I’ve been reading the The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing by Phil Maffetone recently. I have used his 180 formula when running since August of last year with some nice results, but had never read any of his books before. It’s a really great read and covers far more than simply training for races. He also explains how to improve health at the same time as increasing fitness, rather than compromise health in pursuit of performance.
I think this is an important point that is missed by a lot of people.
If you are competitive athlete, some trade-off between health and performance may be necessary (especially in a contact sport with a high risk of injury). But if you are a hobbiest racer, or average guy trying to get in shape, it starts to make less sense.
Why are we doing this stuff?
This is an important question to ask. If you are not competing in a sport*, then why are you doing this physical activity? The honest answers will be around some measure of health or to improve appearance. So, if that is the goal, why go about it in a way that makes your health worse rather than better?
That means not pushing super hard every run, it means lifting weights even if you just ‘do’ an endurance sport and it means adding some necessary variety to your training so you are fitter for life, rather than just the activity you have decided to pursue.
How do you know if you are healthy or not?
I think you can get a good idea using four measures:
BMI – it’s not perfect, but BMI will quickly tell 95% of folks if something is up.***
Resting heart rate – 60-70 is good, 50-60 is super-fit
Basic movement ability – the sit/stand test will work great for this
How often you get a cold (and how quickly you recover if you do catch one)
The first two are general fitness measures that can be screwed up by poor diet or stress, the third is a fitness-for-life test and the fourth one is the most simple measure of general health I can think of.
*Entering a race doesn’t mean you compete. By competing I mean fighting for a podium place or making significant improvements in performance** year on year.
**And by performance I mean race times going down, not distance ‘survived’ going up.