For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering questions about vitamin K2 and microworkouts. The last two posts on both topics garnered a number of good questions. What’s the best dose of vitamin K2? Should statin users taking vitamin K2, since statins inhibit vitamin K2 activity and production? Can vitamin K2 prevent or reverse arterial calcification? Is butter an adequate source of vitamin K2? What about vitamin D—does it synergize with vitamin K2? Regarding microworkouts, what if you can only do a couple pull-ups at once? Should you alternate muscle groups when doing microworkouts? Can microworkouts work with normal gym workouts? How does one do microworkouts in an office?

Let’s find out:

What’s the recommended dose of vitamin K2?

There’s no official RDA for vitamin K2. For vitamin K in general, it’s 0.09 mg. As some of the commenters have alluded, very few medical professionals have vitamin K2 on their radar. I wonder if the RDA is sufficient.

Up to 45 mg per day of MK4 has been shown to be safe and well-tolerated in women, though I don’t think that much is necessary. Some use close to that much when dealing with osteoporosis, arterial calcification, or dental issues, although the reports are all anecdotal.

Many take 1 mg of vitamin K2 as “maintenance.” I’d be comfortable taking that (and sometimes do).

I put 0.08 mg of K2 (MK7) in my Master Formula supplement. Women who are pregnant and those who take anticoagulant medications should talk to their doctor before taking more than the RDA.

So, would taking K2 make statins safer? Do you think you could take enough K2 to prevent clogged arteries or reverse clogged arteries?

I imagine they would, much like taking CoQ10 (another compound whose synthesis statins inhibit) during statin therapy can reduce statin side effects and lower inflammation. Can’t hurt to try.

As for clogged arteries, it can definitely reduce the risk of arterial calcification (by putting calcium where it belongs and not where it doesn’t). Reversal? There aren’t any studies in humans, but vitamin K2 MK4 has been shown to reverse clogged arteries in rats.

Do you have a source on muscle meat (of any type) having Vitamin K?

From this study.

I had read of recommendations of cod liver oil along w K2 which was obtained with grass fed butter. Would grass fed butter be a good source in your opinion

It’s possible, but the sources I’ve read show that majority of butter is very low in vitamin K2. Still, Weston Price swore by concentrated butter oil from grass-fed cows as a source of vitamin K2. You can still buy butter oil if you want to go that route (though you won’t get any solid data on vitamin K2 content).

I wouldn’t rely on straight butter for your vitamin K2.

Isn’t it important to take K2 when supplementing with oral D3? I’ve been seeing liquid D3 preparations with K2/MK7 added.

Yes. Vitamin D3 helps us absorb dietary calcium, and vitamin K2 helps us utilize the calcium in the right way.

What if you can only do 2-3 pull-ups to begin with? ?

That’s the perfect place to start.

Do a single pullup every time you pass the pullup bar (or branch, ledge, gym rings, etc). That’s it. One clean pullup. Don’t struggle. Don’t strain. It should feel easy. Do that single pullup every time you pass the bar. Then, when you feel ready, try doing two each time. And then three.

Suddenly, your max pullups will have doubled.

Should you alternate microworkouts by muscle group each day as with traditional strength training or can you do microworkouts covering all muscle groups each day?

You could, but I find that microworkouts give enough rest that you can work the same muscle on consecutive days. It really depends on the intensity though. If your idea of a microworkout is a 20 rep set of breathing squats with your own bodyweight on the bar, and you do that a few times a day, I would not advise doing it every day.

I don’t claim that microworkouts in this manner will optimize your muscle hypertrophy. I do claim that they’ll keep your days active, keep you healthy, keep you mobile, and get you strong.

I love the idea that any exercise is better than none at all. But I wonder if this style of workout would interfere with recovery from other more regular/scheduled workouts (weightlifting, etc…)?

On the contrary, I find that microworkouts prepare me for the more concerted, formal efforts in the gym.

My buddy Angelo Delacruz is an example of a guy who’s “always on” because he’s always doing little movements throughout the day: dancing to the music playing at the gym, busting out a quick little stretch routine, doing some clapping pushups, breakdancing. He’ll just launch into a set of heavy snatches or clean and jerks without warming up because his joints are all lubed up from the frequent microworkouts.

Well I stand at my computer most of the day 6a-2p with several sets of stairs during that time–I duck into an empty meeting room to run off 15-20 pushups a few times a day, and at lunch a few days a week ( i usually IF til 3-4p ) I do some heavy weights at the local gym for about 20 minutes or so–then comes the yard work on occasion and would you count shopping with the wife at a Big Box store as a micro workout? So How an I doing? I know Mark, Just keep moving!

You’re doing great. I see nothing to add.

As for shopping, sure, why not? Shopping can work.

I’ve been known to curl the groceries as I walk out to the car. Overhead press the cases of mineral water. Plant my feet and do cable crosses with a heavy shopping cart. Sure used to embarrass my kids.

It gets more difficult when on-site for a client. Most offices here aren’t air conditioned, so when it’s warm you’re really going to sweat which makes you less presentable. I try to make it up by picking a hotel in walking distance (~45-60min ish). If there isn’t a private space to knock out a couple of body weight exercises there isn’t a lot you can do without becoming the resident office weirdo. Maybe someone has an idea?

I wrote a post years ago about training in the office without becoming the resident weirdo. See if any of these suggestions work for you. Things are probably different when you’re in someone else’s office.

Walking meetings come to mind. Stair stuff—sprints, jumps, or simply just walking all the flights in one fell swoop. Doing as many squats as possible in the elevator before someone else enters and looks at you funny. Pushups in the bathroom stall.

Okay, maybe not that last one.

The AC thing would make it difficult, though. I can see that.

This is it for today, folks. Take care, be well, and ask any other questions you have down below!

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The fitness industry is in the midst of a renaissance. Flawed and dated strategies like sedentary recovery practices or overly stressful HIIT workouts are being replaced with cutting-edge practices that offer more efficiency and return on investment. Today I’m covering one emerging fitness strategy: performing brief feats of strength in the routine course of a day. Let’s call them microworkouts.

I’m talking here about dropping for a single set of deep squats in the office, hitting a set of max effort pull-ups whenever you pass under a bar in a closet doorway, or stocking your backyard with a hex deadlift bar or bench press and busting out a single set every time you pass by while taking out the garbage.

Banking Benefits With Less Stress

Microworkouts deliver two distinct and awesome benefits: First, when you add up the energy expenditure of these brief but frequent efforts, you obtain an incredible cumulative training effect. In essence, you are banking a lot of strength/power/explosiveness “mileage” without disturbing the necessary stress/rest balance of your official workout schedule or prompting the stress hormone production and cellular depletion that occurs from an extreme weekend warrior-type session. That is, a set of pull-ups, or even three sets over the course of 12 hours on a typical day, is not going to mess up the next day’s CrossFit session or even an ambitious arms and chest session. Rather, these micro sessions (Dr. Phil Maffetone calls the concept, “slow weights”) will raise the baseline from which you launch you ambitious full-scale workouts.

Think about it: If you do a single set of six deadlifts with 200 pounds on the bar every time you take out the garbage, that’s 1,200 pounds of work accomplished. Perhaps you can find your way to doing that 1-2 times a day, five or six days a week? That’s lifting an extra 10,000 pounds a week! When it’s time to perform a formal session, such as the popular 5 x 5 protocol (where you complete five sets of five reps, and perhaps add an upper body exercise to each set), you’re poised for fitness breakthroughs as well as faster recovery times. An “official” workout is no longer this tremendous athletic performance vastly outside the normal pattern of your largely sedentary life, but instead an upgrade of what you do every day to some extent. Does this concept ring a bell? Yes, microworkouts are modeling the behavior patterns of our hunter-gatherer ancestors! Grok and company likely had some harsh days that might rival today’s CrossFit WOD or obstacle course race, but they also likely had routine daily chores entailing lifting heavy things or scrambling up steep embankments in between their legendary leisure time.

Interrupting Prolonged Inactivity

The second benefit of microworkouts is perhaps even more profound: these short efforts help you combat the extreme health hazard of prolonged periods of stillness that characterize hyperconnected modern life. The adverse health consequences of stillness have been well-chronicled, and you’ve heard me talk about them for years. Studies show that even a few days of inactivity can generate a significant decline in glucose tolerance and increase in insulin resistance. In Primal Endurance, I quote Nutritious Movement queen Katy Bowman on the destruction of cellular health caused by stillness: “When you use a single position repetitively, such as curling your body into a comfortable work chair for hours every day, muscles, joints, and arteries will adapt to this repetitive positioning by changing their cellular makeup and becoming literally ‘stiff,’ with reduced ranges of motion and an actual hardening of the arterial walls in those areas.”

Strange as it may seem, it’s now becoming clear that increasing all forms of general everyday movement is a greater health priority than conducting ambitious workouts. Microworkouts, along with continued devotion to JFW (Just F—ing Walk) takes on increasing importance as daily life gets more effortless. Even if you’re a devoted gym rat, those few hours a week when you’re pushing weight around isn’t enough to combat a lifestyle of commuting, office work, and digital entertainment leisure time. The active couch potato syndrome is a scientifically validated concept revealing that devoted workout enthusiasts who lead otherwise sedentary lifestyles are subject to the same level of disease risk as inactive folks.

Optimizing Movement For the Most Advantageous Genetic Signaling

But none of this is new. A decade ago now Time magazine offered a memorable title, “The Myth Of Exercise.” The story detailed how a strenuous workout (particularly the common workout patterns and strategies of today that can become chronically stressful) depletes cellular energy and prompts a compensatory response in the form of an increased appetite along with decreased activity for the rest of the day. More recently, I wrote about the constrained model of energy expenditure as well as the amazing study of the Hadza that’s helping us reframe the purpose and intended benefits of exercise.

As I’ve been saying since the introduction of the 10 Primal Blueprint Laws over a decade ago, it’s not about the calories but about the movement and the genetic signaling that movement prompts. The Myth of Exercise concept aligns with my longtime assertion that 80% of your body composition success is dependent on your diet—specifically, minimizing the wildly excessive insulin production that happens from a grain-based, high carbohydrate diet and prevents you from burning stored body fat.

How To Incorporate Microworkouts

Armed with the insight to no workout is too short, and any kind of movement delivers a health and fitness benefit, you can elevate microworkouts to the forefront of your fitness plan. Reject the all or nothing mentality that causes you to fail with fitness commitments because you get too busy with work and life. We all have time for a set or two or three of deep squats during the workday or during leisure time.

Look for opportunities over the course of every day to put your body under some kind of brief resistance load. Even if you only work hard for one minute (or less) at a time but are relatively faithful incorporating these “micro” opportunities into your daily routine, the cumulative effect will still be incredible.

Word of Caution: Going from a prolonged inactive state to a performing a heavy lift carries an obvious risk factor. Truth be told, I generally precede my random sets of pull-ups, deadlifts or even cords by a minute of walking, a few dynamic stretches, or some specific warm-up moves like doing a set with a much lighter weight, followed by a “real” set with a respectable weight. It’s not a lot of time or effort, but it’s a good habit to add the resistance after you’ve been up and doing something for a few minutes (e.g. taking out the garbage, bringing in groceries, finishing an indoor/outdoor chore).

Beyond that, also realize that when you make micro-workouts a daily habit, you’ll discover that you’re much more adaptable to brief explosive efforts without a long warm-up. You’ll be able to pop up from your work desk to hustle down a flight of stairs at work without hearing the creaks and cracks that are so familiar, especially to aging jocks. My longtime writing partner Brad Kearns (our next book will be a comprehensive education and action plan on the topics of longevity—due out in December) swears that his brief morning flexibility/mobility routine. He says it’s transformed his recovery from sprint workouts. No more next-day stiffness and soreness and occasional minor injuries—just because he spends 12 minutes every morning working on drills specific to sprinting that challenge the glutes, hamstrings and core.

Dr. Art DeVany, Ph.D., author of The New Evolution Diet and one of my earliest and greatest inspirations for Primal-inspired health practices, says that the lion never has to stretch before a workout, and we shouldn’t have to either. No, our modern creakiness can be attributed to overtraining patterns (in the case of morning issues) or extended stillness without a movement break when you get up and hobble during the day. Our ancestors most certainly had to run for their lives with zero warning on a routine basis. It’s a good Primal skill to have still.

Micro workouts are also applicable to cardiovascular fitness. A few minutes here and a few minutes there have a similar cumulative effect. Dr. Phil Maffetone explains that any stimulation of the aerobic system, even really low intensity stuff that a hard-core athlete might not choose to count as an official workout, helps improve your cardiovascular health and fitness. There’s really no lower limit to the aerobic exercise zone.

Anytime you get up from a chair and walk, you’re getting an aerobic benefit. A couple minutes recruiting major muscle groups with Stretch Cordz confers a new advantage. A cruise ship analogy works well here. When the floating city is out on the open ocean, cruising at 20 knots en route to the next port, all twelve turbine engines are cranking at full throttle. When it’s cruising in the harbor at two knots in preparation for docking, only a couple turbines are operating at half power. However, the two turbines operating at half speed in the harbor are still being “trained” to perform when they’re called up on in the open ocean. Note: I’ve revised my position on this concept over the years as research filled in the picture. Early on, I used to designate an aerobic zone of 55-75% of maximum heart rate. I’m not saying abandon time in that range, but know that anything outside of it also counts for something, and that should be good news.

If you so much as jump up from your desk, scramble down the stairs and out to your vehicle, then return with a few floors of ascent and back to your desk—total time five minutes and eight seconds. You’ll be turbocharging fat burning, increasing oxygen delivery and blood circulation to the brain, and flooding the bloodstream with neurotransmitters that elevate mood and improve cognitive focus. Similarly, anytime you haul off a set of pushups or squats, you’re making a meaningful contribution to your fitness and longevity.

Every effort, however modest, can be a small win. How does that shift your mindset? How does it open up possibilities for you? Let me know down below, and share any questions you have while you’re at it. Have a great week, everybody.

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“Do not go gentle into that good night.” That’s one of my favorite lines in all of literature, and it informs my outlook on health, life, wellness, and longevity.

Live long, drop dead. Compression of morbidity. Vitality to the end. All that good stuff.

But I’m sorry to report that Dylan Thomas imploring you to assail life with boldness is becoming harder for the average person to fulfill and embody. People more than ever before are heading into middle age with a head-start on the degenerative changes to body composition and function that used to only hit older folks. They may want to go boldly into that good night, but their bodies probably won’t be cooperating.

Ignore the standouts for a moment. I’m not talking about that awesome granny you saw deadlifting her bodyweight on Instagram or the centenarian sprinter smoking the competition. I’m not talking about the celebrities with personal trainers and access to the latest and greatest medical technologies. I’m referring to the general trend in the greater population. All signs point to average men and women alike having more fragile bones, weaker muscles, and worse postures at a younger age than their counterparts from previous eras.

What Signs Point This Way?

Low Bone Density

These days, more men than ever before are developing the signs of osteoporosis at an earlier age. In fact, one recent study found that among 35-50 year olds, men were more likely than women to have osteopenia—lower bone mineral density—at the neck.

Why?

Osteoporosis used to be a “woman’s disease,” lower estrogen after menopause being the primary cause. That’s rather understandable; estrogen is a powerful modulator of bone metabolism in women, and a natural decline in estrogen will lead to a natural decline in bone density. Men’s bone density has a similar relationship with testosterone; as a man’s testosterone declined, so does his bone density. As long as a man or woman entered the decline with high bone density, the decline wouldn’t be as destructive.

But here’s the thing: these days, both men and women are starting the decline with lower bone density. In women and men, peak bone mass attainment occurs during puberty. In girls, that’s about ages 11-13. In boys, it’s later. Puberty sets up our hormonal environment to accumulate healthy amounts of bone mineral density—but we have to take advantage of that window.

One of the main determinants of bone density accumulation is physical activity. If you’re an 11-year-old girl or a 16-year-old boy and you’re not engaging in regular physical activity—running, jumping, throwing, lifting, playing—you will fail to send the appropriate signals to your body to begin amassing bone mass. And once that developmental window closes, and you didn’t spend it engaging in lots of varied movement, it’s really hard to make up for all the bone mineral density you didn’t get.

But you can certainly improve bone mineral density at any age. Even the elderly can make big gains by lifting weights, walking frequently, or even doing something a simple as regular hopping exercises. The problem is that physical activity is down across all ages.

Children are spending more time indoors using devices than outdoors playing. They aren’t walking to school or roaming around outdoors with friends getting into trouble. If they’re active, they’re more likely to be shuttled from soccer practice to ballet to music lessons. Their movement is prescribed rather than freely chosen. Hour-long chunks of “training” rather than hours and hours of unstructured movement…

Not just kids, either. Sedentary living is up in everyone.

So there are two big issues:

  1. Kids are squandering the developmental window where they should be making the biggest gains in bone density.
  2. Adults are leading sedentary lives, squandering the lifelong window we all have to increase bone density.

Another reason men are having newfound problems with low bone mineral density is that a generational drop in testosterone has been observed. Twenty years go, men of all ages had higher testosterone levels than their counterparts today, meaning an average 50-year-old guy in 1999 had higher testosterone than an average 50-year-old guy in 2019. Testosterone will decline with age. That’s unavoidable. But something other than aging is also lowering testosterone—and bone density—across the board.

Experts are now recommending that young men use night lights, avoid throw rugs on the floor, and do pre-emptive physical therapy—all to reduce the risk of tripping, falling, and breaking something. That is absolutely tragic. This shouldn’t be happening.

Text Neck

The smartphone is a great tool with incredible potential to transform lives, economies, and personal capacities. But it can wreck your posture if you’re not careful and mindful.

Try this. Pick up your phone and compose a text message. Do it without thinking. Now hold that position and go look at yourself in a mirror. What do you see?

Head jutting forward, tilted down.

Upper back rounded, almost hunched.

Shoulders internally rotated.

Now spend 6-8 hours a day in this position. Add a few more if you work on a computer. Add another 15-20 minutes if you take your phone into the bathroom with you. Add an hour if you’re the type to walk around staring at your phone.

It all starts to sound a little ridiculous, doesn’t it?

Not only are people spending their days sitting and standing with their spine contorted, they’re staring down at their phones while walking. This is particularly pernicious. They’re training their body to operate in motion with a suboptimal, subhuman spinal position. They’re making it the new normal, forcing the body to adapt. And it is subhuman. Humans are bipeds, hominids that tower over the grasslands, able to scan for miles in every direction, perceive oncoming threats, plot their approach, stand upright and hold the tools at the ready. What would a Pleistocene hunter-gatherer of 20,000 years ago make of the average 25-year-old hunchback shuffling along, nose pointed toward the ground? What would your grandfather make of it?

It used to be that the only person with a kyphotic, hunchback posture was pushing 70 or 80 years old. And even in that age group, it was relatively rare. Nowadays young adults, teens, and even kids have the posture.

Physical Weakness

Interest in effective fitness and healthy eating and CrossFit and paleo and keto and everything else we talk about is at an all-time high, and all your friends on Instagram seem to be drinking bone broth and doing squats, so you’d think that people are getting stronger and waking up from all the crazy conventional wisdom that society has foisted upon us over the years. They’re not, though. That’s the view from inside the Internet bubble. This explosion in ancestral health and fitness is a reaction to the physical ineptitude and torpor enveloping the modern world. A small but growing group of people are discovering the keys to true health and wellness because the world at large has become so backwards.

And no matter how many CrossFit gyms pop up or people you see walking around in yoga pants, the average adult today is weaker than the average adult from twenty years ago. That’s the real trend. It probably doesn’t apply to you, my regular reader, but it does apply to people you know, love, and work with. Here’s the reality:

Grip strength—one of the better predictors of mortality we have—of 20-34 year old men and women has declined since 1985, so much that they’re “updating the normative standards” for grip strength. Even 6-year-olds are weaker today.

New recruits in the military are weaker than recruits from previous eras. They’re even having trouble “throwing grenades.”

Everywhere you look—Lithuania, Portugal, Sweden, to name just a few—kids, teens, and adults of all ages are failing to hit the normative standards of strength and fitness established in older eras. People are getting weaker, softer, and less fit earlier than ever before.

Don’t let this happen to you. Don’t let it happen to the people you care about. You have the chance, the duty to your future self to go boldly into that good night, rather than wither and dwindle and fall apart. And it starts today, right now, right here. Do one thing today. What will it be?

How are you guys fighting the ravages of age and gravity? What are you going to do today to ensure you’ll go boldly into older age?

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References:

Bass MA, Sharma A, Nahar VK, et al. Bone Mineral Density Among Men and Women Aged 35 to 50 Years. J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2019;119(6):357-363.

Fain E, Weatherford C. Comparative study of millennials’ (age 20-34 years) grip and lateral pinch with the norms. J Hand Ther. 2016;29(4):483-488.

Larson CC, Ye Z. Development of an updated normative data table for hand grip and pinch strength: A pilot study. Comput Biol Med. 2017;86:40-46.

Venckunas T, Emeljanovas A, Mieziene B, Volbekiene V. Secular trends in physical fitness and body size in Lithuanian children and adolescents between 1992 and 2012. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2017;71(2):181-187.

Marques EA, Baptista F, Santos R, et al. Normative functional fitness standards and trends of Portuguese older adults: cross-cultural comparisons. J Aging Phys Act. 2014;22(1):126-37.

Ekblom B, Engström LM, Ekblom O. Secular trends of physical fitness in Swedish adults. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2007;17(3):267-73.

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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.

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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.

The Warm-Up

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.

Wind Sprints

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!

Main Set

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.

Sample Workouts

Let’s put it all together with some sample sprint workouts. I’ll begin with my own running routine.

My Sprint Routine

Running Sprints

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.

Summary Pointers

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!

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Tennis elbow, Achilles tendinitis, osteoarthritis, and other connective tissue injuries are on the rise. Athletes have always gotten them, but it’s only in the past few decades that regular folks are getting them too. For some connective tissue injuries, non-athletes outnumber athletes. That shouldn’t happen if the conventional wisdom—injuries to tendons, ligaments, and cartilage occur only because of overuse or overloading during intense physical activity—were true.

Now, of course the way we train affects the health and function of our connective tissue. Acute injuries absolutely occur. Overuse injuries absolutely develop. But that’s to be expected. Athletes put their bodies through a lot, and there is going to be fallout from that. Where those injuries shouldn’t be happening is in regular, everyday folks who don’t train for a living or engage in intense physical competition on a regular basis. And yet that’s exactly how it’s going down in the world today. In one recent study, the majority of patients with Achilles tendon injuries couldn’t attribute their condition to working out or playing sports. In other words, they just got it.

Part of the problem is our nutrition. We eat too many of the inflammatory foods which contribute to connective tissue degradation and deconditioning, like grains and refined seed oils and sugar, and too few of the nutritive building blocks our bodies use to buttress and repair damaged connective tissue, like collagen. For over a decade, I’ve sought to address these deficiencies in the modern diet by laying out the Primal eating plan and creating non-inflammatory versions of existing products (like mayo and salad dressings) and products that replace some of the foods we’ve been missing. This is why I started selling collagen powder—because it’s the greatest source of gelatin, provides the necessary building blocks for collagen construction and repair, and provides the glycine that balances out the methionine in our meat-heavy diets and makes them less inflammatory.

This is all standard stuff at this point. It’s no surprise to most of you. Eat healthy, exercise, sleep, and most other things fall into place, including the health of your connective tissues. But it can’t explain everything. There’s more to it.

I’ve been suspicious of stretching in the past, especially static stretching. You don’t see Hadza tribes people doing the downward dog, hitting the couch stretch, or doing toe touches every morning. They simply move around a lot and avoid sitting in chairs for ten hours a day, and it’s enough. Right?

But over the past few months, I’ve become acquainted with Matt Wallden, the Global Head of Education for the Chek Institute. Like me, he’s obsessed with taking lessons from human evolution and applying them to humans living today to help them thrive. We really hit it off, so much that we collaborated on a pair of papers that appear in the April edition of the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies that discuss the power of “Archetypal resting positions” (several positions depicted in the article) and the crisis (and solution) of “Modern disintegration and primal connectivity.”

In the papers, we posit that it’s not just our tendency to sit in chairs way too much that’s destroying our health, movement quality, and tissue quality. We’re also failing to utilize the archetypal resting positions that humans have been using for hundreds of thousands of years. Sitting in chairs isn’t ideal, but far worse is our neglect of the dozen or so permutations of ancestral floor positions.

  • The full squat, with heels down.
  • The high kneel.
  • The low kneel.
  • The side sit.
  • The long sit.
  • The cross-legged sit.
  • In each of these positions, some tissues are lengthened (stretched) while others are compressed.
  • The squat stretches the back, glutes, quads, and calves.
  • The high kneel stretches the quads, Achilles’ tendon, and foot fascia.
  • The low kneel stretches the feet and quads.
  • The long sit stretches the hamstrings and wrist flexors.
  • The cross-legged sit stretches the hip adductors and rotators.
  • The side sit stretches the external and internal rotators of the hip.

If you alternate between all the positions, every limb will receive the stretch/compression treatment that has been shown to improve tissue healing and maintain tissue viability and function.

Many of these positions also restrict blood flow to specific areas of the body, a practice that has been shown to enhance connective tissue healing. You restrict the blood flow and then restore it, and the tissue gets a “rebound” effect.

Now imagine doing this all the time, whenever you’re at rest. Imagine not having any chairs at all. Imagine how you’d feel—and move, and perform, and recover—if instead of spending 10 hours a day hunched over in a chair you spent 2 hours a day exposing your body to these archetypal stretch/compression positions.

Not only that, but sitting in these archetypal resting positions may even improve glucose tolerance.

We cite research showing that a gentle passive stretching program (10 different stretching positions, 4 30-second “reps” each for a total of 20 minutes) lowers blood sugar in diabetics. That’s a possibility, but I’ve always found dedicated stretching or mobility routines to be the hardest to maintain. And I’m not alone—pretty much everyone hates stretching. A more evolutionarily-congruent method would be to integrate these resting positions into your daily life.

Hanging around at home or at the park or beach? Sure, getting down into these positions on the floor is cinch. You could easily make that work. But what about at work? What if you work in front of a computer? I’m picturing a floor-based workstation that enables the archetypal resting position as you work, sort of a low-lying modular “desk” that can be manipulated into various shapes to adhere to your particular resting position. That would be very cool and very interesting. We haven’t done the research on the cognitive effects of chair sitting vs archetypal resting positioning, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they offered some performance-enhancing effects for knowledge workers.

In the next couple weeks, Matt and I will be releasing a podcast discussing the archetypal resting positions and other topics in full.

For now, why don’t you make it a point to spend the next month doing at least one hour of archetypal floor sitting every day? See if you notice any improvements to your tissue function, and report back. I’d love to hear your results.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Take care!

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References:

De jonge S, Van den berg C, De vos RJ, et al. Incidence of midportion Achilles tendinopathy in the general population. Br J Sports Med. 2011;45(13):1026-8.

Wallden M, Sisson M. Modern disintegration and primal connectivity. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2019;23(2):359-365.

Wallden M, Sisson M. Biomechanical attractors – A paleolithic prescription for tendinopathy & glycemic control. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2019;23(2):366-371.

Taheri N, Mohammadi HK, Ardakani GJ, Heshmatipour M. The effects of passive stretching on the blood glucose levels of patients with type 2 diabetes. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2019;23(2):394-398.

The post Archetypal Resting Positions: How Sitting Like Your Ancestors Could Save Your Health appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.

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I left the pro athlete world a long time ago. I no longer compete. I don’t train with the intensity and volume it’d take to win races. But I do pay attention to what’s going on in that world, and I still have a lot of friends who never left it. Developments there often foreshadow developments in the rest of the health world. And after things like keto, MCT oil/ketones, and collagen, the performance hack that’s blowing up among elite athletes is CBD oil. Almost everyone I talk to who puts in serious training and competing time (in a variety of sports and pursuits) is dabbling with CBD.

What are they using it for?

There are two main claims when it comes to CBD and fitness.

  • That it improves sleep.
  • That it reduces pain, improves workout recovery, and helps you get back to training and competition.

Do their claims have any scientific support?

CBD and Sleep

A big review of CBD and sleep found that CBD increased sleep time and reduced the number of times people woke up during the night, improved sleep quality, reduced REM-related behavioral disorder (where you act out your dreams in your sleep), and improved sleep in anxiety patients.

Sleep is one of the biggest weak spots for many athletes. They sacrifice sleep for gym time. They train late at night under bright lights and come home energized and unable to get to bed. They focus on the workouts rather than the recovery. But here’s the thing: the more you train, the more sleep you need. The more performance you need to wring out of your body, the higher your sleep requirements are going to stack. There’s no getting around it. Sleep is one of the most important things to get right if you want to improve performance and make your hard work count for something.

But let’s get more granular. You want details?

Sleep deprivation ruins your posture and makes you more liable to make technique mistakes, get injured, and compromise movement quality and power. If you can’t coordinate your limbs, you won’t succeed in the gym or on the field (and you’ll probably make a critical mistake that gets you hurt).

Sleep deprivation kills your judgment. If you’re not thinking clearly, you’ll make silly mistakes and dangerous choices. Go for the last rep on the deadlift when your back’s about to give out, that sort of thing.

Sleep deprivation squanders your adaptation to training. Enjoy the insulin sensitivity and improved energy utilization training provides? Sleep loss blunts both. Like gaining muscle in response to lifting heavy things? Sleep loss inhibits muscle protein synthesis.

Sleep deprivation makes eating well harder. If you’re training for fat loss and body composition, you know that eating is well over half the battle. A single night of bad sleep makes you more vulnerable to the rewarding effects of junk food. It becomes harder to resist and more addictive.

Sleep deprivation causes muscle loss. A lack of sleep increases urinary nitrogen, a sign that the body is breaking down lean muscle mass.

So, is there a connection between sleep, CBD, and performance?

That hasn’t been directly tested. We know two things:

  1. CBD can help people who are having trouble sleeping get more sleep.
  2. Sleep is ergogenic. If you aren’t sleeping, you aren’t maximizing your performance in the gym and adaptation to your training.

That’s not to say you can’t get good sleep without CBD. It’s not a requirement for good sleep. But if CBD is helping athletes get better sleep than they would otherwise, it’s also giving them a performance and training boost.

CBD and Pain, Adaptation, and Recovery

One of the biggest quandaries an athlete faces is how to balance pain management, training adaptation, and workout recovery.

You can use ice baths to get back in the game quicker, but you might reduce training adaptations.

You can take two days off after a really tough workout and maximize the training effect, but you won’t be able to compete in the interim.

You can pound NSAIDs to reduce pain, but it might slow down your recovery and impair your adaptation to the exercise.

Everything has a tradeoff. And if you lean too far in one direction, you’ll pay the price. Back when I was competing, I leaned hard toward “getting back out there.” I ate ice cream and grains by the gallon to replenish the energy I expended, popped Tylenol like candy to dull the pain long enough to let me get through the next workout. It all worked out in the end (I wouldn’t be doing this if I hadn’t messed up so badly), but boy if I didn’t cut it close.

Where Does CBD Fit In?

CBD is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. It can block neurotoxicity from oxidative stress. It lowers inflammatory cytokines and raises anti-inflammatory cytokines. It may reduce a person’s reliance on opioids for pain control. It can even synergize with NSAIDs, reducing the amount you need to get the same effect. And it can do all this without causing liver damage. Sounds uniformly beneficial, right?

Be careful. Anti-inflammation can be a double-edged sword. After all, inflammation isn’t wholly pathogenic:

The inflammatory response is the healing response.

Training adaptations occur in response to the inflammatory effect of exercise.

The inflammatory reactive oxygen species that we’re all so worried about also serve as cellular messengers that provoke the creation of new mitochondria and the production of endogenous antioxidants like glutathione.

This is hormesis—the application of good stressors to make us healthier, stronger, and more resilient.

NSAIDs have many of the same effects, like blocking inflammatory cytokines, and have been used by athletes for decades to reduce pain, improve acute performance, and hasten the return to competition. They’ve also been shown to reduce muscle adaptations to resistance training and impair healing even as they reduce pain.

One of CBD’s anti-inflammatory effects is to blunt the release of interleukin 6 (IL-6), an inflammatory cytokine. This isn’t always helpful, as studies show. A hard training session spikes IL-6, and, at least in animal studies using IL-6 knockouts (mice who produce no IL-6 at all), lack of an IL-6 response tends to reduce muscle and adipose tissue adaptations to exercise. NSAIDs are another anti-inflammatory drug that block IL-6 and have been shown to impair muscle adaptations to resistance training in the young and improve them in the elderly. In other words, NSAIDs impair the hormetic stress effect of exercise in the young (who tend to have a lower stress burden and higher stress resilience) and enable it in the elderly (who tend to have lower stress resilience).

What Does This Mean For You?

Well, it depends on who you are and your situation.

High stress lifestyle? CBD can probably help you blunt some of your underlying stress to give the training a bigger effect. Low stress lifestyle? CBD might blunt it too much and render your training less adaptive.

As for CBD’s effect on pain means, there are a lot of unanswered questions that I trust will be answered in due time.

CBD may help mask the pain from injuries by exerting anti-inflammatory effects while slowing down healing. However, if your baseline inflammatory status is high, reducing inflammation may be just what you need to improve healing.

CBD may help reduce pain by speeding up the healing process. There’s even some evidence in rodents that CBD can speed up the healing process of a fractured bone. Does that happen in humans? Does that happen in other types of injuries? Maybe.

That said, if taking CBD before a workout is the only thing that lets you actually get through the workout without pain, it’s going to be better than not taking it. I know of a few people who swear by CBD for joint relief; they couldn’t do what they love without it.

We have a lot more to learn about CBD and training. The benefits for athletes who need help with sleep are clear and well-established. The benefits for athletes who need help with pain and recovery are murkier—we simply don’t know the details yet. It’s likely that CBD will help athletes recover in some situations and not in others. But for the most part, it’s relatively low-risk. Give it a shot and see what you notice. The beauty of it all is that even if CBD impairs your training adaptation, it’s not set in stone. The safety profile is good. The research is only growing. You can always drop it and keep training and regain your gains.

That’s it for today, folks. Have you used CBD to enhance your training? Did it work? Did it hurt? Tell us all about it down below!

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References:

Kozela E, Juknat A, Kaushansky N, Rimmerman N, Ben-nun A, Vogel Z. Cannabinoids decrease the th17 inflammatory autoimmune phenotype. J Neuroimmune Pharmacol. 2013;8(5):1265-76.

Lundberg TR, Howatson G. Analgesic and anti-inflammatory drugs in sports: Implications for exercise performance and training adaptations. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2018;28(11):2252-2262.

Kogan NM, Melamed E, Wasserman E, et al. Cannabidiol, a Major Non-Psychotropic Cannabis Constituent Enhances Fracture Healing and Stimulates Lysyl Hydroxylase Activity in Osteoblasts. J Bone Miner Res. 2015;30(10):1905-13.

The post CBD For Performance: What We Know So Far appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.

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For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering three questions from readers. First, what’s the deal with exercise-induced asthma? Is there anything we can do to lessen its impact and incidence? Second, is CBD oil helpful for diabetics? And finally, do bodyweight exercises always require warm-ups? What about workouts in general—do you need to warm-up before every single session?

Let’s find out:

The first question comes from Caue Cavallaro:

since you are the go-to person when it’s about health, for me, do you have any material related to exercise induced asthma? I had it every now and then but since I started training for triathlon it’s happening more often. Thank you!

This is a classic response. When I was doing triathlon (and training others in the sport), exercise-induced asthma was incredibly common. These were some of the fittest people on the planet, and yet they were wheezing and coughing like they were completely out of shape.

The common denominator was inflammation and oxidative stress. Back then, most of us didn’t know anything about either—and we were loading our bodies with tons of both. Anything you can do to reduce excess inflammation and oxidative stress in a healthy, sustainable manner will help.

First and foremost, how are you training? I’d really consider getting your hands on Primal Endurance or reading this post. The quick and dirty version is that to train the aerobic pathway, you have to go easier and slower than you think. Take 180 and subtract your age. That’s your target heart rate. Stay under it to remain aerobic. You’ll go so slow and so easy that it won’t even feel like you’re training. This will increase how fast you can go while remaining in the aerobic fat-burning zone, and it will limit your tendency to overtrain. Overtraining is the primary reason for exercise-induced asthma because when you overtrain, you’re heaping excessive inflammation and oxidative stress on your system. And you’re doing it every single time you train.

This “easier” style of endurance training is totally applicable to triathlon. Spend a good month or so (longer for most, but you’re probably reasonably fit and ahead of the game) focusing on that for the bulk of your training, building that aerobic base. Pepper in some more intense stuff, some “race pace” running/swimming/biking, some strength training and sprints.

How are you eating? Too many seed oils high in omega-6 fats and too many refined carbohydrates (to support the overtraining, of course) will tilt the balance toward inflammation and oxidative stress. Switch over to more saturated and monounsaturated fat sources, like butter, coconut oil, avocado oil, and olive oil. Be sure to eat fatty fish or take fish oil to balance out your omega-3:omega-6 ratio. Eat fewer carbs, and even consider going keto to enhance your fat-adaptation. The low carb approach goes hand in hand with training easier in the aerobic zone, as it demands less carbohydrate.

You’ll want to support your glutathione production with whey protein, raw dairy, and NAC supplements. Glutathione is the body’s premier in-house antioxidant. We most famously use it to detoxify harmful substances like alcohol and reduce oxidative stress, but glutathione also combines with nitric oxide to become a potent bronchodilator called nitrosoglutathione. Bronchodilators open up the airways and facilitate air flow. Having inadequate glutathione can impair your production of nitrosoglutathione and make your asthma worse—or trigger it.

Choline can help. Studies have shown that getting some extra choline reduces the airway inflammation and oxidative stress in people with asthma. You can take a choline supplement or eat a few egg yolks each day.

Good luck!

Regarding CBD/hemp oil, Carmen asked:

Is there oil for diabetics??

They’ve actually looked at CBD for diabetics. In animal studies, it reduces the incidence of diabetes and shows promise against diabetic complications like high glucose-induced endothelial dysfunction.

But the only human study was a bit of a dud. It compared CBD alone, CBD with THC, and THC alone in people with type 2 diabetes. Only the THC alone improved blood sugar, pancreatic beta cell function, and lipid numbers. CBD was ineffective, if harmless.

When you say, as soon as you wake up, do a quick superset of pushups – doesn’t it require a warm-up session beforehand? Can you really do them right away, as soon as you get out of bed? Is a warm-up not always essential?

I mean, you don’t have to do them right away. I can definitely see an argument for brushing the teeth and having some coffee first. For waking up a bit to get the most out of your workout. But if you work out on a regular basis and have a good base level of strength—which our commenter seems to have—you should be able to do basic bodyweight exercises without much of a warm-up.

If pushups are a major effort for a particular person, then a warm-up is a good idea.

As for the essentiality of warm-ups in general? Warm-ups become necessary when we stop moving for most of the day and do a big workout a few times a week. Warm-ups are necessary when we sit for 10 hours a day, using terrible posture the entire time. Warm-ups are important if you’re going really hard, really intense, and really heavy (think a big CrossFit WOD, a set of heavy deadlifts, or something similar). Warm-ups aren’t as essential if you make your entire lifestyle a movement session.

Thanks for reading, everyone. If you have any comments, input, or questions, leave it down below!

Take care.

References:

Mehta AK, Singh BP, Arora N, Gaur SN. Choline attenuates immune inflammation and suppresses oxidative stress in patients with asthma. Immunobiology. 2010;215(7):527-34.

Weiss L, Zeira M, Reich S, et al. Cannabidiol arrests onset of autoimmune diabetes in NOD mice. Neuropharmacology. 2008;54(1):244-9.

Rajesh M, Mukhopadhyay P, Bátkai S, et al. Cannabidiol attenuates high glucose-induced endothelial cell inflammatory response and barrier disruption. Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2007;293(1):H610-9.

Jadoon KA, Ratcliffe SH, Barrett DA, et al. Efficacy and Safety of Cannabidiol and Tetrahydrocannabivarin on Glycemic and Lipid Parameters in Patients With Type 2 Diabetes: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Parallel Group Pilot Study. Diabetes Care. 2016;39(10):1777-86.

The post Dear Mark: Exercise-Induced Asthma, CBD for Diabetes, Warm-ups In the Morning appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.

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I’m a believer in working hard AND playing hard. When we get stuck in patterns of overwork and overstress, we lose the important connection with our creative, intuitive, playful selves. Our work suffers and so does our happiness (which means everything else, like our relationships, will, too). Stuart Brown, one of the world’s leading experts on play, calls play a “profound biologic process.” What we all know (or used to know until modern living helped us forget) is that play is an essential component of our physical development and general well-being. From a personal standpoint, the older I get the more I recognize play as the linchpin for my own sense of vitality. As a result, I prioritize play—even above exercise. Fortunately, however, I’ve grown into a new relationship with fitness as a result of play. I gave up the slog of grueling training regimens decades ago now, but to this day I’m still living more deeply into a play-based fitness vision. Let me show you a bit of what that looks like for me….

You all have heard me talk about Ultimate—probably as long as Mark’s Daily Apple has been around. The fact is, it’s as thrilling for me today as it was twelve years ago. Nothing else quite combines the diversity of essential movement and the heart of play like Ultimate does. In a single hour, I’m getting regular sprinting, lateral movement, agility training, recovery phases, and mind-body coordination to skillfully throw, catch and move on the field. I love the intense challenge and fast pace of the game.

Ultimate plays very similarly to rugby or football. The field has two end zones, and a team scores by catching a pass in the defensive team’s end zone. The defending team performs a “pull” (think “kickoff” in football) to start the match (and after every subsequent point scored). The offense moves the disc by passing to teammates in any direction. Once a player catches the disc, he must come to a stop as quickly as possible. From this position, he can only move his non-pivot foot. A player has ten seconds to throw the disc after catching it.

The disc changes hands either by turnover or after a score. A turnover occurs when a pass is not completed, intercepted, dropped, blocked, held for longer than the allotted ten seconds, or thrown out of bounds. The defending team assumes control of the disc immediately following a turnover, from wherever the disc lands on the field. There is no stoppage of play (unless a foul, injury or bad weather occurs).

From a physical standpoint, you’re out there running, leaping, twisting, grabbing, throwing, and bumping into other players. You use practically every muscle in the body (if you’re not, you’re doing it wrong) and, rather than long protracted runs, you engage in short bursts of speed and activity punctuated by walking and brief jogging (almost like you’re on the hunt). Not only does it take keen, quick thinking, remarkable agility and throwing accuracy, and raw athleticism, but it also promotes good teamwork and sportsmanship. In fact, Ultimate has an official “Spirit of the Game” (SOTG), a sort of mission statement that stresses sportsmanship and honor. Highly competitive play is condoned, but not at the cost of general camaraderie. Everyone is out there to have a good time and get some great exercise.

Check it out.

Want more ideas for active play? Here you go.

And for more on the importance of play for a Primal Blueprint lifestyle, check out these resources.

Now you tell me: what’s your favorite way to play? How do you merge the Primal goals of mobility and fitness with everyday enjoyment? Thanks for stopping in today.

The post My Favorite Way To Play: Ultimate Frisbee Workout (with Video) appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.

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Jessica Gouthro from Paleohacks is joining us today to offer tips for strengthening glutes and hamstrings without traditional gym equipment. Enjoy, everyone.

Strong glutes and hamstrings are more than just nice-looking legs and a booty.

The glutes and hamstrings are the strongest muscles in our skeletal muscular system. When we strengthen these muscles, we can prevent strain and injury while also enjoying a greater ability to squat deeper, lunge pain-free, push heavy objects, run faster and jump higher.

To best train those glutes and hamstrings, you’ll want to emphasize both leg curling (knee bending) and hip extension (or straightening) actions for balanced training. One of the best exercises that do this is the glute ham raise, or GHR.

Very few exercises can isolate the hamstrings and glutes without top-loading excess weight on the spine or testing your grip strength with a loaded barbell. Although you may think this exercise looks easy in comparison to a Barbell Romanian Deadlift or Hip Thrust, it is just as challenging (if not even more so) when performed correctly.

What Is a Glute Ham Raise?

A glute ham raise is an eccentric, or muscle lengthening, exercise that involves a fixed location of the feet, ankles, and hips and a hinge only at the knee joint. By securing the foot position and starting with a bent knee, we enable the hamstring to lengthen eccentrically against gravity using only our own body weight.

Rising back up to the starting position is done by a combination of hamstring contraction and assistance from the upper body pushing against the floor.

Typically, this exercise utilizes specialized equipment called a GHR machine (pictured) that can hold your feet and ankles in place and cushions your knees with a curved, shaped knee pad.

Since you may not have access to one of these in your home or gym, we have a great alternative you can do with a partner. All you need is a friend and a rolled-up towel to cushion your knees!

Partner Assisted Glute Ham Raise | 6 reps

Kneel down on a rolled-up towel. Tuck your toes under and straighten your hips. Lift your hands up in front of your shoulders and tighten your core.

Have your partner press down firmly on your ankles to secure your position. Keeping your hips and glutes tight, inhale as you slowly lean forward, hinging only at the knees.

Once you can no longer control the descent, use your hands to catch yourself and lower the rest of the way down. Push into the floor with your hands, and on an exhale, contract your glutes and hamstrings to rise back up to the starting position.

Complete six reps while your partner holds your ankles steady.

Note: This is an advanced exercise. If you find this exercise too challenging and cannot complete six good reps, you can try this next partner-assisted resistance band hamstring curl exercise as an alternative.

Partner-Assisted Kneeling Band Hamstring Curl | 8 reps per leg

Kneel down on a rolled-up towel, tuck your toes under, and get into an all-fours position. Extend one leg straight out behind you.

Have your partner loop a resistance band around your heel, just above your shoe. As your partner holds her end of the resistance band tight, bend your knee to curl your heel towards your butt.

Exhale and hold momentarily at 90 degrees, then slowly straighten to return to the starting position. Continue to bend and straighten your knee while maintaining that lifted leg position. Complete eight reps, then switch sides.

Note: You will feel this in your glutes on both sides as well as in your hamstring.

In case you don’t have a partner available, here are the five best glute and hamstring exercises you can do anywhere, by yourself. You’ll need a yoga mat, a towel, and an exercise band.

To get the most out of your efforts, I recommend performing all of these exercises at least two to three times per week.

Fire Hydrant | 10 per side

Kneel down in an all-fours position with your feet flexed (toes pointing to the floor). Lift one knee up and out to the side to hip height. Exhale at the top as you flex your glute muscles, then lower back down with control. Maintain a steady torso and upper body as you focus on contracting your glutes.


Complete 10 reps on one side, then switch to the other leg.

Note: Work slowly to ensure quality muscle contractions. Pause each time you hit the top and strongly contract your glutes. You’ll feel this on both sides, even though you’re working one side at a time.

Towel Slide Hamstring Curl | 8 reps

Sit at the bottom edge of your mat with the full length of your legs on a smooth surface floor, like hardwood or tile.
Lie down flat on your back and press your palms into the floor by your hips.

Place your heels on a towel and keep your feet flexed. (If you are working on carpet, use a piece of paper or two paper or plastic plates instead of a towel.)

Engage your glutes and lift your hips off the ground. On an exhale, bend your knees to slide the towel towards your butt. Stop when your knees reach a 90-degree bend. Inhale, and reverse by sliding back out to a straight body.

Complete eight reps, keeping your hips elevated the entire time.

Single Leg Toe Touch | 6 reps per side

Stand tall with your core tight and shoulders rolled back and down. Balance on one foot as you float the other just off the ground.

Inhale to hinge at the hips to tilt forward until your torso and top leg are parallel to the ground. Keep a slight bend in your standing leg and reach your fingertips towards your toes. Exhale to lift back up to standing, contracting your muscles.

Complete six reps per side.

Note: Keep your gaze on the ground to help with balance. If balance is still a challenge, you may hold onto a wall or chair with one hand while you do these reps.

Single Leg Balance Hamstring Curl | 6 reps per side

Balance on one leg with your torso and lifted leg parallel to the ground. Keep a small bend in your standing leg, and grab onto your quad for stability. On an exhale, curl your top leg towards your butt, while maintaining your hip and torso position.


Inhale to straighten your leg, reaching it out long behind you.

Continue six reps on one side, then complete six reps on the other side.

Single Leg Resistance Band Ham Curl | 6 reps per side

Slide one end of your loop resistance band underneath your left heel, pressing down with your heel to secure its position.

Lift your right leg. Loop your right heel through the other end of the band, positioning it on the back of your shoe. Place both hands on your left knee and hinge at your hips with your spine straight.

Exhale to bend your right knee to 90 degrees, then inhale as you lower back down with control, maintaining a small amount of tension on the band so it does not come loose. Your range of motion should be about eight to 10 inches.

Complete six reps, then switch sides.

Note: Hold onto a wall or a chair for balance if you need to.

How To Incorporate This Weekly Workout

Here’s a sample workout you can incorporate into your weekly routine.

Warm up with three minutes of light walking or jogging. Follow with three rounds of the circuit of seven exercises, resting for 10-30 seconds between exercises depending on your fitness level.

Note: Beginners can do just one round and work up to three rounds after a few weeks.

  • Partner-Assisted Glute Ham Raise [OR] Partner Assisted Kneeling Band | 6 reps
  • Hamstring Curl | 8 reps per leg
  • Fire Hydrant | 10 per side
  • Towel Slide Hamstring Curl | 8 reps
  • Single Leg Toe Touch | 6 reps per side
  • Single Leg Balance Hamstring Curl | 6 reps per side
  • Single Leg Resistance Band Ham Curl | 6 reps per side

Thanks again to Jessica Gouthro for these tips and to Brad Gouthro for demonstrating them. Be sure to check out Jessica’s other workout lineups on MDA:“Arm Workout Without Weights,” “13 Ways To Move More At Work” and “10 Moves To Help Ease Joint Pain.”

Questions or comments about exercises or glute and hamstring strength? Share them below, and thanks for stopping by.

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