12 mm, so I figured I just had a poorly developed aerobic base. I stuck with this for years and I’m still stuck at a training pace of 11-12, but at a now adjusted HR of 120-130. All my racing times have gone up, other than during 100’s, which are very comfortable and I usually finish mid pack. I realize I’m now in my 60’s, but want to continue to maintain some racing speed. I feel like yeah, Maffetone training has given me a huge engine, but all my race times have gotten slower and slower, even though I’ll add some faster running at least once a week, usually a 3 mile tempo around 24 min’s. I still train 40-60 mpw. My last marathon a couple of years ago was 1 hour slower than my best of 2:48. This just doesn’t make sense and I’m now hoping to train for a sub 3:30 marathon for next Spring.

    BTW: Too much speed work just leaves my legs flat and I lose interest in going out for a run at all.

    Thanks, Steve

    • says

      You say: All my racing times have gone up, other than during 100′s, which are very comfortable and I usually finish mid pack. I realize I’m now in my 60′s, but want to continue to maintain some racing speed. I feel like yeah, Maffetone training has given me a huge engine, but all my race times have gotten slower and slower.

      ?? You’ve gotten slower or faster?

  22. Steve P says

    Training times are about the same, but racing times I’m struggling…My thinking is that I’ve been running Maffetone too much, for too long. I enjoy the easier training, but it’s affected my race times. I suppose I need more speed work, but when I do that more than once a week, i don’t recover. Guess I’m getting old 😉

    • says

      You need to have lactate testing done to see where your training zones are. There are often only two reasons for your problem. 1) you are running too slow as you mention 2) it’s a metabolic/nutritional problem – you’re lacking the proper fats or possibly some other nutrition (iron common with aerobic problems)

      • Steve P says

        Thanks for your response…another thing is I am living at 8200′ and training at 5300′, which could be causing issues and I may possibly need an iron supplement.
        I am planning on doing the Joe Friel test this week to see how that compares to my MAF.

        • says

          Altitude should not be a factor though if you have altitude issues it’s usually an oxidation issue – that’s antioxidants, not iron. Though if you are anemic it will make training at altitude more difficult but there’s a lot more to RBCs than just iron.

          • Steve P says

            I moved to 8200′ from 300′ a couple of years ago, but think i’m pretty much acclimated now. I did an interesting test on a run yesterday where i went out and just ran what felt very easy and watched my monitor, which was averaging around 135. That’s 10 bpm higher than my top MAF number. I’m thinking that Maffetone is a good place to start, but in time one needs to adjust their numbers going by feel. It actually felt easier to run at 135 than at 125, which I had to work at to keep that pace (hold myself back). I’m thinking that MAF is good to establish your aerobic base, but to then experiment with a pace that feels just right. I can tell when my body is moving into a more sugar burning state, like a switch going off, by my breathing rate.
            Thanks for your articles and comments.

  23. Shannon says

    I’m going back to square one with my training, as over the past couple of years I’ve been insanely busy with work and have neglected to take care of my health as well as I should be. I’ve had some foot, hip, and back issues that I know are attributed to stress, a diet with too many sugars, and most likely too much anaerobic training. The former two were easy to determine, but it wasn’t until I read this article and your training principles series that I thought to take a look at my training in regards to aerobic/anaerobic. With a heart rate monitor, and using the Maffetone Method, I quickly realized that I’ve been running in the anaerobic zone consistently (in both training and 5ks, 10ks, and half marathons) without building a proper aerobic base. I’ve been forced to slow from 8:30-ish miles on a 4 mile run to probably something more like a 10-minute mile (though I haven’t ever run that pace, so I’m not entirely sure). I run trails, so it’s hard for me to know my exact pace. Whatever pace I’m going to keep from going over my max heart rate as determined by the Maffetone Method, it feels extremely slow. However, if it’s going to help me get back to feeling well, I’m willing to keep at it.

    I do have one question, however, in regards to strength work. Though I do quite a bit of lifting, bending, twisting, etc because of my occupation as an organic farmer, I do not feel it to be the same as consistent strength work. I don’t typically go to the gym, and would rather incorporate outdoor training or something I can do in my home without equipment (or at least with minimal equipment such as kettlebells). What is your recommendation for some sort of strength work that won’t be getting me into the anaerobic zone while I’m still developing my aerobic base?

    • says

      Strength work should be slow, controlled, and heavy (where you can only lift/move something for perhaps 6-7 reps). Deep squats (with a weight if necessary), push-ups – slow and controlled, planks, and pull-ups (the eccentric (lowering) if you can’t do one) are some of the best exercises to incorporate.

  24. says

    Thanks for having written this and your principles
    Almost no one in Brazil knows (or supports) this.
    I find it much less stressful to train aerobically most of the time.

    The Maffetone formula works very well for me. Yes, I had to slow down a bit. But, does that matter since I am getting faster on races?

    • says

      You are getting faster in races and your training is not stressful. How perfect is that. You don’t need anyone to agree with you.

      Thanks for your continued support of my work and the many people in South America you have sent to my site.

  25. Karl Mohan says

    Hi Dr.Gangemi,

    I have been following Dr.Maffetone’s training advice for the last couple of years and in that time have lost approx 20kgs and have a 15km PB of 1hour 35mins, all whilst training on my MAF rate of 135bpm (which is 180 – age – 10). I am a diabetic and I think my progress is slower than most because of this (though I am patient).

    I have been reading your articles for the past 6 months or so and all your advice is totally aligned with the principles I have adopted in my life. Two weeks ago, inspired by your article on MovNat, I participated in the 2 day Mobility workshop and am inspired by it. I don’t think it is totally aerobic, but the principles seem logical and am keen to incorporate the MovNat activities into my day-to-day life.

    My question is, I would like to keep practicing what I learned at MovNat but how can I incorporate the activities whilst maintaining my aerobic fitness? For example, how do I do a bear crawl aerobically?

    Your advice appreciated.

  26. Jerry W. says

    Sock Doc, I love your site and its wealth of information. Metabolic efficiency (or lack thereof) explains so many of the ups and downs I have experienced over my 30 years of competitive running.

    There is one thing I cannot seem to figure out, however. I have heard numerous people (including Dr. Maffetone and Mark Allen) say that marathons and longer events are 99% aerobic. How is that number calculated? They don’t qualify that number by saying that those races are 99% aerobic for metabolically-efficient athletes. So, I assume 99% aerobic is true for everyone. If I was to run a marathon race tomorrow, I would certainly be above my aerobic max (130; 180 minus my age minus 10 for injuries). Based on workouts and past races, I race near 160+ for 26.2. How does that equal 99% aerobic? Just based on HR zones, that would calculate closer to 80%.


      • Jerry W. says

        Interesting. So, what Maffetone and Allen are really saying is that in order to run a marathon effectively, it needs to be 99% aerobic. That should be the goal, but is not the actuality of most marathoners. For the elite runners, 99% is the actuality and that is why they are so good. I have been on the cusp of breaking 2:40 in the marathon but I cannot seem to get over the hump before injuring myself. I love that I now I have a framework for which to build my training plan- I need to make myself as aerobic as possible. Speed will come. Awesome stuff!

        • says

          Cool. And honestly I’m not quite sure if I can agree that it should be 99% aerobic. I’d say that a top marathoner is going to be pushing themselves hard towards the end – very anaerobic. And even if that’s just the last mile, well that’s about 4%.

  27. S says

    Hi Sock Doc, I’ve read through this entire thread and also your five phrases in training. Much thanks for them! They’ve been very informative in correcting some of my assumptions while training.

    My question about MAF has more to do with gait. At a 146bpm (151-5) I am jogging/walking at such a low speed that I feel it’s affecting with my gait. I can’t push off at the same speed as before obviously, so I’m getting sore spots around my knees where there haven’t been when I’m running at a slightly faster pace. Would this be doing more harm than good? I’ve tried to up the cadence but it just ups the bpm as well. So should I be walking fully instead?

    • says

      Yes this sometimes happens. So yes try walking (fast) and only running downhill until you build up some aerobic endurance base. Though there is probably something affecting your gait and this is just revealing it.

      • S says

        Thank you!

        I HAVE noticed that when I ran in my zero drop, my knee problems were gone. I will stick to that pair of shoes and see how it goes :)


  1. […] my training zones. After reading a blog on this very subject by the brilliant Dr. Steve Gangemi (Soc-Doc) I decided to use the Maffetone Method. It sounds complicated but as someone who’s been […]

  2. […] can be found here and another great resource for more information is the Sock Doc, check it out here .They have tons of information so feel free to explore their websites, but I’ll sum it up for you […]

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