Book Review: The Endurance Handbook

The Endurance Handbook • By Dr. Philip MaffetoneThe Endurance Handbook

written by Dr. Philip Maffetone
forward by Tawnee Prazak
published by Skyhorse Publishing


Who is Dr. Philip Maffetone?

Maffetone has a Doctor of Chiropractic degree, practices complementary medicine, and is an active songwriter. [REF: 1] He’s been coaching athletes for more than 30 years. In 1994, Triathlete Magazine named him Coach of the Year. Probably his most well-known client has been Mark Allen, who won the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon World Championship six times in seven years, the last being 1995.

Maffetone has authored, or co-authored, at least 11 books on health and fitness over the years. But he’s probably most well-known for his “Maffetone Method”, which uses the idea of Maximum Aerobic Function (MAF) heart rate (HR).

You can think of MAF HR as a revision of the “220-Age” heart rate formula. The formula becomes 180-Age, with some +/- HR modifiers for your current fitness and other health parameters. If forms the basis of Maffetone’s training method. It’s the antithesis of “No Pain, No Gain.” Many athletes feel they’re training too easily at this heart rate. But Maffetone advises them to be patient. Results will eventually manifest themselves.

The Endurance Handbook, though, is not about MAF training. It does have an appendix briefly discussing it, but the book is a much more general treatment of endurance training.

What is The Endurance Handbook About? Mind Over Movement

Along the lines of knocking down “No Pain, No Gain” thinking, The Endurance Handbook is an introductory text to starting a journey to becoming an endurance athlete. It seems to follow the medical tenet of “First, do no harm.”

Building on that tenet, Maffetone’s message in the book is to get healthy first, then get fit. And I agree. It’ll be much easier to live a pain-free life that way. Learn the motor movements of your sport slowly, deliberately, and you’ll preserve and protect your muscles, joints and tendons. 

For example, he recommends runners train barefoot so their running gait follows the most natural motion possible. Shoes add an unnecessary structure to a foot that has evolved to hit the ground bare. And he feels if only the elite marathoners didn’t have running shoe sponsorships to worry about, then a barefoot sub-two hour marathon would be within reach. Breaking that barrier could then lead to a cascade of equally fast marathons just like Roger Bannister’s first sub-four minute mile achievement did for other sub-four performances.

However, I think his enthusiasm for a 1:59 marathon needs to be tempered. In August, 2015, The Sunday Times reported [REF: 2] that 1/3 of the Olympic and World Championship endurance and middle distance runners had given a suspicious blood test at some point during their careers. Perhaps all the knocking at the 1:59 marathon door has been enhanced a little … 

Nonetheless, after reading Maffetone’s chapter on feet I found myself padding barefoot about my house and yard more often. But as a cyclist, of course I can’t ride barefoot – that makes no sense. But I think the equivalent is paying for a really good bike fit. Get an objective view of how you sit on and pedal your bike. If you’ll be spinning through 10,000+ pedal strokes during a single ride, you should ensure each rotation is as efficient as possible. The only way to achieve that level of efficiency is to measure you and your bike – then make your bike fit you. Not the other way around.

And Maffetone advises you mind your brain too. It’s the central governor of all training and racing. Not only does it drive the neuropathways that make physical activity possible and indeed elegant, but it’s also responsible for the simple fact of getting your butt up off the couch and out the door for a workout in the first place. Maffetone presents some ideas to nurture your mind, which any person – athlete or not – would benefit from. Music is one approach he discusses. I especially liked his idea of “marking my territory” with the music I enjoy and find important to me.

Nutrition is a key natural performance enhancer for all athletes. I found Maffetone getting a little carried away and repetitive with his discussion of folate – primarily a criticism of too much folate in our diets – yet he does make a clear conclusion: “The remedy for these problems is very simple: eat your fruits and vegetables.” And finally he provides this sensible summary at the end of the Eating chapter: “Food is what powers our body to be the best endurance athletes. Don’t cheat your body and brain by eating junk food. Get into the habit of only buying healthy food – then it’s less likely to find its way into your house.” That last sentence reads a bit awkward. The premise is, if you have junk food in your house then you’re almost certainly going to eat it. If you don’t buy it in the first place, of course you won’t eat it! Some people don’t understand how powerful that simple logic is.


So my problems with the book are minor. There are some laughable editing errors, such as “attaché” where “attach” was needed. I’m not sure how a proof-reader could have missed these, unless the proofreading was farmed out to a low quality virtual assistant. 

I’m a man of action. I would have liked to see more summaries of action steps the reader could take away at the end of each chapter. But at least there's a helpful “Muscle Fatigue Checklist.” Every endurance athlete should reference it to keep their training on an accelerated pace.


This is a book I’d give to new endurance athletes. They won’t go wrong starting with the information here. If you know someone that’s keen on beginning cycling or running or triathlon, it would make a good gift idea. But it’s only a start. Cyclists will need more of this information mapped to them. And that’s where the services of a knowledgeable coach would be a solid next step after reading The Endurance Handbook

Check it out yourself at Amazon …
The Endurance Handbook: How to Achieve Athletic Potential, Stay Healthy, and Get the Most Out of Your Body

And Maffetone's full treatment on endurance training using the MAF HR method …
The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing