As Primal enthusiasts know, sprinting is an essential element to leading an optimally fit life. After all, it’s one of the 10 Primal Blueprint Laws, and perhaps the quintessential anti-aging activity. Brief, explosive all-out sprints are the single best activity to promote rapid reduction of excess body fat, achieve fitness breakthroughs, flood the bloodstream with anti-aging hormones like testosterone and human growth hormone, and boost neuron function in the brain. Even a very brief sprint session has a profound effect on your metabolic and hormonal function for hours and days afterward, sending what Paleo movement pioneer Dr. Art DeVany calls a “renewal signal” to your genes.
Part 1 of this two-part Definitive Guide details how and why sprinting is so beneficial to your general health, fat loss and fitness performance at all lower intensities. Part 2 details the step-by-step process to conduct an effective sprint workout.
Too many well intentioned fitness enthusiasts conduct sprint workouts in a flawed manner, and suffer from breakdown and burnout accordingly. Many more fitness enthusiasts are intimidated by sprinting, thinking it carries a high injury risk and pain and suffering factor. Sprinting is an essential fitness objective for everyone, but you must learn how to do it correctly to enjoy the benefits and prevent the pitfalls.
Sprinting: The Ultimate Primal Workout
Sprinting is a powerful hormetic stressor—a brief, natural fight or flight stimulation triggering that renewal signal that makes you more resilient not just for your next sprint workout, but for all other forms of life stress. After all, humans evolved amidst the occasional brief, life or death threats calling for superhuman physical efforts—to kill or be killed. When we hone our fight or flight attributes once in a while as our genes expect us to, we stay youthful, powerful, vibrant, and self-confident. Conversely, when we indulge in endless comforts and conveniences, and avoid hormetic stressors like sprinting, strength training, exposure to cold or heat, and so forth, we atrophy across the board and become less resilient to all forms of life stress.
Upping your sprint game can help you make an assortment of breakthroughs, from fat loss to fitness peak performance in a variety of activities (yes, including endurance and ultra-endurance events), and generally making you a more confident, energetic person.
Sprinting rocks, but unfortunately most people never take full advantage of it. Others incorporate sprinting but apply it incorrectly to their fitness routine (more on that below). The most obvious error is that people simply avoid sprinting. They think it’s only for competitive athletes, that they aren’t fit enough to try. Or they avoid sprinting because they tell themselves they dislike intense effort of any kind.
While running sprints definitely requires high fitness competency due to the impact trauma and explosiveness, sprints can also be performed in no- or low-impact activities such as stationary bike, rowing machine, or swimming. Running sprints delivers maximum results for bone density, joint and connective tissue strength, and fat reduction, but you can benefit tremendously from all forms of sprinting, and perhaps work your way up to eventually performing weight-bearing sprints.
Why Sprinting Helps Fat Loss and Endurance Performance
It might be hard to imagine how only a couple minutes of all-out effort once a week can make a huge impact on your fat reduction goals. And it might be hard to imagine how someone training for a 26.2-mile marathon or all-day triathlon event can benefit tremendously from running back and forth on a football field several times once a week. The secret is accelerated level of genetic signaling, hormone optimization, and central nervous system programming that happens when you sprint.
When you conduct an all-out sprint, you’re asking your body to perform at a level of metabolic function some 30 times greater than your resting output. This is a concept known as Metabolic Equivalent of Task (MET). By comparison, a brisk walk, casual bike ride, or easy swim is 6-10 MET, while running at a steady “tempo” pace is around 13.5 MET. A 30 MET experience sends a powerful adaptive signal to your genes to shed body fat, turbocharge fat burning, and boost hormone levels for an anti-aging effect. While the hormone spikes are brief in duration, the genetic signaling effects of a sprint workout last for hours and days afterward.
Numerous studies have shown that sprinting skyrockets growth hormone levels quickly and reliably and boosts protein synthesis (muscle building or toning) by 230 percent. The late Canadian strength and conditioning expert Charles Poliquin communicated the idea that sprinting gives the best ROI beautifully. Dig this quote from the article, “8 Reasons Everyone Should Do Sprints” at PoliquinGroup.com: “A 2010 study found that just six sprint sessions of 6 x 30-second all-out cycle sprints with four minutes rest over 2 weeks led to a leaner waist by 3 centimeters, and much greater use of fat for fuel.”
If you are stuck in the flawed and dated calories in-calories out fitness mindset, it might be hard to imagine how a brief workout that you only conduct a few times per month can have a measurable impact on your fat loss and fitness progress, but this is how genetic signaling works. Throw some 30 MET fuel into your fat burning machine, and it kicks into high gear for up to 72 hours after the workout. The science strongly supports my quip that nothing cuts you up like sprinting.
In concert with the physiological benefits, sprinting delivers huge psychological benefits by reducing your perceived exertion at all lesser intensity levels. When you train your heart, lungs, brain neurons and muscles to perform at maximum capacity, your cellular energy production becomes more efficient and makes jogging or tempo running seem easier. This reduced perceived exertion is literally true, because your brain is the ultimate limiter of performance, not the fatiguing peripheral muscles. This Central Governor Theory concept is advanced by Dr. Timothy Noakes, the great South African exercise physiologist and promoter of low-carb and keto eating. Noakes explains that our typical symptoms of fatigue like burning muscles and heaving lungs are “illusory” and that these physical sensations of discomfort are just the brain processing feedback from the body and generating symptoms of fatigue to protect you from potential injury.
You can best grasp this central governor concept when you’re at the gym and doing reps of bench press or pull-ups to failure. Indeed, that 12th rep seems like all you got, but if someone came over and put a gun to your head and barked, “two more!,” your brain would direct your screaming muscles to perform two more for sure! Ditto for anyone who has finished a marathon—the last six miles are no fun no matter how fit you are. If there were no finish line awaiting with family and friends, warm blankets and fresh food, your body might very well cramp up and stop working at mile 21.5, or 23.4, or 25.1. The central governor is going to get you to the finish line no matter what, and then give your body permission to collapse into the arms of the race medics!
Getting Started As A Sprinter
The first step toward becoming a sprinter is to adopt an empowering new mindset that you are capable of sprinting, and that it’s an extremely important element of your fitness program.
Next, establish a movement and exercise routine that will prepare your body sufficiently for the rigors of sprinting. If you are already putting in devoted miles on the road or the treadmill, getting to Pilates or yoga regularly, and otherwise keeping active and fit, you can easily and quickly integrate some top-end efforts into your workout routine.
If your fitness regimen is currently lacking, it’s best to focus on increasing all forms of general everyday movement before pursuing ambitious fitness goals like sprinting. From there, you can establish a respectable aerobic conditioning base with comfortably paced cardio sessions at a heart rate of “180 minus age” in beats per minute, and also integrate some regular strength training efforts to get your muscles, joints, and connective tissue resilient for all manner of daily activity with minimal injury risk. Strength training can be anything that puts a resistance load on your muscles, including the Primal Essential Movements (pushups, pull-ups, squats, and planks), resistance bands or cords, home gym equipment, a machine circuit at the gym, or free weights.
After a few months of moving frequently, conducting comfortable aerobic workouts, and lifting heavy things, it’s time to integrate some brief, all-out efforts, and enjoy rapid fitness breakthroughs. However, with the increased benefits comes increased risk. Sprinting is a high-stress endeavor that should be done infrequently, with an extremely careful and deliberate protocol every time, and with extended recovery time afterward. It seems the concept of sprinting has been misappropriated by coaches, trainers and devoted exercisers such that attempts are made to push the body to maximum output at most every workout.
Remember, the Primal Blueprint Law is titled, “Sprint Once In A While” because this aligns with our ancestral experience and our genetic expectations for health. If you attempt to sprint too frequently, your sprints become mediocre by default, because of excess output with insufficient recovery. Sprint workouts should be a special occasion where you feel 100 percent rested and energized to deliver a peak performance effort. Furthermore, you should only sprint for short duration, complete minimal reps, and take extensive rest periods between your sprint efforts—details follow. This ensures you enjoy maximum hormonal and fitness benefits with minimal cellular breakdown and risk of exhaustion.
This is all part of the empowering new mindset: Treat your body with care and respect and set aside the common but flawed notions about “no pain, no gain”—and that consistency is the imperative to fitness. Your body will break down with a consistent application of stress with insufficient rest. So, while you can strive to implement consistent patterns of healthy, active living, eating, and sleeping, you have to think like an elite athlete and take what your body gives you each day and nothing more. If you have a sprint workout planned for Tuesday and come up with stiff muscles or a scratchy throat, you must junk your best laid plans until you feel fantastically energized and excited at rest.
Sprints: Determining Optimal Reps, Duration, and Recovery
A revolutionary article by Dr. Craig Marker at BreakingMuscle.com titled, HIIT versus HIRT, delivers a compelling argument with extensive scientific support to do what I’ve been saying for a long time: Keep your sprints short in duration, explosive in nature, not too many, and not too often. Craig’s article details why the ideal duration for your sprints is between 10 and 20 seconds. The scientific truth is no one can sprint for longer than around 30 seconds without slowing down, and the cellular destruction required to sustain maximum effort beyond 10 seconds increases exponentially. From zero to 10 seconds, your rocket engine does just fine blasting off the line and accelerating furiously to maximum speed. Internally, your cells are burning their stored supply of pure ATP for energy.
After 10 seconds of maximum effort, you can’t produce sufficient ATP to keep going full speed. Say hello to the familiar burn of acid accumulation in the muscles. When you keep pushing beyond 10 seconds, your body commences the cellular processes of disassembling and deamination in order to supply more ATP for maximum energy output. Dr. Marker describes this disassembling and deamination process as, “breaking down the A-frames of your cells.” The vaunted benefit of mitochondrial biogenesis that you get from sprinting gets put on hold, ammonia builds up to toxic levels, and you essentially fry your cells to get to the distant finish line. While you feel the immediate burn during the effort, you also experience fatigue, immune disturbances, brain fog (ammonia is particularly destructive to brain neurons) and muscle weakness in the hours and days after the workout. Bottom line: It’s simply not worth it to try and sprint for longer than 10-20 seconds.
Let’s get more specific inside the sweet spot of 10-20 seconds. Stay on the low end (10 seconds) if you’re a novice sprinter, if you’re training for explosive sports or have high percentage fast-twitch muscle fibers, or if you are doing high-impact running sprints. You can extend to the high end (20 seconds) if you’re doing no- or low-impact sprints or preparing for endurance events. But even for endurance freaks, 20 seconds is it.
There’s simply no reason to ever sprint longer than 20 seconds unless you’re trying to break South African Wayde Van Niekerk’s world record for 400 meters. Hint: you won’t, because this is one of the most exceptional athletic performances in the history of humanity. Watch the video and you’ll see Wayde actually did “sprint” for 43.03 seconds to win the gold from the outside lane at the Rio Olympics. Alas, as you can discern by Van Niekerk’s energetic state at the finish line, elite athletes are much less affected by cellular breakdown than recreational fitness enthusiasts.
The other thing you want to guard against is cumulative fatigue during a sprint workout, because this will prompt cellular destruction and extended recovery time. Unfortunately, cumulative fatigue is pretty much the essence of a HIIT workout. You repeat a work effort that’s a little too long, too many times, with not enough rest between efforts. The workout becomes a suffer fest and ammonia bath instead of a proper, highly explosive sprint workout. Even the respected science behind the popular Tabata training protocol has been widely bastardized into workouts that are too long and depleting to deliver the substantial VO2 max increases that Dr. Tabata achieved with elite speed skaters in Japan. Realize that the original Tabata protocol was to conduct the familiar 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off for a total of only four minutes! Today, gyms across the world offer “Tabata classes” that can last for up to an hour—slinging kettlebells, doing burpees, or pedaling bicycles at the 2:1 work-to-rest ratio.
The revolutionary concept that I want you to embrace here is that you must deliver a consistent quality of effort for the duration of your sprint workout. This means both the measured performance and the perceived exertion are similar. If your first sprint of 50 yards across half a football field takes 10 seconds and feels like an 85 on a 1-100 effort scale, you want your final sprint to be of similar time and similar effort. (Okay, a tiny bit of attrition is acceptable, say 11 seconds at 90 effort level on your final sprint. But what you don’t want is to struggle and strain on your final efforts to stay around 11 seconds, nor start coming through in 12 seconds at that 85 effort level.)
Once performance declines or more effort is required to sustained performance, your sprint workout is over. Go hard and go home! I contend, along with Dr. Marker and many other experts, that 4-10 sprints are all you ever need to perform. If “more is better” thinking starts to creep in as you get fitter, you must strive to improve performance rather than add reps or increase duration.
Ready to get started? In “The Definitive Guide to Sprinting, Part 2” (check it out HERE), I provide a step-by-step protocol to conduct an effective sprint workout, honoring all of the philosophical guidelines detailed in this article.
Thanks for reading, everybody. Let me know your questions and thoughts on the board below.
The post Definitive Guide To Sprinting, Part 1: Benefits of Sprinting appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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Now that you’ve absorbed the rationale and benefits to add sprinting to your fitness program with Part One of the Definitive Guide To Sprinting, let’s get into the details of how to conduct a great workout. The following five guidelines are presented in logical succession, so you can refer to them frequently and ensure a safe, effective sprint workout. I’ll also share a few sprint workouts you can do anytime, including my own sprint workout routine. Remember, it’s all about going big…and then going home to get on with an awesome life.
Let’s get started….
First Things First
First, get your movement and fitness objectives in a good groove before you contemplate adding sprinting to your program. When you’re ready to sprint, make sure you pick the right day. It’s essential that you feel 100 percent rested and energized—chomping at the bit—every time you conduct a sprint workout. If you have even the slightest sensation of subpar immune function or muscle stiffness or soreness, postpone your workout until you feel great. (This is the better day to do low-level cardio activities instead.) If you conduct a sprint workout in a fatigued state, bad stuff happens. First, you increase your risk of injury and extend recovery time by pushing a tired body to hard work.
When you insist upon training in a fatigued state, it doesn’t make you tougher, but rather slower. When you conduct an all-out sprint, you are asking billions of neurons in your central nervous system to process messages and motor responses with great speed and accuracy. If you’re off your A-game and attempt a sprint session, you’ll actually fire neurons and muscles more slowly and inaccurately. You’re literally training your body how to go more slowly when you start out feeling like crap and carry on in the name of “consistency,” or the demands of the ego.
Swimmers know that when your stroke becomes short and choppy due to fatigue at the end of a workout or a tough set, you’re ingraining these flawed motor patterns into your central database. Consequently, you become more likely to make technique errors all the time, even when you’re fresh. This is just like an undisciplined day in the office, when you perform sloppy work that also takes longer than usual, and become accustomed to working in what author, speaker, and performance scientist James Hewitt calls the “cognitive middle gear.”
It’s interesting to note the frequency at which the world’s elite sprinters will pull out of a race at the last minute. Even with the pressure and expectation of a stadium full of fans, the athlete will report a twinge in the hamstring during warm-ups and withdraw from meet. Implement the same strict standards for your own workouts. Even if you’re a novice, you can tell after a couple wind sprints (details shortly) if you are not feeling as snappy and explosive as usual. On those occasions, wait patiently and try again on a better day.
It’s important to warm-up carefully before any workout, but even more so for sprinting due to the increased demand placed on muscles, joints, and connective tissue. A warm-up consists of 5-10 minutes of very comfortably paced cardiovascular exercise—something registering a 1 or 2 on a 1-10 scale. For all but the fittest folks, this is simply a brisk walk, perhaps an easy jog. The goal is to break a light sweat and elevate heart rate and respiration rate so you’re prepared for the next phase of the workout. A gentle warm-up allows blood concentrated in the organs to flow smoothly out to the extremities. This minimizes the fight or flight impact of transitioning from a sedentary state to an active state.
Granted, your body is capable of springing into action anytime via fight or flight mechanisms, but this increases the stress impact of the workout as you can imagine. Even if you’re just going for a moderately paced jog, you’ll start burning glucose immediately instead of fat because you’re prompting a six-fold increase in your metabolic output from a resting state too quickly. Once you stimulate glucose burning processes, it’s difficult to transition over to the desired fat burning-dominant jogging session. In contrast, if you leave the house, walk for a minute or two, move to a brisk walk for a minute or two, then start the intended aerobic jogging pace of your workout, you’re more likely to burn fat for the duration of the session. This is true for any exercise, so spin the pedals, paddle the board, or row the oars very slowly for several minutes at every workout.
Dynamic Stretches and Preparatory Drills
While an easy cardio warm-up is sufficient for most workouts, the high-intensity nature of sprinting requires more extensive preparations before you launch into the main work efforts. You’ve probably heard about the drawbacks and dangers associated with static stretching, whereby muscles are temporarily weakened after being stretched. Dynamic stretches are different—you’re moving muscles through an exaggerated range of motion, but not applying extra force beyond what’s required to go through the range of motion. I provide photos and detailed descriptions of a great set of dynamic stretches for running sprints in The Primal Blueprint 21-Day Total Body Transformation and 21-Day Primal Reset video course.
Here’s a quick rundown of a great dynamic stretching sequence. (Stay tuned for a complete post on this important subject soon.)
- Knee-to-Chest: Start out gently pulling knees up to chest and releasing as you walk forward
- Pull Quads: Grab your foot from behind, pull gently up to butt, and release.
- Open Hips: Facing forward, rotate your knee up and along bodyline, then place directly in front of you. This is especially important to improve hip flexor mobility that is compromised by sitting in a chair all day.
- Mini-Lunge: Take exaggerated-length steps, getting your front thigh nearly parallel to the ground. Don’t overdo this one, it’s just warm-up!
I also recommend completing some preparatory drills that are actually quite difficult on their own but help refine excellent technique, and also build flexibility and mobility for sprinting. I’ll detail these drills in a future article about dynamic stretching. Generally, the drills help you refine good technique and avail full range of motion before you explode off the line at your first sprint. Following are a couple great drills to conduct before sprinting:
- Hopping Drill: Launch off one leg, driving knee high into chest, then land on the same leg. After a short hop forward, launch off opposite leg, driving knee high. Balance your launch effort between height and distance. Pump arms vigorously during each sequence.
- High Knees: This one will get your heart rate up, and help you focus on achieving correct form during sprints. Run forward with exaggerated knee lift, striving to slap palms. During actual sprinting, focus on preserving a tall, straight body, driving knees high, and maintaining a balanced center of gravity through fast, efficient leg turnover.
You should be feeling loose, fluid and explosive after the dynamic stretches—ready for some wind sprints! This is a term describing brief accelerations up to nearly full speed, then a quick easing off the gas pedal back to easy effort. Wind sprints are important to get the final kinks out, get the brain and body focused on proper technique, and hone your focus for the main set of sprints just ahead. Wind sprints can be done with bicycling, swimming, rowing or other type of sprint session. You just initiate a few powerful pedal strokes or rows to get up to speed, then quickly back off before feeling slightest bit of strain.
Wind sprints are the time for an honest evaluation of how you’re feeling and whether to proceed to the main set of sprints. Tudor Bompa, Ph.D., author of Periodization Training for Sports, describes the ready state as: optimally excited and uninhibited. You are about to fire fast twitch muscle fibers to their full potential, so you might want to emulate the Olympians and do some miniature explosive jumps and hops before you launch into your first sprint. If you feel particularly sluggish when you accelerate during the wind sprints, you may want to pull the plug on the workout.
Granted, sometimes it takes a while for the engine to get warmed up and the brain to get enthused about maximum explosive efforts, but after the warm-up, dynamic stretches, preparatory drills, and wind sprints, the goal is to feel nothing short of fantastic. Believe me, I have made the mistake many times of thinking I could man up and get through a sprint workout. Guess what? I can every time, but these are the sessions where I tweak or pull something, and/or experience much more muscle soreness and fatigue in the ensuing days.
Feeling optimally excited and uninhibited before the first sprint is critical, and it’s also important to preserve the sensation throughout the workout. What I often notice during sprint sessions is feeling great, great, great, and then noticing a bit more fatigue and sluggishness during the recovery period. I might drag my feet a bit during slow jogging, or my mind will wander from intense focus on the session to something relating to the business matters of the day. Pay attention to these little things throughout the session. If you’re endurance athlete, this requires a fundamental change in mindset from “endure” to “explode.” It’s a cool feeling to conduct yourself like a real athlete instead of just a plodder once in a while, so go for it!
(Optional) Intensive Sprint Preparation: Cold Immersion
Speaking of optimally excited and uninhibited, my writing sidekick Brad Kearns has been doing some interesting research and field testing with the practice of cold exposure, followed by a rewarming jog, followed by all-out sprints. Brad calls this operation the Unfrozen Caveman Runner (those in the older age groups will recognize the Saturday Night Life reference to one of Phil Hartman’s classic characters). The essence of the protocol is this: We know from research detailed in The Definitive Guide to Cold Therapy article that even a brief cold exposure of 20 seconds in 40ºF (4.4ºC) water triggers a 200-300% spike in norepinephrine lasting for an hour afterward. This is a legit hack to access the desired “optimally excited and uninhibited” state!
We also know that performing intense exercise on cold muscles and joints is completely stupid. Instead, you take the necessary time to rewarm after a cold immersion and before a sprint session. In Brad’s protocol, this entails a 30-minute jog at aerobic heart rates—extremely slow and gentle at first, and gradually warming into a typical training pace. Once warmed, you arrive at the track and ride the norepinephrine high for a breakthrough sprint session, as seen on Brad’s YouTube video.
The benefits of cold exposure to athletic performance and recovery have been validated in a laboratory setting by the inventors of the RTX cooling glove at Stanford University. In short, they invented a contraption you stick your hand into which quickly lowers your core body temperature. A very fit researcher named Vin Cao established a baseline fitness standard when he did 180 pull-ups in a single workout—performed in sets of 50 with three-minute breaks between sets. Not bad, for a Stanford researcher! After training with the glove for six weeks, and cooling his body temperature after every set of pull-ups, Cao was able to perform a mind-blowing 620 pull-ups in a single workout!
Your wind sprints are done? Now onto the main event.
Choose a duration between 10 and 20 seconds, and target your reps between 4 and 10. (If you’re new to sprinting, stick to no more than 4-5 reps.)
We haven’t talked about rest intervals yet, and Dr. Craig Marker and other experts urge you to take “luxurious” rest intervals during your sprint workouts. I must admit that this insight was a revelation to me.
I came to sprinting from an endurance background, where I spent decades suffering with the best of them. Wanna do a couple more reps? Sure—and forget the rest interval, let’s go right now! For years, I performed brief explosive sprints as directed, then after a brief jog would launch right into another one, and another. Why be luxurious when you can be tough? Well, it turns out that replenishing ATP and creatine phosphate (fuel used during explosive efforts of less than 30 seconds) requires around three minutes of rest before performing another maximum effort. Olympic sprinters will routinely rest for several minutes between efforts—not because they absolutely need to, but because this maximizes their ability to generate explosive force repeatedly, and minimizes cellular damage caused by the workout. Science geeks note: this is an oversimplified description of energy contribution during intense exercise. This article about the energy systems involved during intense exercise will give you a fabulous overview of everything you need to know to run a 43-flat 400-meter like Wayde Van Niekerk.
Dr. Craig Marker’s HIIT vs. HIRT article recommends a sensible work-to-rest pattern in a kettlebell workout of 10 seconds of explosive effort, repeated on the minute, for a maximum of 10 minutes. I find 50 seconds of rest is plenty for a sprint of short duration. Alas, we want luxurious as the top goal here, so feel free to extend your recovery time on the last few sprints to make sure you feel optimally excited and uninhibited every time.
Let’s put it all together with some sample sprint workouts. I’ll begin with my own running routine.
My Sprint Routine
Warm-up: 10 minutes of brisk walking/slow jogging. Maintain a heart rate well below aerobic maximum per Dr. Phil Maffetone’s formula: “180 minus age” in beats per minute.
Dynamic Stretching and Preparatory Drills: Complete as directed, probably lasting 7-10 minutes.
Wind Sprints: Do 3-5 wind sprints where you move for perhaps 10 seconds, but only two seconds are at speed.
Sprint!: Pick a fixed distance such as half of a football field or running track straightaway, knowing that it will take around 10 seconds to complete. Conduct between 4 and 10 sprints, taking at least 50 seconds between sprints. Quit as soon as you notice any muscle tightness, breakdown in form, a slower than typical time for the same distance, or an increase in effort needed to achieve the same time.
Cool Down: Commence a gradual cooldown consisting of 7-10 minutes of light jogging or brisk walking, maintaining a heart rate below “180 minus age.” At the end, you should stop sweating, have a normal respiration rate and a heart rate near normal. If you have trouble spots, injury concerns or a rehab protocol (make sure to get your doctor’s and physical therapist’s okay before incorporating a sprint routine!), conduct your static stretches and/or foam rolling after your cooldown.
Active Recovery: In the ensuing 24-48 hours after your sprint workout, make a devoted effort to be more active than usual with increased walking (especially frequent work breaks), dynamic stretching, foam rolling and flexibility/mobility drills. It’s now clear that the most powerful recovery tool is simply movement.
Stationary Cycling Sprints
Warm-up: 10 minutes of easy pedaling. Maintain a heart rate well below aerobic maximum per Dr. Phil Maffetone’s formula: “180 minus age” in beats per minute.
Dynamic Stretching and Preparatory Drills: You can still do these on a bike or rowing machine by exaggerating your range of motion. On the bike, I will try to hyperflex my ankles during pedal revolution, alternatively trying to touch the ground with pointed toes and dorsiflexing the ankle so the heel always rides high. I also will pause for a moment and lean forward onto my hamstring for a couple seconds, then resume pedaling. Find similar moves with rowing, swimming, or other that extend range of motion.
Wind Sprints: Do five quick accelerations up to sprinting speed, where you move for perhaps 10 seconds, but only two seconds are at speed.
Sprint!: Pick a fixed time duration of 20 seconds. Conduct between 4 and 10 sprints, taking at least 50 seconds between sprints. For example, you can set your watch to beep every 1 minute, 10 seconds, knowing it’s time to initiate another 20-second sprint at every beep.
Cool Down: Commence a gradual cooldown consisting of 5-10 minutes of easy pedaling, maintaining a heart rate below “180 minus age.” If you have trouble spots, injury concerns or a rehab protocol (make sure to get your doctor’s and physical therapist’s okay before incorporating a sprint routine!), conduct your static stretches and/or foam rolling after cooldown.
Active Recovery: In the ensuing 24 hours after your sprint workout, make a devoted effort to be more active than usual with increased walking (especially frequent work breaks), an easy aerobic pedaling session, dynamic stretching, foam rolling and flexibility/mobility drills. It’s now clear that the most powerful recovery tool is simply movement.
Finally, let’s wrap it up with some easy take-home points that review everything it takes for a powerful sprint workout routine.
- Choose the appropriate activity, either low or high impact
- Always be ready, feeling 100 percent rested and energized for a special workout
- Warm up with aerobic exercise at 180 minus age heart rate
- Complete dynamic stretches and preparatory drills
- Complete wind sprints
- Conduct main set with appropriate work efforts (10-20 seconds), luxurious rest intervals, and for 4-10 reps
- Cool down with 5-10 minutes of easy cardio
- Keep active over ensuing days
- Recover completely before the next sprint workout
- Have fun getting off the TV treadmill and feeling like a real athlete!
Thanks for reading, everyone. Get out there, go hard, go home and report back about your experience. I look forward to hearing from you!
The post Definitive Guide To Sprinting, Part 2: Creating a Sprinting Workout (+Video) appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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One of the most common questions I get is “Does [x] break a fast?”
What they’re really inquiring about is: “Does this interfere with, negate, or nullify the benefits of fasting?”
These benefits include:
Ketosis: Fasting is the quickest way to get into ketosis, an metabolic state characterized by increasing fat burning, fat adaptation, and—in some people—improved cognitive function.
Fat Loss: When you’re fasting, you’re not eating, and not eating is the best way to force your body to burn the fat it already possesses. Fasting also means no additional calories are coming in, and many people find that fasting is a great way to control their calorie intake.
Autophagy: Autophagy, or “self-eating,” is the process by which our cells prune damaged components, maintain proper function, and keep aging at bay. Fasting triggers autophagy. Breaking the fast will stop autophagy.
Let’s go through the most popular queries one by one and figure out how each one affects an intermittent fast.
Depends on who you ask. Some say the fact that coffee triggers a metabolic response means it breaks the fast. I say that coffee increases fat mobilization and burning, independently triggers autophagy (something we’re looking for when we fast), and makes it easier to stave off hunger. For my full treatment, check out this post on coffee and fasting.
I’m going to say “no.”
Tea contains no calories, improves metabolic health, and can aid fat burning. All signs point to it being great during a fast. Of course, if you had a tablespoon of sugar and a half cup of milk, you’re breaking the fast. But tea itself is a great addition.
I’m going to say “no.”
Yerba mate is essentially non-caloric, like tea or black coffee. It also has beneficial effects on glucose tolerance, which is a big plus.
I’m going to say “no.”
I covered this in full a few months ago. Go read that post. In short, a bit is probably okay. Just keep in mind that the more gelatinous your broth is, the more collagen protein it will contain and the greater its potential to inhibit autophagy. This isn’t established in humans yet (see the collagen section below), but it’s worth considering. A nice salty broth has gotten many a faster through a tough fast, especially if they’re still learning the ropes and need some electrolytes.
I’m going to say “technically yes” but “realistically no.”
A tablespoon of fresh squeezed lemon juice has a couple calories and a decent amount of potassium. Combined with salt, lemon water is actually a nice way to hydrate during a fast without breaking it.
I’m going to say “no.”
Diet soda may mess with your gut. It’s linked to weight issues, though not conclusively and certainly not in a causative manner; it’s just as likely that the relationship can be explained by overweight and unhealthy people using diet sodas in a bid to lose weight. I don’t like them myself, and I’ve witnessed people fail to ever kick the sweet tooth as long as they drank diet sodas. But many people find they do improve dietary adherence and do improve fasting tolerance. If that’s the case, they are very pro-fasting.
I’m going to say “no.”
A juice fast isn’t really a fast. You’re consuming fewer calories than you might eating normal food, but you’re still consuming a good number of calories—most of them carbohydrate, no less.
I’m going to say “yes” unless you’re specifically engaging in “juice fasting,” in which case it’s still not fasting despite what you call it.
Common Drink Additions/Condiments
Technically, as a source of calories, cream breaks a fast. But it doesn’t provoke an insulin response when consumed in isolation, it doesn’t impact ketosis, and many people find it makes sticking to the fast easier.
I’m going to say “technically yes, but realistically no—just keep it to a couple teaspoons or less.”
It depends on the almond milk. A full cup of the standard sugar-free almond milk has just 36 calories, about a gram of carbs, 2 grams of fat, and a gram of protein. That’s almost nothing. You could probably get away with a quarter or third cup and have minimal impact on your fast, but why not just drink some water or coffee?
I’m going to say “technically yes,” but you can get away with a little bit.
Like cream, butter doesn’t provoke an insulin response in isolation. It’s more calorically dense than cream, though, so watch how much you eat.
I’m going to say “technically yes, but realistically no as long as you’re not using more than a teaspoon.”
MCT Oil/Coconut Oil
MCT oil is pure fat and thus calorically dense, but it has three benefits going for it. First, it doesn’t provoke an insulin response in isolation. Two, it increases energy expenditure. Three, it converts directly to ketones. People new to fasting can often speed up the fat adaptation process by incorporating a little MCT oil. Coconut oil is the main source of MCT oil, so it’ll have similar effects, though not as pronounced.
I’m going to say “technically yes, but realistically no—and it may even enhance your fasting experience when consumed in moderation.”
I’m going to say “no.”
Salt does not break a fast. Actually, adding a pinch or two of salt to your water during a fast can increase your tolerance of the fasting process and improve hydration status.
I’m going to say “no.”
Non-caloric Sweeteners—First Natural, Then Artificial
Stevia contains no calories and has no effect on insulin secretion (if anything, it increases insulin sensitivity). However, it’s often used to sweeten foods that do contain calories, so be mindful of how you’re using it.
I’m going to say “no.”
For a good overview of monk fruit, read this. Suffice it to say, monk fruit is similar to stevia in that it’s a non-caloric, naturally-occurring sweetener with unique health effects. It will not break your fast.
I’m going to say “no.”
Swerve is a sweetener that blends erythritol (a sugar alcohol) and oligosaccharides (a prebiotic fiber that tastes kinda sweet) with natural flavors. Erythritol has no effect on insulin or blood glucose (you just pee it out mostly). I couldn’t find any studies on oligosaccharides during a fast, but as humans cannot by definition digest them, they shouldn’t affect the course of a fast.
I’m going to say “no.”
See the gum section above. Stick to reasonable amounts.
I’m going to say “no.”
Sucralose (a.k.a. Splenda)
Sucralose does not provoke an insulin response or increase blood glucose—great news for fasters who want to use it—but it does seem to impair whole body insulin sensitivity. That’s bad for everyone.
I’m going to say “no,” but there are other downsides.
Those same studies on monk fruit and stevia also tested aspartame, finding similar results. Aspartame does not provoke an insulin or glucose response. I’m no fan of the stuff, but I don’t see any evidence that it will break a fast.
I’m going to say “no.”
Supplementary Powders, Oils, Etc.
Assuming you’re doing the kind of hemp oil that comes in droppers and not the kind that you pour from a culinary oil bottle, the caloric content can’t possibly impact your fast. There are no studies examining the metabolic effects of CBD in the fasted state, but I don’t see any reason why it would impact ketosis, autophagy, or fat-burning—and without psychoactive THC involved, you won’t be getting the munchies.
I’m going to say “no.”
Protein powder provokes an insulin response, which opposes autophagy, which means you’re breaking your fast. Plus, protein powder contains calories.
I’m going to say “yes.”
If you’re strict and technical, then yes, collagen breaks a fast. There’s evidence that glycine—the most prominent amino acid in collagen—can inhibit autophagy, but it was a convoluted animal study where inhibiting autophagy with large doses of glycine after brain injury actually improved outcomes. It probably doesn’t apply to someone adding a scoop of collagen to their coffee. Besides, even if it slightly reduces autophagy, a little collagen won’t negatively impact ketosis, fat-burning, or energy intake.
I’m going to say “technically yes,” but “realistically no.” Avoid if your main focus is autophagy, though.
Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
BCAAs trigger an insulin response and thus stop autophagy and the fast. That said, many proponents of fasted training recommend using BCAAs before a workout to help preserve muscle and improve the post-workout anabolic response.
I’m going to say “yes.”
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is made by double fermenting the sugars present in apple juice. First, yeast convert the sugars to alcohol. Next, the alcohol converts to acetic acid. The result is a liquid that’s virtually calorie-free. Studies showing that consuming vinegar lowers the blood glucose response to a subsequent meal aren’t really relevant if you’re fasting, but they don’t hurt.
I’m going to say “no.”
Electrolyte powders/tabs used to come festooned with sucrose, making them decidedly anti-fasting. These days, most of them are sweetened with stevia or some other natural non-caloric sweetener. Even the ones that have a little bit of sugar (1-2 g) are probably okay to consume without much negative effect. Best of all, electrolytes can really help you tolerate a fast.
I’m going to say “no.”
If we’re talking sugar-rich gum, the answer is yes. Those definitely break a fast. If we’re talking xylitol gum, the answer is more mixed. In healthy individuals, 30 grams of pure xylitol triggers a small but significant rise in glucose and insulin. That might sound scary to a prospective IFer, but most people aren’t chewing gum made with 30 grams of xylitol. The average piece of xylitol gum barely weighs a gram.
I’m going to say “no,” unless you’re chewing gum made with real sugar or you’re throwing back 30 pieces of xylitol gum in a sitting.
I always consume my toothpaste (around a tablespoon of the good stuff per brushing) and I’ve never had it knock me out of ketosis, autophagy, or in any way shape or form break my fast. I’m kidding. I don’t consume my toothpaste, but brushing your teeth doesn’t break a fast.
I’m going to say “no.” Don’t eat it though.
Pretty much the same as toothpaste. Look for a brand that doesn’t contain sugar or one of the artificial sweeteners above that trips insulin. As the instructions (and common sense) suggest, don’t drink it.
That’s it, folks. If you have additional questions about what does or doesn’t break a fast, leave them down below. Thanks for reading, and I hope you found the post helpful. Forward it on if you did.
Hansson P, Holven KB, Øyri LKL, et al. Meals with Similar Fat Content from Different Dairy Products Induce Different Postprandial Triglyceride Responses in Healthy Adults: A Randomized Controlled Cross-Over Trial. J Nutr. 2019;149(3):422-431.
Anton SD, Martin CK, Han H, et al. Effects of stevia, aspartame, and sucrose on food intake, satiety, and postprandial glucose and insulin levels. Appetite. 2010;55(1):37-43.
Ili? V, Vukmirovi? S, Stilinovi? N, ?apo I, Arsenovi? M, Milijaševi? B. Insight into anti-diabetic effect of low dose of stevioside. Biomed Pharmacother. 2017;90:216-221.
Noda K, Nakayama K, Oku T. Serum glucose and insulin levels and erythritol balance after oral administration of erythritol in healthy subjects. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1994;48(4):286-92.
Müller-hess R, Geser CA, Bonjour JP, Jéquier E, Felber JP. Effects of oral xylitol administration on carbohydrate and lipid metabolism in normal subjects. Infusionsther Klin Ernahr. 1975;2(4):247-52.
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Biological systems are self-maintaining. They have to be. We don’t have maintenance workers, mechanics, troubleshooters that can “take a look inside” and make sure everything’s running smoothly. Doctors perform a kind of biological maintenance, but even they are working blind from the outside.
No, for life to sustain itself, it has to perform automatic maintenance work on its cells, tissues, organs, and biological processes. One of the most important types of biological maintenance is a process called autophagy.
Autophagy: the word comes from the Greek for “self-eating,” and that’s a very accurate description: Autophagy is when a cell consumes the parts of itself that are damaged or malfunctioning. Lysosomes—members of the innate immune system that also degrade pathogens—degrade the damaged cellular material, making it available for energy and other metabolites. It’s cellular pruning, and it’s an important part of staving off the worst parts of the aging process.
In study after study, we find that impairment to or reductions of normal levels of autophagy are linked to almost every age-related degenerative disease and malady you can imagine.
- Cancer: Autophagy can inhibit the establishment of cancer by removing malfunctioning cellular material before it becomes problematic. Once cancer is established, however, autophagy can enhance tumor growth.
- Diabetes: Impaired autophagy enables the progression from obesity to diabetes via pancreatic beta cell degradation and insulin resistance. Impaired autophagy also accompanies the serious complications related to diabetes, like kidney disease and heart failure.
- Heart disease: Autophagy plays an important role in all aspects of heart health.
- Osteoporosis: Both human and animal studies indicate that autophagy dysfunction precedes osteoporosis.
- Alzheimer’s disease: Early stage Alzheimer’s disease is linked to deficits in autophagy.
- Muscle loss: Autophagy preserves muscle tissue; loss of autophagy begins the process of age-related muscle atrophy.
Okay, so autophagy is rather important. It’s fundamental to health.
But how does autophagy happen?
The way it’s supposed to happen is this:
Humans traditionally and historically lived in a very different food environment. Traditionally and historically, humans were feasters and fasters. While I don’t think our paleolithic ancestors were miserable, wretched, perpetually starving creatures scuttling from one rare meal to the next—the fossil records show incredibly robust remains, with powerful bones and healthy teeth and little sign of nutritional deficits—they also couldn’t stroll down to the local Whole Foods for a cart full of ingredients. Going without food from time to time was a fundamental aspect of human ancestral life.
They worked for their food. I don’t mean “sat in a cubicle to get a paycheck to spend on groceries.” I mean they expended calories to obtain food. They hunted—and sometimes came back empty handed. They dug and climbed and rooted around and gathered. They walked, ran, stalked, jumped, lifted. Movement was a necessity.
In short, they experienced energy deficits on a regular basis. And energy deficits, particularly sustained energy deficits, are the primary triggers for autophagy. Without energy deficits, you remain in fed mode and never quite hit the fasted mode required for autophagy.
Now compare that ancestral food environment to the modern food environment:
Almost no one goes hungry. Food is cheap and plentiful, with the tastiest and most calorie-rich stuff tending to be the cheapest and most widely available.
Few people have to physically work for their food. We drive to the store and walk a couple hundred steps, hand over some money, and—BOOM—obtain thirty thousand calories, just like that. Or someone comes to our house and delivers the food directly.
We eat all the time. Unless you set out to do it, chances are you’ll be grazing, snacking, and nibbling throughout the day. We’re in a perpetually fed state.
The average person in a modern society eating a modern industrial diet rarely goes long enough without eating something to trigger autophagy. Nor are they expending enough energy to create an energy deficit from the other end—the output. It’s understandable. If our ancestors were thrust into our current situation, many would fall all over themselves to take advantage of the modern food environment. But that doesn’t make it desirable, or good for you. It just means that figuring out how to trigger autophagy becomes that much more vital for modern humans.
Here are 7 ways to induce autophagy with regular lifestyle choices.
There’s no better way to quickly and reliably induce a large energy deficit than not eating anything at all. There are no definitive studies identifying “optimal” fasting guidelines for autophagy in humans. Longer fasts probably allow deeper levels of autophagy, but shorter fasts are no slouch.
2) Get Keto-Adapted
When you’re keto- and fat-adapted, it takes you less time to hit serious autophagy upon commencing a fast. You’re already halfway there.
3) Train Regularly
With exercise-related autophagy, the biggest effects are seen with lifelong training, not acute. In mice, for example, the mice who are subjected to lifelong exercise see the most autophagy-related benefits. In people, those who have played soccer (football) for their entire lives have far more autophagy-related markers of gene activity than people of the same age who have not trained their whole lives.
4) Train Hard
In studies of acute exercise-induced autophagy, the intensity of the exercise is the biggest predictor of autophagy—even more than whether the athletes are in the fed or fasted state.
5) Drink Coffee
At least in mice, both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee induce autophagy in the liver, muscle tissue, and heart. This effect persists even when the coffee is given alongside ad libitum food. These mice didn’t have to fast for the coffee to induce autophagy.
Certain nutrients can trigger autophagy, too….
6) Eat Turmeric
Curcumin, the primary phytonutrient in turmeric, is especially effective at inducing autophagy in the mitochondria (mitophagy).
7) Consume Extra Virgin Olive Oil
The anticancer potential of its main antioxidant, oleuropein, likely occurs via autophagy.
Disclaimer: The autophagy/nutrient literature is anything but definitive. Most studies take place in test tube settings, not living humans. Eating some turmeric probably won’t flip a switch and trigger autophagy right away, but it won’t hurt.
Autophagy is a long game.
This can’t be underscored enough: Autophagy is a lifelong pursuit attained by regular doses of exercise and not overeating every time you sit down to a meal. Staying so ketotic your pee tests look like a Prince album cover, doing epic 7-day fasts every month, fasting every other day, making sure you end every day with fully depleted liver glycogen—while these strategies might be “effective,” obsessing over their measures to hit some “optimal” level of constant autophagy isn’t the point and is likely to activate or trigger neurotic behavior.
Besides, we don’t know what “optimal autophagy” looks like. Autophagy isn’t easy to measure in live humans. You can’t order an “autophagy test” from your doc. We don’t even know if more autophagy is necessarily better. There’s the fact that unchecked autophagy can actually increase existing cancer in some cases. There’s the fact that too much autophagy in the wrong place might be bad. We just don’t know very much. Autophagy is important. It’s good to have some happening. That’s what we have to go on.
Putting These Tips Into Practice
Autophagy happens largely when you just live a healthy lifestyle. Get some exercise and daily activity. Go hard every now and then. Sleep deeply. Recover well. Don’t eat carbohydrates you don’t need and haven’t earned (and I don’t just mean “earned through glycogen depleting-exercise”). Reach ketosis sometimes. Don’t eat more food than you need. Drink coffee, even decaf.
All those caveats aside, I see the utility in doing a big “autophagy session” a few times a year. Here’s how mine looks:
- Do a big training session incorporating strength training and sprints. Lots of intense bursts. This will trigger autophagy.
- Fast for two or three days. This will push autophagy even further.
- Stay busy throughout the fast. Take as many walks as possible. This will really ramp up the fat burning and get you quickly into ketosis, another autophagy trigger.
- Drink coffee throughout the fast. Coffee is a nice boost to autophagy. Decaf is fine.
I know people are often skeptical of using “Grok logic,” but it’s likely that most human ancestors experienced similar “perfect storms” of deprivation-induced autophagy on occasion throughout the year. You track an animal for a couple days and come up short, or it takes that long to make the kill. You nibble on various stimulants plucked from the land along the way. You walk a ton and sprint some, then lift heavy. And finally, maybe, you get to eat.
If you find yourself aging well, you’re on the right track. If you’re not progressing from obesity to diabetes, you’re good to go. If you’re maintaining and even building your muscle despite qualifying for the blue plate special, you’ve probably dipping into the autophagy pathway. If you’re thinking clearly, I wouldn’t worry. Obviously, we can’t really see what’s happening on the inside. But if everything you can verify is going well, keep it up.
That’s it for today, folks. If you have any more questions about autophagy, leave them down below and I’ll try to get to all of them in future posts.
Thanks for reading!
Yang ZJ, Chee CE, Huang S, Sinicrope FA. The role of autophagy in cancer: therapeutic implications. Mol Cancer Ther. 2011;10(9):1533-41.
Barlow AD, Thomas DC. Autophagy in diabetes: ?-cell dysfunction, insulin resistance, and complications. DNA Cell Biol. 2015;34(4):252-60.
Sasaki Y, Ikeda Y, Iwabayashi M, Akasaki Y, Ohishi M. The Impact of Autophagy on Cardiovascular Senescence and Diseases. Int Heart J. 2017;58(5):666-673.
Florencio-silva R, Sasso GR, Simões MJ, et al. Osteoporosis and autophagy: What is the relationship?. Rev Assoc Med Bras (1992). 2017;63(2):173-179.
Li Q, Liu Y, Sun M. Autophagy and Alzheimer’s Disease. Cell Mol Neurobiol. 2017;37(3):377-388.
Jiao J, Demontis F. Skeletal muscle autophagy and its role in sarcopenia and organismal aging. Curr Opin Pharmacol. 2017;34:1-6.
Schwalm C, Jamart C, Benoit N, et al. Activation of autophagy in human skeletal muscle is dependent on exercise intensity and AMPK activation. FASEB J. 2015;29(8):3515-26.
De oliveira MR, Jardim FR, Setzer WN, Nabavi SM, Nabavi SF. Curcumin, mitochondrial biogenesis, and mitophagy: Exploring recent data and indicating future needs. Biotechnol Adv. 2016;34(5):813-826.
Przychodzen P, Wyszkowska R, Gorzynik-debicka M, Kostrzewa T, Kuban-jankowska A, Gorska-ponikowska M. Anticancer Potential of Oleuropein, the Polyphenol of Olive Oil, With 2-Methoxyestradiol, Separately or in Combination, in Human Osteosarcoma Cells. Anticancer Res. 2019;39(3):1243-1251.
The post The Definitive Guide To Autophagy (and 7 Ways To Induce It) appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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Cold is really catching these days. Aubrey Marcus, whom I recently filmed a nice podcast with, was asked about his winning daily behaviors on another show. The very first thing he mentioned was “exposure to cold.” His practice is finishing his morning shower with a three-minute stint at full cold setting. He mentioned the hormonal benefits but also the mental edge he gets from psyching up and accepting the challenge instead of wimping out. He also cited research that people who engage in therapeutic cold exposure catch fewer upper respiratory infections. Hence, like many other elements of conventional wisdom, the old wives tale is backwards. Of course, we are talking about acute and optimal duration cold exposure, not prolonged exposure to elements that weaken your resistance and contribute to immune disturbances.
As with keto, there’s much more to be learned in this burgeoning field before we can operate in definitive (hence today’s title). Today, however, I’ll expose you (the first of more double entendrés to be on the lookout for) to important concepts and best practices so that you may enjoy the vaunted benefits and avoid some of the negative effects of going about cold exposure wrong.
Cold therapy has been around forever as in the athletic world—a central element of injury treatment and post-workout recovery. Ice packs wrapped on aching joints are a staple of every high school, college and professional team locker room. The iconic stainless steel cold whirlpool has been a post-workout destination of professional ballers for decades, and Olympic distance runners have inspired millions of recreational runners to dutifully wade into a cold stream, lake or pool after long runs to soothe and revitalize inflamed muscles. In recent years, whole body cryotherapy clinics have exploded in popularity, making grand promises in return for $45-$90 (the latter in NYC) for a three-minute session in a chamber blowing air at 190-255 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. I haven’t tried cryo, but let’s just say I’ve heard it stings.
In writing Primal Endurance, my co-author Brad Kearns and I studied the cold therapy subject extensively to convey some best practices in the recovery chapter of the book. For this article, we also consulted with Dr. Kelly “K-Starr” Starrett—thought leader on all things mobility, rehab, prevention, and performance (check MobilityWOD.com or Becoming A Supple Leopard for cutting edge strategies that will keep you moving optimally and avoiding breakdown and injury) and reviewed numerous articles, which you will find linked or at the end of the post.
It appears that while cold therapy can offer some proven benefits for inflammation control, enhanced cellular, immune, and cognitive function, and recovery from exercise, numerous elements of cold therapy claims seem to be hype, notably the expensive cryochambers (cold water is better) and the potential of cold exposure to reduce body fat (cut grains and sugars instead!) Worse, the prominent cold therapy practice of post-exercise immersion into cold water or application of ice appears to be counterproductive, compromising potential fitness gains generated by hard workouts.
What NOT To Do…
The most emphatic suggestion made by K-Starr is that cold exposure should happen far away from the stimulus of workouts. While it feels soothing to wade into the icy river right after a run or to relax with an ice pack on your back after a pickup basketball game or CrossFit session, blunting post-exercise inflammation can compromise the adaptive response to workouts, of which inflammation is a critical component. Your muscles becoming inflamed during exercise—and remaining that way for hours afterward are part of how they become stronger and more resilient for future performances. In the hours after workouts, your muscles and other body systems are challenged to naturally repair exercise-induced damage, recalibrate to homeostasis, and replenish depleted cellular energy. Cold exposure also inhibits the function of the lymphatic system in clearing inflammatory toxins from the bloodstream. The takeaway: while cold feels great after workouts, don’t do it.
Furthering this concept about letting inflammation run its course, I know world ranked pro triathletes are experimenting with a complete avoidance of not just cold therapy, but also stretching, massage, and myofascial release (foam rolling.) The thinking here is that when those lower back muscles stiffen after 80 miles of hilly cycling, or hamstrings tighten up after a set of 800s on the track, loosening them up with massage strokes or foam rolling will weaken them and counteract the training stimulus. Again, these unwinding therapies might feel great, but you are teaching the central nervous system to relax the muscles that you just asked to contract with great force and duration for the workout. Andrew MacNaughton, former elite pro triathlete and current coach of both top professionals and recreational endurance athletes, says succinctly: “Don’t help your body, otherwise you lose some of the adaptation you’re seeking through your challenging workouts.”
The stuff is so counterintuitive that it becomes intuitive. Are you with me? Consider how it’s now widely understood that static stretching weakens muscles for up to 30 minutes and that you should not static stretch before workouts. This seems like a related principle applied to post workout. Keep in mind that we are isolating this “leave it be” concept to the topic of fitness adaptation. If you are trying to recover from (or prevent) injuries, massage, stretching, and foam rolling can make a valuable contribution—even in and around workouts as directed by an expert. Good old ice is still a recommended treatment in the immediate aftermath of an acute injury to help contain the swelling to the injured ankle (e.g., pickup basketball game) or eye (e.g., parking lot fight after pickup basketball game.)
However, the now dated RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) protocol for injury healing after the ~24-hour acute phase has been replaced by ECM (Elevate, Compress, and Move). Starrett is a leading advocate for ECM, with the emphasis on Move as the top priority for those sprained ankles or stiff calves. Look at some of K-Starr’s stuff on YouTube (like the amazing Voodoo Floss treatment), or read Becoming a Supple Leopard, and you’ll realize that many of today’s soothing therapies and gadgets can be bested by flexibility/mobility drills to help you move with more efficiency and less injury risk in the first place.
Back to cold therapy—it appears the greatest benefits accrue to the central nervous system, cardiovascular system, and immune system rather than the muscles. It’s difficult if not impossible for cold exposure to speed the healing of muscle damage incurred during training. Patience and increased general everyday movement are the big ticket items here.
In recent years, I’ve made a concerted effort to take frequent short walks or perform very light calisthenics or mobility sequences in the hours after a high intensity sprint workout or Ultimate Frisbee match, and it really seems to help me wake up the following day with less stiffness. My Primal Collagen Fuel regimen deserves tons of credit here too; it’s been an absolute game changer, particularly as I continue to insist on doing explosive jumps, burst and lateral movement against fit 20- and 30-somethings on the Ultimate field (yes, I’ve discovered that there are some big time gamers in Miami too!)
So, Should I Shell Out Like Cristiano Ronaldo For Cyrotherapy?
I was suspicious of the cryotherapy craze from the start, and Starrett concurs. Research is building that cryotherapy doesn’t deliver the same level of benefit that water exposure does. Starrett even observes that folks following a devoted cryo regimen don’t seem to tolerate cold water very well! Instead, for the price of only a handful of cryo sessions, I suggest you instead go to the cutting edge of cold therapy with an inexpensive and easily-accessible chest freezer regimen—details shortly.
When Is The Best Time For Cold Therapy?
Allow for a minimum of a couple hours, preferably more, after workouts before introducing cold exposure. Perhaps the best time for cold exposure is first thing in the morning for a cellular and central nervous system energizer, and also right before bed in order to help lower body temperature—a key element of transitioning into a good night’s sleep.
Chest Freezers: Not Just For Grass-Fed Beef Anymore
If you’re in Finland or in the Colorado rockies and have a year-round cold lake or river nearby (shout out to body hacking guru Ben Greenfield, author of Beyond Training and host of Ben Greenfield Podcast, who indeed has a cold river running through his property outside Spokane, WA), hey—you’re good to go! For the rest of us who don’t have a readily available natural source of cold water that’s reliably under 60 degrees (a good upper limit to observe for therapeutic practices, down to a lower limit of just above freezing), it’s time to talk about the wonder world of the chest freezer. Yep, the same item previously recommended on MDA for storing big orders of Internet-sourced grass-fed beef and other bulk-order treasures.
The idea here is to repurpose a chest freezer into a readily available, any time, any place cold plunge (even Miami, although I don’t think my high rise would allow me to sneak one into the first floor fitness center.). My Primal Endurance and Keto Reset Diet co-author Brad Kearns has plunged deep into the cold therapy scene (that’s #3 double-e if you’re keeping score) with a deluxe chest freezer setup and twice-a-day regimen of brief immersion into near-freezing water.
What you do here is take a 12-15 cubic foot, top opening chest freezer, fill it with water, and then run the motor on a timer for only around 1.5-4 hours per day—depending on the power of your unit, your ambient temperatures, and your desired exposure temperature. For a moderate investment of perhaps $200 on Craigslist or $400 for an ample-sized new unit (Brad grabbed this one with free home delivery), you are in the cold therapy business.
Brad’s preferred water temperature is 33 ºF (icicle alert!), maintained through continual tweaking of the 24-hour timer. Other enthusiasts like to keep water anywhere from 45-60 degrees, with exposure times ranging from 4 minutes at 44 degrees (easy to remember, per Dave Kobrine in Newport Coast, CA—Brad’s initial inspiration for cold therapy) to nearly 10 minutes at 60 degrees. Starrett, who keeps his water in the forties and has twice-weekly gatherings of friends for what he calls “church services” consisting of contrast therapy between chest freezer and hot sauna, confirms that there are no strict protocols to tout as superior to others, and surely significant individual variation in cold tolerance. “Get out before you start shivering!,” Starrett exclaims. “Never stay in to the extent that you suffer or experience pain or burning. Gabby and Laird suggest that if you’re in there long enough to shiver, you’re just showing off.”
Brad describes how he used to set a timer for three minutes at 33 ºF and tried to last that long but then realized that this could compromise the intended purpose of enjoying a Zenlike, mood-elevating start to the day. Instead, he prefers to start with a full submerging, then move hands and head out of water to complete a cycle of 20 slow, deep, diaphragmatic breaths while otherwise fully immersed—which ends up taking around three minutes. As cold water master Wim Hof has popularized lately, pairing a breathing regimen with your cold water immersion will enhance the circulation and oxygen delivery benefits.
Check out Brad’s video (completed in only one take), in which he describes (coherently, while sitting in freezing water) the benefits and setup logistics—everything you need to get started:
Benefits of Cold Exposure
The shock of cold exposure stimulates assorted fight or flight hormonal processes, which deliver an adaptive benefit because the stressor is brief. Contrast the prolonged fight or flight stimulation of hectic modern life (or exposing yourself to cold for too long and catching a cold—duh), which leads to breakdown and burnout.
Optimally brief cold exposure is a hormetic stressor—a natural stressor that delivers a net positive effect. Your heart rate and respiration increase as a way to try and keep warm, increasing blood flow and oxygen delivery throughout the body. Norepinephrine floods your brain, boosting vigilance, focus, attention and mood, and reducing pain and inflammation. The norepinephrine spike from cold exposure delivers what we often call an endorphin rush—natural pain relief and an enhanced sense of well-being.
Dr. Rhonda Patrick, one of the absolute best communicators of cutting edge health and longevity science anywhere, cites research that norepinephrine can rise 200-300 percent with just a 20-second immersion into freezing water a couple times a week (imagine going three minutes, twice a day like Brad—no wonder he was such a big help with this article). Patrick explains that norepinephrine also helps reduce inflammation by inhibiting inflammatory cytokines like the noted bad guy TNF-alpha, a known accomplice in many modern disease patterns.
Quelling inflammatory cytokines is also believed to help battle anxiety and depression. A researcher named Nikolai Shevchuk was quoted in a Fast Company article by Chris Gayomali, speculating about the mechanisms by which cold exposure can boost mood: “probably the stimulation of the dopaminergic transmission in the mesocorticolimbic and nigrostriatal pathway. These dopaminergic pathways are known to be involved in the regulation of emotions. There is a lot of research linking these brain areas to depression.” Indeed, it’s been chronicled that VanGogh was treated in an asylum for depression with two-hour cold baths, twice a week, to combat his well-known condition of depression.
Further tidbits were offered in the Fast Company article from Australian cold water researcher Ned Brophy-Williams on the anti-inflammatory benefits of cold water immersion: “It moves blood from the peripheral to deep blood vessels, thereby limiting inflammation and swelling and improving venous return. Metabolites and waste products built up during exercise can be efficiently removed by the body and nutrients quickly replenished to fatigued muscles.”
Carrying on if you’re still not convinced… Your lymphatic system is activated by cold exposure, helping speed the clearance of toxins from tissues throughout the body. You also elicit an enhanced anti-oxidative defense with increased T cell activity to improve your immune function.
Finally, you may have heard Dr. Patrick promoting the hot topic of heat shock proteins, and how sauna/heat exposure can deliver assorted health benefits. Patrick also informs us that cold exposure releases so-called cold shock proteins such as RNA binding motif 3 (RBM3) that are linked to the regeneration of synapses in the same manner as heat shock proteins. As the Finns have known for centuries, it seems like temperature alterations—deliberate exposure to both cold and hot—deliver phenomenal health benefits.
Cold Exposure—The Right Way—To Boost Recovery
For fitness enthusiasts looking to speed recovery with cold therapy, it’s now clear that the immediate post-exercise inflammation reduction is potentially harmful, and that implementing a simple daily regimen of morning and/or evening exposure can deliver the aforementioned benefits without compromising fitness adaptations. In recent years during the winter months in Malibu, Carrie and I would end our evenings with some 104F spa time, interspersed by quick visits to the sub-60F pool and back to the spa. I’d always end with a few minutes in the pool, leaving me wonderfully relaxed, cool, and ready for sleep. Brad’s morning chest freezer ritual looks as good or better than a morning caffeine blast to get going on a busy, productive day.
Beyond the exciting emerging science, anecdotal evidence from enthusiasts also suggests that toughing out a cold shower or committing to a focused cold therapy regimen has profound mood elevating effects. Primal Blueprint’s own Brian McAndrew (yeah, check out what our guy behind the camera looks like!), who produces our podcasts and fabulous videos on both our YouTube Channel and our comprehensive online multimedia educational courses, has dabbled in cold exposure, using contrast therapy at his health club (going back and forth between the ~50F cold plunge and the sauna at his Portland, OR health club), or just lingering up to his torso in a wintertime cold swimming pool. Brian relates, “All I know is that the worse I made myself feel in the moment [by staying longer in the cold], the better I felt afterwards in regards to mood. This was true for both cold and hot. Having the cold plunge and sauna together lets you go to further extremes, because you know you can get immediate relief at any moment with contrasting cold or warmth.”
Cold Exposure Gives Meaning And Richness To Life—Really!
I believe there are other profound cold therapy benefits that are hard-to-quantify. Starrett contends that your cold exposure practice can serve as a good barometer for your state of recovery and desire to train. He asserts that sore, stiff, or poorly functioning muscles seem to be more sensitive to cold exposure, and that if you’re in a fatigue/overtraining rut, your tolerance to cold diminishes accordingly. K-Starr notices that when he’s fried from big workouts or stressful travel, the cold water stings and he wants out quickly. When he’s less stressed and more rested, he has no problem relaxing in there for up to eight minutes. Remember, he’s jumping right into a dry sauna. As Brian described, your exposure times can increase when you have access to a sweet contrast setup.
Starrett’s “desire to train” concept deserves further appreciation. In his set of exclusive video interviews in the Primal Endurance Mastery Course and the Keto Reset Mastery Course, he references studies with athletes suggesting that a subjective “desire to train” score is a more accurate indicator than any of the modern high tech biofeedback metrics like Heart Rate Variability, pulse oximeters, blood lactate meters, sleep cycle apps and all the rest. As an old timer whose endurance exploits predate even heart rate monitors, I strongly agree that your intuition, mood and motivation level should take center stage for making workout decisions, especially when it’s time to downsize grand ambitions. I know that when I take a few moments to sit quietly and reflect on my planned workout, sometimes profound insights occur, and I roll over and go back to sleep. Ditto for when I hesitate to jump into a routine cold shower or pool plunge (or get out earlier than usual)—it’s a reliable indicator that I’m overstressed or overtired.
Furthering Brian’s comments about the mood elevating effects of cold therapy, I’d also suggest that cold exposure helps improve your focus, confidence, and mental resilience—particularly since you will improve your tolerance and appreciation over time—and that these benefits will carry over into all other areas of life. Lift heavy things, sprint once in a while, get adequate sun exposure, plunge into cold water—these are all hormetic stressors that help you bring your A-game to everything you do. I’m not saying sitting in a chest freezer every morning will help you muster the courage to ask for a promotion, commit to enter an adventure race, or ask for a date with that certain person in the office, but it might help….
If you’re content to spend almost all 24 daily hours in a climate controlled home, car, and office, enjoy the wholly modern luxury of a hot shower a couple times a day, and never voluntarily subject yourself to the beautiful moments of discomfort like a cold plunge, the final few reps of a tough set in the gym, or the final few miles of a tough session on the roads, that’s fine. We can still be friends. But as many of us living Primally can attest, there are benefits to challenging the perceived limits of mind and body in order to stimulate peak performance and happiness. Sir Roger Bannister, the legendary first sub-four minute miler who passed in March at age 88, offered up a memorable quote in his 1954 biography, The Four Minute Mile: “Struggle gives meaning and richness to life.” One thing’s for sure after you try it out: you will appreciate a warm shower or a warm bed like never before.
Does Cold Exposure Stimulate Fat Reduction? Mehhh…
You may have heard exciting news about something called Brown Adipose Tissue (aka BAT, or brown fat), a special type of adipose tissue that has a different role in the body than the fat that accumulates across the body when you store more calories than you burn; this stuff is known as white adipose tissue. Instead of just storing calories like white fat, brown fat is also able to generate heat to help maintain the body’s ideal core temperature. Infants have lots of brown fat for extra protection. Brown fat levels dwindle as we age, and interestingly, obese people have lower than normal levels of brown fat.
The excitement about brown fat emanates from research showing that cold exposure spurs a fifteen-fold increase in brown fat activation. It’s theorized that this increase in cellular activity in brown adipose tissue can help stimulate the burning of additional white fat, making cold exposure an effective weight loss catalyst. The idea here is that the caloric energy your brown fat generates for rewarming will be burned instead of otherwise stored as white fat.
Research is not conclusive in the brown fat area, and scientists assert that it’s very difficult to measure the effect of environmental temperature on metabolism. It’s virtually certain that getting cold and then forcing yourself to warm naturally (no saunas or hot showers allowed!) will boost metabolic rate. However, I’d hesitate to put this in the forefront of fat reduction techniques. Even as drug companies are spending millions to unlock the power of brown fat (via cold exposure or drug-related means) to burn white fat, I’ll argue that ditching grains, sugars and refined vegetable oils to minimize insulin and boost fat metabolism might be a much better area of focus. What’s more, there is a logical counterargument that cold exposure might stimulate a corresponding increase in appetite that would counteract any potential fat reduction benefits. This makes sense along the lines of the compensation theory of exercise, detailed in a recent post about Rest and Recovery.
Ray Cronise, a former NASA materials scientist who oversaw Space Shuttle experiments and has been a prominent voice in progressive health circles for the past decade, has performed some increasingly sophisticated experiments that suggest the potential of cold exposure to boost fat loss. Cronise lost a remarkable 27 pounds in six weeks with a regimen of cold showers, talking neighborhood walks while purposely way underdressed, and sleeping with open windows and/or little or no covering. Cronise’s experiment was inspired by that infamous viral news story about Olympic swimming legend Michael Phelps eating 12,000 calorie per day that I discussed in the recent Sami Inkinen post. Doing some basic metabolic calculations, Cronise speculated that Phelps was eating vastly more calories than he burned during his intense workouts, and that hence a significant portion of his caloric expenditure must be going toward maintaining his core temperature while spending hours in the water.
Tim Ferriss brought more attention to Cronise’s work and the concept of burning off brown fat through cold exposure when he covered the matter in his bestseller, The Four Hour Body. Google brown fat and you will find assorted chatter jumping to the conclusion that brown fat stimulation promotes weight loss, but the hard science is just not there—yet anyway. For now, I wouldn’t put much emphasis on cold exposure for fat loss, and instead be content to enjoy the many other benefits of cold therapy.
Nothing left to say but get yourself a chest freezer (another chest freezer?) and get started! Let me know what you think, and thanks for stopping by today.
A Few More Links For Your Enjoyment:
Tapping the Power Of Cold To Lose Weight
Scientific Case For Cold Showers
Top 7 Reasons You Should Take Cold Showers
Brown Fat Burns White Fat Studies
Surprising Benefits Of Cold Showers
Dr. Rhonda Patrick on health benefits of cold and sauna
The post The (Maybe Not So) Definitive Guide to Cold Therapy appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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