Sunday, 16 December 2012

Maffetone Method Part 3: Review

Hopefully by now you have tried the Challenge to work out your own Maximum Aerobic Heart Rate, and done some testing to set a baseline, which is all just generally useful information to have.

But is it worth actually following the Method properly and in a dedicated manner?

Well, the cons of the method:
My first issue is he complains that the maximum heart rate formula of 220-age is not individualistic enough, but what he offers is 180 - age with just a 10bpm leeway. It doesn't sound all that individualistic either. If maximum heart rate can vary a lot between people then the maximum aerobic heart rate will vary as well. Therefore, I would start with his formula and use the testing to adjust it to your needs over a few months. I am not, of course, the only one to have noted this. For example see Greg Crowther's blog post where he lists this and a number of other problems.

Second, a lot of people complain that after following it religiously, they didn't see any improvement. (For example see the lead post in the thread on the cool running forum.) I admit that I did it for three-four months earlier this year and didn't see that much improvement. Having said that, I now realise my heart rate was based on what I had worked out a few years previously when I was fit and healthy, not old and recovering. So I was probably working out at too high a level. Also, if you go three months and see no improvement, then you aren't following his method properly: you should be doing your testing every month and adjusting until you do see improvements.

One thing that Greg Crowther also noted was that most of the high level athletes that support Maffetone are competing in endurance racing such as Mark Allen who does Ironman racing and Stu Mittleton who does ultra marathons. There are questions about whether it is as useful for high level sprinters and other short distance/time events. 

First, which most people agree with, it is amazingly peaceful and relaxing, ensuring that you actually enjoy exercising and feel better afterwards not worse. And to be honest, if that is all you get out of it, that is an awful lot in today's society.

It doesn't appear to aggravate any existing injuries or develop new ones.

When done properly, ability to run (either faster or longer) does appear to improve, even though each session is well within your comfort zone, so that's pretty exciting.

The basic concepts (regular testing, adjust programs until there are noticeable improvements, monitoring life stress when planning workouts etc) are all really sound and good ideas. 

The message that the 'no pain, no gain' theory isn't actually necessary is useful for those who have been burned and scared off exercise by Army Sergeant type gym instructors.

My Personal Experience: 
As mentioned, I did it for 3-4 months, though possibly at too high a heart rate. Over that time I didn't see much improvement, but also managed to go to the gym five times a week because I knew I wasn't going to be killing myself so didn't lose motivation. At the end of the period I then started more interval training and found my speed increasing very quickly, and I'm sure that was partly due to the good preparation. Also, I found after stopping and going onto harder workouts, my overall stress levels in general increased.

Therefore, my recommendations:
For athletes I recommend it as an off-season training tool and for active recovery. However, during the season, you will need to do some speed and weight work to be at the top of your game.

For people coming into exercise for the first time or after a long time, I definitely recommend doing at least 4 months of the method before moving onto harder programs because it will keep you motivated, keep you from injury, and build up your aerobic system.

For regular exercises it is still good to vary your workouts. Over winter, or a stressful time at work, try the Method in a dedicated manner for a few months and see if it works for you. 

For myself? Well, everything is a bit stressful at the moment, and the thought of just doing a nice, enjoyable workout is hugely appealing (and allowed me to do a 21km ergo the other day) so I'm going to be using it as my base, and added in a few other workouts a week, and just see how it all goes.

Have also just ordered his new book online, so will read that and see if it has anything particularly new. 


  1. Thanks for this series on Maffetone-- it's hard to find any recent info. I have to note that Greg Crowther-- not long after his Maffetone critique-- injured his achilles and basically had to start over on his training. One of the important points of the method is that a runner's gait changes once he exceeds his maximum aerobic hr. I still feel pretty humiliated by how slow I have to go to stay in my range and taking into account my gait, I actually went down another 5 beats, because my stride felt much more comfortable at a 135 top range than a 140 (I'm 40 years old). I've lost an inch around my waist, and 2 inches around my hips (making my waist to hip ratio a little worse-- gone from excellent to good, but I'm not complaining) in the last 2 months. Some of this may be attributed to the fact that I can't wait to go for my walk ( no more runs-- too high a hr) so I'm going 5-6 times a week. I can't say whether this will lead me to ultramarathoning-- which is what I want to do (without dropping dead) or if it just means I've found something that I'll enjoy doing for the rest of my life, but I have to give my thumbs up to the method. In this age of HIIT (which I used to do all the time), Insanity, Crossfit, etc.. it's nice to find justification for taking it easy.

  2. Hi there ! you did a great thing posting this content here ! Thanks a lot !

    I started reading stuff on low HR training, Maffetone´s method, etc. I´m not a beginner runner, but last year I got stuck after gifted on an ITB injure. I´m running minimalists, 5 fingers, since january 2013.

    But there´s one thing is vague enough, that´s almost making me get rid of this low hr training: the lack of coaches or some source to help me schedule a training program. Yes...its written everywhere that it´s particular to my Every trainning plan is !!! And my goal is 42k under 3h15.
    What I do need and cannot find answers after a couple of weeks on search is :

    - How long should I run daily at this begining (12 weeks of basebuild)
    - How much should I increase running time weekly?
    - What trainning variations should I be submitted (short runs, long runs, speed runs....)
    - After those 12 weeks, how should I train?

    This method appears to be so cool, but it´s impressive neither Phil Maffetone has more than 1 coach he knows who follows his method ! Why????? It´s damn hard to find someone to prepare you with this low hr approach, and I´d be extremely thankful to find someone to guide me through this process (or send me a coach´s name)

    many thanks you, warm regards from brazil !


    1. Hi Lester,
      One of the criticisms of the method is that there is no easy to apply program.
      In your case, as you already have some fitness, I would suggest downloading an app like Runners World Smart Coach for marathons. For all your easy and long runs do the distance they recommend, but forget the speed and just focus on your heart rate (the Maffetone part). Then for the 1 speed/tempo workout a week, try working at a speed that will help you reach your goal time. (Maffetone won't train you to a particular speed, it will just help you build up your endurance in general, therefore I recommend one speed training session a week if you already have baseline fitness).
      Sorry I can't tell you any real coaches names, but if you look around maybe someone else can help.

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