In the last post we discussed the “not so fast” exercise. Not so fast as in endurance exercise and not so fast as in be careful about believing that endurance exercise will enhance metabolism, help you lose weight, improve your health, improve your insulin sensitivity, and so on. For the vast majority of people, it won’t – particularly if taken to extremes of intensity and duration – like marathon running.
Although, in marathon-running’s defense, it is a great way to achieve infertility, risk sudden heart attack, damage joints, suffer from chronic inflammation, raise cortisol, suppress your immune system, suffer from frequent colds and infections, develop arthritis, asthma, and autoimmune disease, lose sex drive, get rid of pesky muscle tissue, and age much more quickly including developing raisin skin. That’s of course if you keep doing it. If you suddenly stop, you’ll probably get extremely ill and fall into a deep depression for a while.
Ultramarathoner Dean Karnazes summed it up best when asked “What’s the longest you’ve gone without running?” His reply…
“The longest I’ve gone without running in the past ten years has been three days. It wasn’t pretty. By day two, I was grumpy and depressed. On the third day, all I wanted to do was lie in bed all morning. This may sound peaceful to some, but relaxing to me is really stressful. By day four, I couldn’t take it any longer and went for a run, even though I had the flu and a 103-degree fever.”
Basically, with the brutality of endurance exercise you enter into the same hormonal state as a spawning salmon, which have been found to have astronomical cortisol levels prior to their quick death following spawning. Shawn Talbott, in THIS INTERESTING ARTICLE which couldn’t be more on topic writes:
“If you took a close look at these just-spawned salmon, you’d notice one striking feature–they’re a mess! These fish suffer from immune system breakdown, infections, open sores, muscle loss and brain destruction. Why is this important? Because the same hormonal stress response and elevated cortisol levels may occur in your body when you exercise. In many ways, the salmon are a perfect example of the dangers of overtraining and cortisol overexposure.”
Now it’s time to peer into another form of exercise, one that is gaining popularity due to various exercise fads rapidly on the rise such as High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), circuit training, Tabata’s, Plyometrics, Sprints, and other forms of exercise that are more or less the antithesis of steady-state cardio and aerobic workouts that have dominated the fitness industry since its recent birth (very few people actively sought out a workout until a half century ago).
The commonality between all these types of exercise is that instead of being moderate in intensity – like a level of activity that you can continue for hours on end without collapsing, they are extremely high in intensity and cannot be performed for more than a few minutes at a time.
Sprinting obviously represents the most high-intensity exercise on earth. I don’t think a single human on earth can even perform 40 seconds of sprinting at 100% maximum effort. If Michael Johnson, the current 400-meter world record holder could have, his time in the 400m would have been nearly 5 seconds faster based on his 200-meter time.
Sprinting more or less involves every single muscle in the human body in full-out effort. The involvement of all muscle groups also has a metabolic advantage which I won’t quite get into yet, but we’ll definitely be discussing that over the coming posts on our continuing conversation on exercise.
But sprinting is not really all that practical for a lot of people. It’s simply too damn hard, and the risk of injury with sprinting is very high. Sprinters are always hurt, and it’s not uncommon when watching races to actually see one of the competitors come up limping. Note, this is usually not chronic joint pain like with endurance athletes, but actual muscle strain from the intensity of the exercise itself. At the very least, you can minimize the impact and risk of injury by sprinting up steep hills instead of on flat ground, or running at 80-90% intensity instead of full throttle.
The most practical is Tabata training, or a modified version of Tabata exercises until you have achieved the level of fitness required to perform a full round of Tabata. Tabata was created by a Tokyo scientist based on a 1996 study in which subjects had greater improvements in both anaerobic and aerobic capacity than control subjects doing steady-state aerobic workouts. This video is a good example of a true Tabata session. Don’t be intimidated though if you are out of shape, overweight, incredibly unfit, or just an old fart. You could turn something as simple as jumping jacks into a Tabata session starting out, and go at your own pace. Take longer breaks in between, or whatever you need to do to make it work.
Remember, your exercise program must be YOURS, created by you, owned by you, making sense for you, working for you, catering to former injury or personal limitation, and so on.
Tabata training involves doing 20 seconds at full capacity followed by 10 seconds of rest repeated 8 times in succession. Tabata training requires no equipment, can work the entire body, and requires as little as 2:40 of actual exercise just a few times per week (although many people do several sets of Tabata in succession for a more comprehensive full-body workout – common in the ever-popular “Crossfit”). This type of exercise is so practical that it is worth an entire post, coming to 180 soon I hope.
The Little Method, which is a similar form of exercise using max capacity exercise (for 60 seconds) punctuated by brief rest periods (75 seconds), for a total of 8-12 cycles was developed due to a similar study which yielded similar results in fitness increase and metabolic enhancement (increased mitochondrial biogenesis).
Both of these methods fall under the broader category of “high-intensity interval training” or HIIT. Typical HIIT is done on a treadmill or exercise bike by simply going hard for a minute or two, going easy for a minute or two, going hard for a minute or two, and so on repeated for 10-20 minutes. Most agree that it makes steady-state and long-duration cardio obsolete in terms of fitness, health enhancement, improved stress response, physique enhancement, and even endurance (to an extent) – all while minimizing the risk of overtraining and potentially lowering cortisol and raising testosterone (opposite of long-duration cardio). This is, no doubt, a great secret to achieving greater muscle mass to body fat ratios and much better aging and longevity.
Circuit training is similar in that rest periods are minimized, the intensity level is high, and the exercise routine is typically short in duration – lasting 30-45 minutes. Circuit training is typically performed at a gym with weights and machines, but gym circuit training has many limitations (they are often crowded and having to wait to use a machine doesn’t fit into true circuit-style training, which is HARD), and circuit training does not require weights per se. Certainly not a whole gym.
In fact, at home, with only 1 set of cheap dumbbells or kettlebells, you could easily do 5 simple exercises as a circuit repeated several times to near-failure with each set emphasizing big movements that incorporate several muscle groups. That could be:
Burpees with dumbbell press – like that shown in the Tabata video but without jumping at the end – instead extending the dumbbells straight overhead when you come to a standing position
Squats Curls – Do squats, while doing dumbbell bicep curls each time you come up from the squatted position
Pushups or dips – With all kinds of variations including asymmetrical hand positions, raising one leg, etc.
Abs/core – Any exercise or combination you choose, from Pilates moves to using those cheap little ab wheels to more complicated stuff
Dead lift rows – Bend over and lift both dumbbells like you are starting a pull-cord engine, slowly let them down, and then stand up tall with arms extended, legs straight, and back flat before lowering the weight and repeating the 2-part sequence
You could try to do a full circuit in 10 minutes for a total of 3 rounds and a 30-minute total workout, for example.
Anyway, that’s all for this post. Think short, fast, challenging, and variety when it comes to exercise vs. long, slow, moderate, and repetitive. Craft your own exercise routine, and be more cautious about making it TOO HARD and TOO GRUELING than not hard enough.
Ultimately, for any form of exercise to provide benefit, it has the be the kind that you can realistically do and enjoy several times per week (minimum) consistently almost every week from now until you go to the old folk’s home and rely solely on Checkers for your workouts (unless of course you are an old male, in which case inappropriate ass-grabbing will by your standby). If you fear and dread your workouts, or keep getting injured, or steadily notice declines in fitness and well-being instead of improvements – you are not working out correctly for you, and you need to modify your program.
Stay tuned for the next blog posts on this topic. We still have a TON to cover on the topic of exercise, including weight training or “resistance” exercise, ultimate forms of metabolic enhancement exercise such as Scott Abel’s MET training, plyometrics (which I mentioned briefly here, and can certainly be incorporated into quick interval-style training), and why dance, gymnastics, martial arts, many sports, and other highly-athletic disciplines seem to be so beneficial for creating a body that takes ingested energy and turns it into muscle, heat, and energy instead of fat.
Once again, I give thee the famous pictures of fitness icon Rachel Cosgrove on invisible ab triathlon training (boo!) vs. a combination of weights and intervals (yea!)…