If you participate in any of the barefoot and minimalist forums (Runner’s World, Barefoot Runners Society, Ted’s Google Group) you’ve probably come across a thread about the Maffetone method. This sudden upsurge of interest in Maffetone interests me, especially because it comes on the heels of a burst of interest in high-intensity interval training (Crossfit Endurance is a popular version.)
First, a quick primer on the Maffetone method and CFE. Phil Maffetone is a dude that, among other things, is a running coach. He developed a systematic method of training based on using heart rate as a measurement tool. Long story short- if you train at a certain intensity, you “train” your body to utilize a greater percentage of fat. When done over time, your body becomes more efficient, allowing you to run longer and faster without hitting that “wall” thing marathoners talk about (which is caused by a shortage of glycogen in the body.) Fitness can be measured with a standard “test” to measure if the methods are working. Maffetone also has an accompanying diet and what not. It’s a little more complex; buy his book to find out more.
Anyway, the science behind his methods is fairly well supported, and a lot of anecdotal evidence supports the method. The premise of long, slow runs is used by most of the ultrarunners I know, though they don’t use heart rate as a measuring tool. The idea has been around for a long time. I find it interesting that it’s experiencing a resurgence in popularity, especially with the barefoot/ minimalist crowd. Why now?
Now Crossfit Endurance. The plan is used in conjunction with Crossfit. The idea is to develop speed and power, which is supposed to translate to successful endurance. There’s a focus on balance, stability, and variety.
Maffetone and his proponents avoid anaerobic exercise (for the most part.) The CF/CFE crowd and their proponents avoid aerobic exercise (for the most part.) I’m beginning to see a few good arguments developing between the two camps. Much like paleo and vegan arguments, there’s some science supporting both. There’s also some anecdotal evidence supporting both. Like any good ideology, there are also people selling products related to both.*
*Not that selling crap is a bad thing…
Interestingly, both camps are supporters of a lower volume approach. All exercise has a specific purpose in both theories. There is no “running to get in the miles.”
Anyway, I’ve experimented with both. In my experience, both have serious short-comings on their own. Follow Maffetone’s methods to the tee and you’ll end up losing explosive speed and develop strength imbalances which may increase certain injuries. And it’s nearly impossible to follow Maffetone if you’re training in mountains at altitude. Follow CF/CFE and you’ll never learn the nuances of running very long distances, require a consistent source of carbs when running, and probably get hurt doing too many hack squats.
Like most things, there’s a good middle ground. I’d recommend ignoring Maffetone’s suggestion to mostly avoid anaerobic training. Add a few burpees, deadlifts, or sprints between your runs. I’d also recommend ignoring CFE’s recommendation to limit runs to 13.1 miles. Do a good long, slow run once in awhile to train your body to better utilize fat.
What are your thoughts? If you’re supporting one or the other, please give us some evidence.