Why Being Fit Doesn’t Necessarily Mean You’re Healthy. How Running Below Your Aerobic Threshold Can Help You Burn More Fat, Stay Healthy, and Run Faster

phil maMany runners confuse being able to run a fast race with being healthy. But they aren’t the same.

Unfortunately, if you take a quick look around at your next group run or race, you’ll note that more of your running mates may be classified as unhealthy than they would like to admit – nagging injuries, frequent colds, or unhealthy practices outside running that impact health.

That’s what Dr. Phil Maffetone noticed when he started seeing runners hobble through his doors when he first opened his clinic in NYC.  The injury rate and general lack of overall health from many of his fittest patients got him thinking about how he could reduce injuries and improve overall health while still helping them run faster.

The result was a revolutionary training process, which was later coined the Maffetone method.

In this interview, we chat with Dr. Maffetone about what is method entails, how it works, and how it can help you run faster and stay healthy. Here are some of the specific topics we discussed:

  • The difference between being healthy and being fit and how this impacts both beginners who pick up running to “get healthy” and experienced runners who think they’re healthy just because they can run fast.
  • How you can learn to use bio-feedback and your instincts to run the correct effort levels and keep yourself injury-free
  • Dr. Maffetone explains what his famous method is, how it was developed, and clears up common misconceptions about what it is and isn’t.
  • Why aerobic development is important, how running easy is better for aerobic capacity than running too hard, and how it impacts fat burning and marathon training.

Dr, Maffetone is definitely one of the pioneers in the field of training and using heart rate data. I guarantee you’ll learn a ton and walk away a much more intelligent and thoughtful runner about your training.

Watch this week’s show now

Download the podcast version here

Links and resources mentioned in this interview:

Dr. Maffetone’s book: The Big Book of Endurance Training (Affiliate Link)

Dr. Maffetone’s website

Aerobic vs. Anaerobic training chart

Burning fat as a fuel source in marathon training

Read the Transcript

Jeff:                 Hi, everybody. Welcome back to the Runners Connect Run to the Top podcast. In today’s episode we’re interviewing Dr. Phil Maffetone which is widely considered one of the experts in heart rate training. In our discussion, we cover how aerobic progression and fat utilization are affected by your heart rate and easy run phase and how this impacts marathon training. We’re also going to talk about the difference between running fit and being healthy and how knowing the difference between the two can help you improve in your running and be a healthier individual overall.

Finally, we’re going to discuss how you can use bio feedback and data from your easy run to make sure that you’re making long term progression. If you want to visit or learn more about any of the links or concepts that we mention in this interview, you can visit up the site at runnersconnect.net/rc16 and this always if you enjoy the podcast please take the time to rate us on iTunes. It definitely helps us get viewers and get our message out to more and more people. Without further ado, here’s the episode.

Hi, Phil welcome to the show. I really appreciate your taking your time out of your day to talk with us and teach our audience about your methods and what you’ve learned in your career and to get started, I’d like to give our audience who may not know you who are a little bit of background about your running background as well as your training principles.

Phil:                 Good to be with you, Jeff. It’s my pleasure. I run track and field in high school and college and I was always a sprinter and I try make to do– tried to get make a do long distance like the quarter mile and I just didn’t want to run that far. I was real good at running 100 and 200 or 100 yards back then and 220 yards and the relay and it was great and when I graduated college eventually after too many years I started jogging because I wanted to get back into shape. I was in school for many, many years and it just beat me up physically and mentally.

I want to get back into shape and I started jogging and one day I was watching the Boston marathon on local TV and I thought that’s interesting, maybe I’ll run a marathon and the New York City marathon was six months away and I thought that was plenty of time. I trained a random marathon. I’ve finished and I kept going from that point. At that stage I had been in practice just for a couple of years I think and started seeing a lot of runners with injuries.

Jeff:                 Can we stop and take a step back? You said you’ve been in practice. You’re a doctor, correct, just to make our audience aware.

Phil:                 I’m no longer in practice, but I was in practice and I used a variety of therapies from bio feedback and manipulation with diet and nutrition and of course coaching became a very big issue and the reason that became a big issue was because I started seeing mostly runners and I was in the New York City area. In 1977, when I’m in the practice, ’77, the running boom was really starting to swell and the New York City with the New York [inaudible 00:03:35] was club spanned a lot of running clubs in the surrounding communities and ours was no exception and I was involved with that.

All of a sudden, I started seeing a lot of runners with injuries, all kinds of injuries and I would treat them and many of them worries either correct fortunately, but then I notice they would come back either with the same injury or a new injury. It didn’t take long to realize that what they would do in their training was interfering really was what I was doing my treatment and as a new practitioner, I didn’t mind people coming back to see me frequently because they were injured or reinjured. But after a while, I realize this is not what healthcare is all about. My job is really to work myself out of a job by teaching the patient, the runner in this case how to be healthy. I realize the only way to do that was to ask them about coaching or ask them about their training and I realize that since most of them didn’t have coaches, I needed to play that role as well. I started doing that.

Jeff:                 Oh, that’s interesting. You’re coaching background came more from your medical practice and realizing that there was this need for people to realize what good training would be so, they can stay injury-free as opposed to coming from a background where maybe traditionally someone goes to school for exercise physiology or those types of avenues and going that way. I think actually that’s probably a big reason why your method has worked so well to keep people injury-free. Let’s talk a little bit about what the basics principles that you [inaudible 00:05:18] are and kind of how they came about?

Phil:                 Well, I think when I ran at New York City marathon, it was tortured. It was– because I trained for six months from zero running and I didn’t get hurt. But it was just not enough training and my goal was to run this marathon and it was sort of as a way to kind of in a sense prove my health and I remember crossing the finish line being taken away to the medical tent and kind of passing out and then waking up a little while later and kind of looking around seeing all these runners in pain, groaning and moaning and the ambulance is coming and going, doctors running around. I thought well, I did this for my health, but this doesn’t look like a very healthy place.

I realized one of the important lessons of my career which was being healthy and being fit are two very different things and I really get healthy, all I did was get fit enough to run a marathon. That became a very important philosophy for me and an important lesson to pass onto my patients and my goal was to help the patient be a healthy and fit runner and so my philosophy has been and still today as much as it was back then, to not do anything in training or the raising that’s not going also be health promoting and the bottom line here is that we have so many runners who are fit, fit enough to run a 10k, fit enough to run sub 40 10k or sub 30 10k fit enough to a marathon, but are not healthy. Not healthy because they’re injured, they’re sick. Unfortunately, some of them are dying and just people relate to that so well and because most runners get injured.

Jeff:                 I agree 100 percent then I think for most runners even if you’re a beginner, you can really appreciate that because I think so many runners start out wanting to run, beginner runners start out because they want to get healthier, but along those lines they don’t realize that getting fitter for it like if their goal is to run, go from zero to training from a marathon that’s not necessarily going to make them healthier. Definitely, they’re going to get fitter, but they’re not going to get healthier and I think that’s a great point that you’re able to distinguish between those two for the beginner runner then also for the advance runner who may say, “Well, I can run a marathon and sub 3 hours where I can qualify for Boston. I must be very fit. I can eat whatever I want.” I can do all these things then now don’t necessarily that being able to run really fast doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re healthy individuals. I think that’s a fantastic philosophy from both sides of the equation.

Phil:                 I knew more than a few couch potatoes when I was in practice. Patients who came in and said that, I got to get back in shape. I would encourage them to start doing something and they would and I’d see it to maybe a year later or two years later and I would say, “You are healthier when you were a couch potato”. Because they would just run themselves into the ground and it said the priority in the running community and it’s not different than any other sport and I’ve worked in virtually every sport and also I trained race horses for a while as well that was a little fun. I worked in all sports and the philosophy, the focus by all the athletes in all sports is really the same thing. It’s that I need to train. I need to get better and they often forget that there was this health factor which is actually going to keep them going and actually make them more fit and make them a better athlete for a longer period of time so, very, very important.

Jeff:                 Absolutely. Let’s say we’re a beginner runner, I’m coming to you and saying, “I want to get– I want to run this race. I want to get fitter”. How do you approach that from a training perspective? What kind of principles do you tell them to abide by when they’re doing training to be able to do increase both their fitness and their health at the same time and make sure they injury-free?

Phil:                 Well, there are a lot of things. One is I try to get them to understand about intuition and instincts. Because every animal on earth knows how to eat except human. Every animal on earth knows how to run fast and run slow and monitor themselves from a fitness standpoint except for humans. We’ve lost that instinct and a lot of them have to do with marketing products and the no pain, no gain society and that sort of thing.

So, I try and encourage them to pay attention to the body. Every little thing, every little twinch, every little ache, every little feeling, every little afternoon fatigue or post meal sleepiness, every little sign and symptom has meaning. For me, in practice one of my important goals was to assess a runner if they’re injured or not or assessing them at, asking them about their little aches and pains and asking them about, what is their energy do after a meal or lesser do before meal. Do you get to sleep quickly and stay asleep or do you wake up at 2 a.m.

All these things are very meaningful and I tried to encourage patients to think the same way. What does that this mean? It all has meaning, but what I develop very quickly and practice, I think by 1980, I was using something that I had read in a paper on in college in somewhere along the way and by a feedback. What were doing was measuring the individual subjects, the test subjects and we were exposing them to various stresses– running in place riding a bike, showing them really ugly pictures, showing them sexy pictures and we were monitoring things. We were monitoring many things including the heart rate and I realize how quickly the heart rate goes up and down based on external stimulus and in 1980 there were no or ’79 I guess there were really very few heart monitoring devices, but there was a cardiac monitor that was used in hospitals and I got one, it was big– it looked like a crossing guard outfit.

Kind of right across the chest and then another strap went over your shoulder and has this big box that strap into the strap and you have to kind of look down your shirt to see the heart rate. I started testing people in my office and then by then I was going out to the track every week or twice a week with the group of athletes to watch them to evaluate their gate and other things and I started accumulating heart rates and realizing that there was a relationship between heart rate and changes in gate.

For example, if your heart rate goes up too fast, what or if it goes up too high, your gate will become more irregular. To make a long story short, I develop the formula called the 180 formula and that formula which I think by 1983 was pretty well said has kind of stood to test of time and I’ve since correlated with oxygen uptake respiratory quotient and lactate levels, brain waves, a lot of different things.

In addition of treating patients and helping people perform better, I have this researcher’s mentality, I like to measure things. I would always measure stuff. I probably spent twice as much time with every patient I’ve saw because I like measuring things. I will keep records and crunch data and all that kind of stuff. The heart monitor became a very important biofeedback device from me when I was working one on one with this runner and then it wasn’t until well, I think 1983 that Polar developed the wireless heart monitor and they were available to everybody.

Up until then patients would– I would buy two or three days monitors and always have them available. I guess would combine and borrow them and go to the track which is only a mile away and then they come back after they worked out and drop the monitor off. Things have changed, but the heart monitor became a very important biofeedback device and what I want patients to do, what I wanted runners to do was to understand how they felt at a heart rate of 70 and a heart rate of 80 in this. They run faster and their heart rate goes up to 90 and 100 and 120 and 150 and 180. How did they feel? I wanted them to relate to that and I got to the point where I was encouraging– we would have contest and I always win. We’d say, “ Let’s see who could run at a 142 heart rate and we could take turns with the monitor” and people learn how to do that eventually, but it was probably the best way to determine a very important function which is how can you burn more of fat.

The concept of fat burning is very simple. We have two basic forms of energy, sugar and fat. We burned those all the time, most of the time and we do burn some proteins for energy, but that’s a whole another story not more than exception in the world, but we burn fat and sugar [inaudible 00:15:55] sitting here right now, we’ll both burn a certain mix of fat and sugar. The question is how much fat and sugar are you burning? How much am I burning? Now, I’m [inaudible 00:16:06] because I’ve measured it.

I could actually tell in the course of a day and if I have stress all day, I know I’m going to start burning less fat and I could feel it, but runners should burn more fat in the course of the day and night because we burn fat and sugar all night long as well. Those who burn higher amounts of fat during running are generally more fit and more healthy.

Jeff:                 Interesting, before we continue because there’s a lot of great points there that I want to follow up on. You mention your method of– the 180 method. Can you explain a little bit about what that is? How people can calculate it? And we’ll put it on our website so people can have the actual numbers, but I’d like to have you explain it in your words for people that have may have heard it before, but have heard it wrong or have a misconception about it.

Phil:                 Again, we test on this before we went on, but the rumors that I hear about what that 180 formula is sometimes funny. Please look at the formula, calculate it properly. But what I did in the beginning was I realize that there was this certain level of intensity where a runner’s gate would change for the worst. Aches and pains would come on recovery would be slower and so on and so forth. I thought well, okay, that means we want to determine what’s the best heart rate for the runner to train that so, that not only they could burn more fat for energy, but they would not have the store at gate. They would not develop muscle imbalance. They wouldn’t get injured. They would actually correct injuries and that process would in a new runner that I saw for the first time would sometimes take me two hours from an assessment standpoint and once we determine it, the runner would go off and training and I’d see him or her a couple of weeks later. And they’d be training at a particular heart rate and I would evaluate them and I would sometimes say, “Well, you’re going a little bit over so, we’re going to cut your heart rate down” and this was tedious thing.

I thought that there must be a way to figure out a formula and I knew that was—the  [inaudible 00:18:32] max issue when I never thought much of year too max as a [inaudible 00:18:39] assessment to, but I knew about fat burning and I also knew that we couldn’t send people to the next– back then you had to go to an exercise physiology lab to have a lot of measure and then they just didn’t– they weren’t very popular and I thought, “Well, there must be an easy way to do this on a formula– would be the most logical”.

I knew the 220 formula and I knew that it was not very accurate and I– there was nothing published about it and so I started taking the runners that I had determined the heart rate with– that seem to work fine and I thought how can we extrapolate the data that we have alone and come up with a number and it took months and one day. Actually, in the shower I just sort of– I don’t want to say I have vision because people think of me as being a little strange anyway, but I had a visual.

There was this 180. I was thinking of the 220 formula and wondering where they got that from and I just pulled it out of nowhere and all of the sudden out of somewhere else comes 180 and I can’t use 180 because I’ve got all this data. And so I basically just crunch everything and I ended up with 180. You subtract your age and then which doesn’t have any meaning. 180 minus your age doesn’t mean anything, despite all the rumors, but then there are different categories. You have to find the category that best matches your health at fitness level. So, if you’re a beginner runner or if you’re in rehab for a heart condition or you had a hip replacement, if you go overweight and you’re just getting on program, a walking and jogging. If you’re already training, but you’re injured or when you get too many colds every year. If you’re competing and you’re not injured, you find the category that you best fit into and they don’t tell you to subtract 10 from the 180 minus age. Subtract five, don’t subtract anything or add five. There are four categories.

If you’re honest which is the hardest part of this, you find a category that best matches you and if you’re not sure then you pick the one that is the most conservative. The one that gives you the lowest heart rate, that becomes harder. Now, if we compare the formula with the process of a tedious process of putting somebody on the treadmill measuring the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels and doing all those stuff and compare the results of the two. They often really wanted to beat with each other so, there’s surprisingly accurate. It took me a couple of years to figure that out and I was quite confident and then I had to do was learn that whether you’re swimming or biking or running that 180 heart rate, that what I call the maximum aerobic training heart rate is the same.

What’s different is you proceed exertion. If you’re training, if you’re maximum aerobic training heart rate is 150– let’s say, then running at 150 is going to feel kind of easy. Biking have 150 is going to feel kind of easy, but a little bit more effort is going to be required because you’re not using this much muscle mass when you’re on a bike. You have a [inaudible 00:22:41] factor. Your stress level– literally stressed levels are lower. When you’re at the pool– well, you don’t have much gravity effect on you at all so there’s hardly any stress on you and navigate to a 150 heart rate. You have to work really hard.

Jeff:                 Now, that makes a lot of sense.

Phil:                 After is they kind of fell into place in the years after that 180 formula which I think came about in 1983.

Jeff:                 Now that runners have this 180 formula, let’s say they’re honest with themselves which is really hard to do because I know runners. I worked with them all the time and they will always say, “Well, I’m a tough guy. I’m fit and always choose the higher number”, but let’s just assume that somebody is really honest with themselves and they’ve picked the right number so, that now correlates either easy running phase, correct?

Phil:                 That correlates with the highest heart rate, they should be training in order to do several things. One is to burn more body fat. Now, if they burn more body fat, they’re going to get thinner because their bodies not going to need to hold as much fat and I’ll tell you one thing I’ve notice through the years with the decades is that going to races has become a bit sad because I have seen a continuous change in the body images of not just runners but swimmers and bikers, tri-athletes, race car drivers, hockey players, everybody.

Body fat content is going up and people are getting much too big and that’s a problem, but at this training hard rate of whatever it is, 150 their metabolism will learn could burn more body fat for energy which will allow them to go faster overtime. Yes, they’re going to complain that they’re going to slow at their maximum aerobic heart rate, but what happens is as the months go by at some point they start complaining. They have to go through fast at the same heart rate.

I can give you a lot of case histories and a lot of examples of individuals, but probably my most favorite athlete that I ever worked with was Mark Allen who won six iron man championships and was a sub 30 minute 10k runner. Mark was very discipline and that his strength and he was very disciple with his training in the heart monitor and when I first started working with him at 155 heart rate, Mark was able to run 820 track and I remember running around that track with him and he had that monitor and looked down to be sure that and he kept saying, “This is pretty slow”. I said, but it will get faster and I said, “This is the reach you have to go”. He said, “I’m not sure I could do this” and I realize what he was saying. This was San Diego in 1983, the Mecca of the news for triathlon, the Mecca of endurance athletes.

How could somebody go out and run at an 820 phase when there’s always speed through run body. I said, “Well, Mark you could train at night, nobody will see you”. He laugh, but he called me the next morning and said, “I went for run in the hills this morning and my average phase was closer to nine-minute phase”. I said, “Oh, that’s not surprising. You have to slow down when you go up the hill.”

Well, it wasn’t too many news later that Mark started complaining about having go too fast because at the same heart rate, he was now going seven minutes a mile and then he started going thirty minutes a mile then he started going six minutes a mile and he broke five or he broke– I think he got down to five, ten phase or five-fifteen phase. At the same heart rate, what’s the difference? Running more fat. In addition that building more aerobic muscles and staying healthy and continuing to improve on fitness levels and there’s dietary factors, there’s all kinds of things, but that’s a big difference.

Jeff:                 Right. Now, what I mean I think– I mean there’s so much to pull out of that and I think obviously the big issue is it goes back to– when runners look to improve when they’re using your method, it’s not so much that their heart rate is going to changed. They actually want to stay at that same maximum aerobic heart rate, but it’s going to continue to get easier and easier and easier and for most people who are training for the marathon or even the half marathon with that makes a lot of sense is that marathon phase. Let’s say, roughly or your marathon phase is going to be that top end aerobic kind of phase, is that marathon phase is going to come down and down and down and that’s ultimately how you get faster.

Phil:                 Exactly.

Jeff:                 For those who may not know and I know this, but and you do probably do as well, when you talked about burning fat and sugars—well, that really comes into play for the marathon is your ability to burn fat as a fuel source which is critical on the marathon because you can only store so many carbohydrates in the body, usually a little bit under two hours worth of carbohydrates and for everybody actually they can’t run a marathon under two hours. What really this method is doing is teaching you to run faster while burning fat as fuel source.

Phil:                 Exactly, it’s really doing a very important thing and it’s teaching you to build your aerobic system. We forget about the aerobics system, we learn about the digestive system and nervous system the muscle system, but there is this aerobic system in the body that incorporates the aerobic muscle fibers which are called slow twitch fibers for a reason because they make you run slow.

For Mark Allen, 515 was slow and for many of people who were able to run under 530 or under six minutes or under seven minutes, that’s still slow and when you look at fat and sugar burning, but a marathon is an aerobic event. We generate– we rely on 98 percent of our aerobic energy for a marathon. In a 10k it’s about 95 percent.

If that’s the case, why are all these runners spending all of this time training above that aerobic level or training in aerobically which is quite often what they’re doing everyday– when the races from a 10k to a marathon and beyond are 95 to 98 percent aerobic.

Jeff:                 No, absolutely. I mean, it’s definitely– I’ve written a lot of articles on that exact topic and look at those charts of the phases or the percentages of aerobic to anaerobic contribution of distance events and those types of things and it’s so true and the aerobic system becomes so important and developing it just like you’re talking about is absolutely critical.

One of the questions that I had and I kind of post you beforehand was, a lot of the athletes that I worked with, they really struggle and I know I did as well when I was running is that concept that running easier is building aerobics system better than running faster. Most of the time if you’re at that level, how do you work with athletes or how did you work with athletes to really had a hard time to believing that they were actually getting fitter aerobically even though they were running slower because that’s a really hard concept to really grasp.

Phil:                 It is a hard concept especially in our society were no pain, no gain. We want results overnight. I’m going take drugs to get results overnight and it’s difficult. There are two kinds of patients. There’s a patient who either comes to see me or came to see me because their friend got faster and so they believed what I was doing or they were desperate enough to believe in me or they came to see me and they had some physical ailment. That’s how I saw Mark Allen. I was doing the workshop in San Diego where I would work with 10 or 12 athletes over the three-day period and Mark was one of them and he wasn’t able to run. He had injury, the calf injury and I kind of saw him during the lectures, the lecture part of the workshop and I kind of– I mean, I love Mark. I still love Mark. Hopefully, he won’t hear this. I knew what he was thinking like, “What is this guy talking about? He wants us to run slower?

Well, Mark had an injury and I was fortunately able to correct it right away. He was able to run the next day, okay. He was able to race the following weekend in Hawaii to get a small triathlon. I said, “Sure, you’ll be able to race”. He was not only able to race, but he didn’t feel any pain and he won the race.

He was ready to listen to anything I told him at that time. That’s the other type of person is they kind of race because they were injured and they find out that I know what I’m doing with injuries maybe I know what I’m doing this other mere idea– these strange heart monitors which were not strange anymore, but he has done that. But the big question I think is, it is always, how long does going to take me to get faster?

Jeff:                 Right. That was my next question so, I’m glad you work right into it.

Phil:                 Yes. The answer is how long does it going to take you to get rid of all the things in your life that are interfering with your focus from fitness? That’s a big issue. If you’re not eating well, you’re not going to get faster all that quick. You may never get faster. I had a patient who did really well. She was able to go from I don’t know just under a ten-minute mile phase at her aerobic heart rate to about eight minutes over a period of a year maybe and that should kind got stuck there. She came in one day and said, “I kind of stuck in eight minute, what should I do?” So, we went through her diet. We went through her stresses. We went through her training and everything else and she happened to mention her mother being diabetic. I said “Well, is there any diabetes in your family? Oh, yeah, my father.

And then I realized that this woman was only 28 or 29 years of age was very sensitive to carbohydrates. So the amount of the carbohydrates she was eating was way too much for her. Unknown to me, she wasn’t getting any symptoms, but it was subtle thing. When I said, “Let’s try reducing the carbohydrates even more” which she did and in a two-week period, she went from eight minutes, she’d lost—she took up almost a minute of her time– her track time at that aerobic [inaudible 00:34:43]. She went from a bad eight minute phase to about seven in a phase. That’s an extreme example, but those things occur.  The question is– how healthy are you? Usually stress level very high, are you reading really bad, are you skipping meals, are you not sleeping, are you achieving on your heart rate, are you going out someday without your monitor because a gang goes out for a long run and you’re a runner and you’ve got to do the same thing. So you’re out there running 15 to 20 beats higher than you should be once a week. How significant is that? Probably, very significant from the average room.

Jeff:                 No, I think that’s a great point. Yes, definitely. Going back to almost maybe the start of the conversation when you talk a lot about the biofeedback and what that implies to the athlete and learning how to feel those types of things. One of the struggles that I’ve always had as a coach is, I tell an athlete to run easy and their immediate responses, what phase is that? I always think to myself, well, it’s easy. You go out and you run and it feels easy then that’s easy.

How would you work with athletes with that biofeedback and kind of teaching them more how to go back to that point you talked about with how to learn that instinct? What’s that instinct of feeling like, “Okay, I’m running easy” and that’s what easy is and not necessarily needing to push. Have you found any good strategies to work with athletes that way?

Phil:                 Well, I’ve attempted to do that many different ways and some people have it. I grew up in the 60s, I started [inaudible 00:36:21] Buddhism on eastern philosophy and I got it back then. In some cultures, people grow up with that instinct. I work with [inaudible 00:36:34] for a few years and when I first saw [inaudible 00:36:38] I had that old monitor where you have to look down your shirt and she didn’t speak English then and I said, “You have to look down your shirt to see them”. She kind of look at me, funny.

I said, “Run at your normal training phase and I set the monitor to what I think or training patiently and she was dead on, I think she was. She knew what her body should feel like. A lot of times I would say to a person when you’re in aerobic workout whether it’s long or short. You should feel like you haven’t done anything. You should feel like you can turn around and do the same workout again. Not that you want to, but you should feel like you haven’t done anything. That’s a pretty good way to relate to your body in terms of what an aerobic workout feels like.

Jeff:                 No, that’s actually great. I think a lot of people could use that just right off the back even if they don’t have a heart rate monitor available after listening to this to say, “Boom, if I could do this again and not that I want to, but if I could that’s perfect.

Phil:                 Yes, your knee injury shouldn’t be acting up– as a matter of fact what I discovered was that running at that aerobic maximum heart rate were below. Various and massively imbalances would get corrected. The body corrects things. We cut our finger– we don’t have to run with emergency room. We don’t have to do anything, it heals itself. The body is always fixing things and the body is always fixing a muscle imbalance which is the cause of many, many physical injuries. Also, imbalances you can see in a runner and I spent so many hours on a track running back and forth through the middle of the straight way, watch runners to calm down and they turn around and watch their backside as they run away. Watch them from a distance and you could see the– we all know what our friend looks like who’s 300 yards down the road because we know his gate. We don’t see his face, but we know his gate and then you know our gate and that’s because some total of the muscle balance or imbalance.

Usually, it’s somewhat consistent so that excess hip rotation and all that excess whatever that you have that’s causing an injury should not get worst when you run it actually should get better. So, that’s another good way little ache and pains you might have should go away during true aerobic workout.

Jeff:                 Now, it makes a lot of sense. Actually, kind of related– one of the things that I’ve heard from runners when they’ve talked about using your methods to run is that sometimes and especially when they start with kind of like Mark Allen where they’re like, “This is just too slow”. Some athletes feel like it’s too slow to physically run that slow. How do you approach athletes who feel like they have that problem?

Phil:                 I just tell them. I’m very frank. This is the level of your fitness—of an aerobic fitness. I don’t care what your [inaudible 00:39:50] time is. This is the level of your aerobic fitness and it’s the way down here and you want to become a better runner and you want to get healthy, you’ve got to bring your aerobic fitness up to a higher level and it’s really simple as that.

People don’t complain when they go to [inaudible 00:40:09] max has and their numbers are terrible. They just don’t tell anybody. Then they go out and train hard anyway even though they know they should, but it’s a reality that people needs to understand that your fitness level is way, way down there. It’s bottomed out and it’s the reason you’re not getting better. It’s a reason you’re not getting healthy. It’s the reason you’re sick. It’s the reason for all these problems that you have. I will always have runners come in and say, “Why can’t I be like so and so who never has injured and always runs well and keeps getting better” and I say, “Hey, men so and so is a patient of mine and none of them is true”. Pay attention to yourself and focus on being both healthy and safe because it’s very important. You want to be running until the day you die and you want to be running well into your hundreds and not interrupted in your 40s and 50s and 60s and 70s that’s unacceptable. This is what it’s all about.

Jeff:                 No, I think that’s fantastic and I think that is the overall encompassing theme of this interview in your training. I think that’s probably actually the perfect way to end in a sense because it really encapsulates at all. But before we go, I want to ask you about a little bit of about what you’re doing now and how athletes can kind of find you and some of the others things that you do. I know you’re really into music.

Phil:                 Well, I can’t find me because I’m off the grid. Actually, I do go around doing lectures. We’re going on our fourth tour and I become a musician that’s maybe people know. I’ve got a new album coming out in February which will be the fifth album and we do what’s call the music and wellness tour [inaudible 00:42:15] is family physician who’s– we met in 1997, she came to one of my seminars and we’ve been working together since then.

We do what’s called the music and wellness seminars were we play music. It depends on a situation, we sometimes—we go to the sports club and then they all have a dinner for us and we lecture and then play music– a house concerts all different types of things, but they can find me on my website philmaffetone.com– just to very important that people don’t read some of your books that out there, The Maffetone Method which is a great title. I didn’t come up with the input. The [inaudible 00:43:07] did and as I great title, it’s still out there but the book is– I think its 13 years old now. I don’t recommend it and the publisher hates when I say that, but I don’t recommend it. The new book is called the Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing. I forgot the title. That details all of the things we’ve talked about and those are discussed on the website as well.

Jeff:                 Okay, what we’ll do is we’ll throw up more from people that are listening to this podcast. We’ll throw up those links on the website to your website and also to the book so, they can check it out because I think it’s a phenomenal read and definitely should be everybody list who’s interested in training and learning more and especially again how running can be that well rounded balance between health and fitness. So, I definitely appreciate it and obviously hopefully they check you out– check out some of your music as well and perhaps catch you on tour somewhere when you’re travelling around.

Phil:                 Sure. Thanks so much, Jeff.

Jeff:                 No, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

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10 Responses on “Why Being Fit Doesn’t Necessarily Mean You’re Healthy. How Running Below Your Aerobic Threshold Can Help You Burn More Fat, Stay Healthy, and Run Faster

  1. Given what Dr. Maffetone espouses, how do you feel fast training should be integrated into a runner’s training regimen? Very broadly speaking, is speed work advisable at all?

    • Hi Jac,

      Great question. I think what Dr. Maffetone discusses is important for those who haven’t developed a strong aerobic base. Many of us think we have, but really haven’t spent years running higher mileage and really developing the aerobic system. Once an athlete has developed a strong aerobic foundation, then speed work becomes that next logical progression. Even then, Maffetone’s method applies because many runners try running their easy runs too hard. They think harder is better, but as Maffetone explained in the podcast, you’re actually not getting as much benefit running your easy runs fast as you are running them slower (or just below your aerobic capacity).

      Best of luck with your training!

  2. I just recently endured a VO2 max and resting metabolic rate test. Thanks for this article as I seek more information on the benefits of training anaerobically and aerobically. As pre-test, I had only been training anaerobically!

  3. Hi Coach,
    So do you recommend using Dr. Maffetone’s formula to establish a Max Aerobic Heart Rate and then additionally use a heart rate monitor to stay in an aerobic training zone during “Easy” run days? As opposed to say simply picking a 10-ish minute pace?

  4. Hi Coach Jeff,

    I have been reading a lot about Dr. Maffetone’s 180-age training method. No where is it mentioned (at least I haven’t found it), what do you do on race day. I know Dr. Maffetone talks about race days as anaerobic training, so this must mean you go above the 180-age rate, plus Dr. Maffetone published the MAF test vs Running Race Pace chart so this again says race pace should be above the aerobic max heart rate. Can you provide any guidance on what I should do on race day (assuming I have built my aerobic base)?


  5. If you are building up your aerobic base how many runs do you recommend a week being aerobic and how many faster workouts like intervals or tempos would you personally recommend based on an experienced runner but one that aerobic training is new to?

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