Sunday, 18 November 2012

The Maffetone Method Part 1: What is it?

Want exercise to be fun, non-stressful and actually effective? Well, Dr. Maffetone has been claiming for almost 30 years now to provide just that, and a lot of people appear to agree with him. So, it seems worthwhile having a look at what he says.

I have divided this discussion into three parts: an explanation of the theory behind the method, how to apply the method, and then verdict/feedback on it. Welcome, to part 1.

Dr. Phillip Maffetone has published numerous books over the years detailing different aspects of his approach (it should be noted that it is not a strict formula, but more of a set of guiding principals for approaching health and fitness). The most recent is 'The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing', which I have to admit I haven't read yet. His seminal work was 'The Maffetone Method' which came out in 1999, but he acknowledges on his webpage that it is outdated now. On his webpage there is also a lot of useful info, and there are various discussions about the method on health/fitness forums (both positive and negative). I’ll be working mainly from The Maffetone Method and his webpage, as well as other articles.

The Maffetone Method, according to the book, is ‘The Holistic, Low-Stress, No-Pain Way to Exceptional Fitness’. It was developed by Dr. Maffetone after working as a sports physician for many years and found the ‘no pain – no gain’ theory did not get the results he or his clients wanted.

I first heard about this program through my eldest brother. He was on Reserves Officer training with the Australian Army and it was recommended to him by one of the Personal Training instructors, who spoke very highly of it. He said he had used it to get army personnel into exceptional shape, even in their later life.

The first thing to note is that the focus is on developing health, not just fitness. Maffetone gives the example that when he was younger he worked his way up to doing the New York Marathon, but did huge amounts of damage to his body while doing it. He decided he might have been fit enough to run the marathon, but did not have the underlying health to do it properly.

So what is the method? According to the introduction, the important features of the method are:

1. The best exercises for burning fat and improving your health is aerobic.
2. Exercise should be fun. If it’s a chore, something’s not right.
3. Excess stress is bad, and an improper exercise program can increase stress.
4. Many People eat far more carbohydrates than necessary, and more people than we realize are carbohydrate intolerant.
5. Certain dietary fats are good.

He also mentions quite a bit in the book barefoot/minimalist running.

Some of the concepts are not particularly unique, such as exercise should be fun, stress is bad, and some fats are good. Though it is good that he points out exercise stress needs to be taken into account with all other stresses in your life.

Some of the concepts are whole movements in themselves such as the reduced carbohydrates (his is similar to the paleo-method of eating) and minimalist running.

For me, the most interesting concept was that the best exercise for health and fitness training is aerobic. I had heard before that it was best for burning fat, but assumed that training as an athlete you would need to be doing mostly high intensity training.

However, his claim is that for at least the first 3-4months, and then as the majority of training after that, exercise should be at a low heart rate and should leave you feeling like you could do the entire work out again. Of course, I thought about this today as I staggered back from CrossFit barely able to raise my arms to swig from my water bottle.

So, to conclude about his method let me quote from his webpage:

"There are many different facets of health and fitness that also must work together to create optimum human potential—like you felt when you were younger and full of vigor. This approach is a way for an individual to more objectively look at his or her whole life, and address any and all factors that are not working most advantageous for optimal health and fitness. These factors include ones diet or nutritional status, exercise routine, and how physical, chemical and mental stresses are best regulated."

In the next post, I'll look more into what is involved in training according to Maffetone.

A fuller list of his works for those interested:
Complementary Sports Medicine (Human Kinetics, 1999);
The Maffetone Method: The Holistic, Low-Stress, No-Pain Way to Exceptional Fitness (Ragged Mountain Press/McGraw Hill, 1999);
Fix Your Feet: Build the Best Foundation for Healthy, Pain-Free Knees, Hips, and Spine (Lyons Press, 2004);
In Fitness and In Health (David Barmore, 1993-2009, five editions.);
The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing (Skyhorse Publishing, September 2010);
The Big Book of Health and Fitness (Skyhorse Publishing, December 2011)

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