MAF in a Nutshell

Phil’s new journal article in Sports Medicine explores the topic of unhealthy athletes and striking the ultimate balance.

Dr. Phil Maffetone’s latest scientific paper has been published in the journal Sports Medicine under the topic Current Opinion.

With co-author Prof. Paul B. Laursen, the article explores the subject, “Athletes: Fit but Unhealthy.” The provocative paper is one of the first to discuss and clear up the paradox between the terms “health” and “fitness,” clearly defining that these two notions can be very different states.

The article also stresses how lifestyle affects health and fitness, in particular how high-intensity and -volume training and poor diet add stress and negatively impact the mind-body connection.

Key points of the article include:

  • Fitness and health can be defined separately: fitness describes the ability to perform a given exercise task, and health explains a person’s state of well-being, where physiological systems work in harmony.
  • Too many athletes are fit but unhealthy.
  • Excess high training intensity or training volume and/or excess consumption of processed/refined dietary carbohydrates can contribute to reduced health in athletes and even impair performance.

“Athletes can be unhealthy,” says Dr. Maffetone. “And while it’s sad, this puts into perspective why athletes sometimes have heart attacks or even die during a race.”

This journal publication is essentially the “MAF Method in a nutshell,” he says.

Various media have shown interest in the new article, including Competitor .

To read the article directly, click here.


  • Jaime Aron says:

    I’m a new fan and already a complete devotee. For 2-plus months, I’ve been trying to keep my heartrate at or under 135 (since I’m 45) and am training for my third half-marathon in November. My question is about my stride. I realized that when my heart rate is lower, my stride is shorter. I hit 10,000 steps on my Fitbit far earlier than I used to. I just want to make sure this is correct … and, if so, when I’m ready to start going full-throttle, will I extend my stride or continue with the shorter stride, but just turning them over more rapidly?

    • Jaime:

      Great question. Start turning over more rapidly. In fact, I drill my turnover speed a couple of times a week. The reason is because the natural way to increase running speed is to quicken your turnover, and then to lengthen your stride.

      • jason says:

        I am 41 but look and feel very young, exercising all my life, low body fat; had a c spine fusion several months ago, now running every other day usually several miles using MAF method. When do I start increasing the heart rate from the subtracted rate (139 minus 5 for recent injury) to the age appropriate rate 139? Is there a method of adjusting this increase in heart rate over time?

        • Jason:

          To your first question: when you can say in a “bona fide” sense that your healing period is complete (once you’re out of physical therapy, for example).

          To your second question: You don’t really need to. Think of it this way: a bone that is 99% healed might be able to take 80% or 75% of the weight that a fully-healed bone can. This is similar to a girder that has a 1 degree bend: it can take 80 or 60% of the weight that a girder in perfect condition can. So there’s a huge, categorical leap in the resilience and capability of any system (bones and otherwise) when they go from “aaalmost fully healed” to “completely healed.” That’s why it’s (a) OK to make a 5 BPM jump, and (b) the more appropriate choice.

  • Isa says:

    Thanks so much for such an important and valuable information.

    I´ve read the complete article and many things are more clear to me in order to understand how to improve my sports performance while nourishing well my body.

    My trainer is introducing me to this method and for sure, my performance is getting much better, so, it really works.


  • Iacob Gheorghita says:

    Dear Hal Walter,

    The MAF’s article is an excellent point of view.
    The issue is more and more important not only for those who practice sports for competition but a lot of peoples who are “training” for burning fat in a dangerous inappropriate way. Unfortunately there are even medical doctors which are unaware of such aspects.
    I am more convinced, and this is an opinion, that high intensity training even if followed by adequate recovery, will lead finally, also to an unhealthy status This is a silent one which will show-up only while doing some effort tests. Sadly, there are a lot of people who are practicing different forms of sport and they do not have any form of effort test performed.
    Are there any differences in effort induced hypertension in those who “train” comparing with those who are “untrained”? Maybe not!
    Are there any differences in insulin resistance induced by exercise stress compared with those who are sedentary? Again, maybe not!
    Might be some relations? Maybe yes!
    Maybe we should think more about hypercholesterolemia, insulin resistance and stress in both sedentary and those who are trained and look at the adrenal as an organ who might be learned to over-react more easily, both the medulla or cortex.
    Interestingly, the answer for any circumstances related to overtraining is to continue training at low pace.

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