In many cases, when discussing sports training or equipment, people talk about training sessions in percentage terms and this can get confusing because some people are referring to the MAS (Maxium aerobic speed), while others are referring to the maximum heart rate (HRMAX).

HRMAX/MAS: What Difference Does it Make in Training?

Far be it for me to suggest using the MAS or HRmax as a matter of priority:

I believe that both methods of evaluating your speed are useful and I would say that it is your personal approach, your ideas and the location of your run that are more likely to determine whether you should use one or other of these methods. Furthermore, there is nothing preventing you from using both depending on your type of session (endurance-focused training or, on the contrary, intensive training) or even use your MAS as a reference point while recording your heart rate to verify your physical condition at any particular time.

What you need to know, if you are using the MAS measurement, is that it allows you to know very precisely what a particular pace corresponds to. For example, a pace of 85% for a runner with an MAS of 15km/h will involve running 1000 m in 4'42, or 4'26 at 90% and 4'12 at 95%. However, when you use the HR percentage measurement, you will be running in exercise zones: they are less precise but equally effective and have the added advantage of taking into consideration your current fitness.

Remember that when you use an MAS percentage, you are immediately running at the right pace, whereas, when you use the HRmax percentage, it takes some time to get to the right zone – time needed for your heart rate to get the right level – which does not mean that you cannot exercise efficiently from the start of your training session.

HRMAX/MAS: How are they Related?

The table below shows how the relative percentages of the MAS and HRmax can be compared approximately:

  • 70% MAS : Between 72% and 75% HRmax
  • 75% MAS : Between 75% and 80% HRmax
  • 80% MAS : Between 80% and 85% HRmax
  • 85% MAS : Between 85% and 90% HRmax
  • 90% MAS : Between 90% and 95% HRmax
  • 95% MAS  : Between 95% and 97% HRmax
  • 100% MAS : Between 97% and 100% HRmax

What HRMAX/MAS Percentage should you Run at for What Distance?

Depending on the distances run, we estimate that you should attain the following on average:

  • About 80% of MAS for a marathon.
  • About 85% of MAS for a half-marathon.
  • About 90% of MAS for a 10km run.

Check the table above to find out the equivalent HRmax percentage.

Another factor to take into consideration: your physical condition. The better your condition, the higher your MAS percentage will be.

The opposite is even more true: the lower your MAS, the less you will be able to make use of a high percentage. In short, a very high-level marathon runner can run the distance in a little over two hours, whereas most runners will finish in about four hours, i.e. double the time. Naturally, the latter will not be able to maintain as high an MAS percentage as those who dominate the leading positions!

How Should you Train When you do not Know your MAS or HRMAX?

I cannot finish this article without shattering the image that I may be associated with: the image of being a trainer of high-level athletes. Naturally, that is what I am, but I am as interested in the latter as I am in those that run only for their own pleasure and health. Even if you do not know your MAS and you do not have a heart rate monitor, there is NOTHING preventing you from training properly by simply being aware of your own body. This is done by keeping in mind the following 3 paces:

  1. the endurance place: you should be almost able to have a normal conversation while you run. This should represent 80% of your running time over a week.
  2. the active pace: you can speak, but only a few words at a time, and you feel out of breath. This should represent 15% of your running time over a week.
  3. intense pace: you cannot speak! This should represent 5% of your running time over a week.

Whatever method you choose when running, whether it is within a particular framework (MAS or HRmax) or totally without restriction, making sure you enjoy yourself while running is the best way of successfully achieving your objectives. Remember this phrase: "regardless of your running speed, you will always be quicker than those who stay sitting in their sofas".


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