The whole world is drowning in the incredible, magnificent, growth-hormone spiking, heart-rate variability improving, lung-expanding, fat-burning benefits of high-intensity exercise. I define high-intensity exercise as basically the type of exercise that you can’t do for more than a minute or two at a time before either a) dying or b) slowing down and catching your breath. The superiority of high-intensity over low-intensity exercise just keeps on rolling in. And the fitness world has been thoroughly hijacked by it. Crossfit, Insanity, P90X, HIIT, Plyometrics, Bodyrock – it’s all grueling work at high heart rates in excess of the lactate threshold (the level of oxygen-deprivation where lactic acid starts being produced at a high rate). The case for high-intensity exercise – interval training, hard weightlifting, etc., is a strong case. So how could there be a case for low-intensity exercise? Isn’t that like, SOOOO 1986?
Perhaps it is so 1986, but 1986 was awesome. Let’s look simply at the quality of the movies that were released that year…
Top Gun… Ferriss Bueller’s Day Off… Stand By Me… Pretty in Pink… Big Trouble in Little China… Three Amigos… Nine 1/2 Weeks… Labyrinth… Flight of the Navigator… Karate Kid II… Short Circuit… Back to School… Lucas… Crocodile Freaking Dundee
It’s not all about “scientific evidence” showing that a high-intensity group lost more fat in 12 weeks than a low intensity exercising group. If we could just do what most effectively causes weight loss for 12 weeks and live happily-ever-after this blog wouldn’t need exist. And I could just go back to hiking around in the woods.
There are other things to consider, and this series should serve – not as a call for everyone to dramatically switch from one side of a fence to another, but to put low-intensity exercise back on the menu. It needs to be back on the menu, just like waffles, pizza, and Coca Cola sometimes need to be on the menu, for individual people to openly and objectively discover for themselves what they need at any given time to move towards health.
Several things have sorta come together all at the same time to make me reconsider low-intensity exercise. For starters, on the last post a few comments piled up championing a dramatic return to health once high-intensity exercise was ditched and substituted with lower heart rate activities like hiking and yoga. Read the first of those comments HERE. Julia Gumm also recently wrote a post discussing some of the benefits of moving around physically during the day instead of sitting in front of a computer or tv screen. My dad, soon-to-be age 69 (heh heh), tried to do a hard bodyweight exercise routine and quickly saw his strength, energy levels, sleep, and more regress – while gaining belly weight. And me? Well, I spend way too much time sitting around in front of a computer and being inactive in general (I’ve watched 5 of the above-listed movies in the last month for example), and when I do, I get super stiff in the back and hips. I thrive when spending a significant portion of EVERY day on my feet and doing things physically, which brings us to perhaps the strongest evidence of all for low-intensity exercise…
You can do A LOT of it without taxing your body very much.
If I do high-intensity exercise I am wiped out for an entire day after. I feel like sleeping all day, am kinda grumpy, am sore. I end up sitting around all day and getting super stiff. Doing intermittent hard exercise leaves me feeling tired, sore, stiff, and achy most of the time. Plus, I’m pretty beat for many hours after I do hard exercise the day of. I go through life almost never feeling like I’m in my top form.
I have applied this lower intensity idea to weightlifting as well, doing what most of the guys in the gym do – which is do a set and then take it easy for a while before doing another. No more lung-dropping while lifting only to feel completely wiped out for 36 hours after. Lately I’ve been keeping the ol’ heart rate and respiratory rate much lower. Workouts are longer, but longer is actually good for my stiff body. In fact, the longer the workout takes the more loosened up and energetic I become. And I feel great the next day and often go back to lift more weights. Plus, during the day I have the energy and desire to actually go on walks and do other light activities. I feel like I’m at my peak most of the time now instead of almost never.
We’ll keep discussing this topic in future segments. I hope to do a post specifically about the Maffetone Method, which has recently surfaced in the comments section, as well as something about lactic acid.
Some people get much better results with high-intensity exercise. There’s no question about that. But some seem to find that low-intensity exercise is a much better fit for their personal health needs, preferences, metabolism, and personal circumstances. And, like just about everything, both forms of exercise have their pros and cons. One isn’t necessarily better than the other. It’s more about finding out what YOU need, which is why this series needs to be written – to level the score and make you open to a wider variety of options. In actuality, a blend of many types of exercise for well-rounded fitness will probably always reign supreme for the general public.