As you might have noticed, I’ve been doing more mini-videos about my daily routines, training regimens, and other thoughts on health. After some initial trepidation and a lot of demand from readers, I find I actually really enjoy doing them. They’re a great way to get a quick take on a topic and give a visual representation of all this stuff I talk about on the blog. They don’t take that long to make. People like them, find them helpful. It’s actually the perfect medium to complement my writing.

In the past, I’ve done videos on a broad range of topics: active workstations, standup paddling, Ultimate Frisbee, the evolution of my fitness routine and outlook, microworkouts, slacklining, and my coffee routine. Today, I’m showing a video about my favorite exercise: the trap-bar deadlift.

Why Do I Love the Trap-Bar (AKA Hex Bar) Deadlift?

It’s a good balance between quads, hip flexors, hamstrings, and glutes—the anterior and posterior chain, in other words. And, you can accentuate each muscle group by making slight variations with your technique.

You can do them with more knee flexion bias—this hits the quads a bit more.

You can do them with posterior bias, keeping your knees straighter—this hits the glutes and hams better.

You can do both in one workout. First one bias, then the other.

You can increase the weight and use the higher grips, allowing you to increase the intensity and shorten the range of motion for safety.

You can decrease the weight and use the lower grips, giving you a deep range of motion.

You can stack weights and stand on them inside the trap bar, giving you an even deeper range of motion. Stack them high enough, and you can turn the lift into a near-squat.

That’s a ton of variation and customization with just one basic movement.

And if I’m feeling like doing some other stuff, it’s right there ready to go. I can do farmer’s walks with the trap bar. Load it up, pick it up, and walk around under load.

I can do bent-over trap bar rows.

I can do shoulder shrugs. Sometimes I’ll even combine the deadlift with the shrug: lift it up, shrug at the top, repeat.

Most of all, the trap-bar feels comfortable in my hands. It feels right when I lift it. It feels like exercise should feel: like I’m stressing my body but not endangering it.

How I Do It

Check out how I do my deadlift session and how I use the handle options for different weight loads.

It’s safe to say the trap-bar is going to be in my arsenal for life. I suggest you get yourself one, or try it out the next time you hit the gym.

What’s your favorite exercise? Have you tried the trap-bar? What’d you think? Got any other trap-bar exercise variations you’d recommend?

Take care, everyone, and thanks for reading.

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The post Mark’s Favorite Exercise: Trap-Bar Deadlift appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.

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The fitness world is booming these days. You can see it in the popularity of CrossFit boxes, obstacle course and endurance events, and record-breaking gym construction. It’s encouraging. Inspiring even. But there’s also a downside to the rising gym memberships and event registrations. There are still too many people dealing with recurring patterns of breakdown, burnout, illness and injury. More people are trying to do the right thing, but the flawed approaches they often gravitate to end up derailing them.

Nonetheless, there are changes afoot. It’s an evolution of thinking that’s slowly spreading its way through fitness circles. More forward-thinking coaches, trainers, and researchers are helping right the wrongs of the fitness boom with a general rejection of the “more is better” approach for one that respects the importance of balancing stress and rest, one that moves toward an intuitive approach to workout planning.

More people are implementing strategies to maximize workout return on investment and minimize the risk of injury and burnout that too often result from an indiscriminate approach. The endurance world, for example, is finally rejecting the narrowly focused, overly stressful chronic cardio approach of old in favor of emphasizing aerobic development at lower heart rates, avoiding chronic patterns, and becoming fat adapted instead of sugar addicted. Endurance athletes are embracing the importance of strength training and explosive sprinting just as strength/power athletes are doing more aerobic conditioning. The CrossFit movement itself is an ode to the health and longevity benefits and increased enjoyment that comes from achieving broader fitness competency.

What’s Wrong With HIIT?

I’ve talked recently about microworkouts and recovery-based workouts. Today, I want to delve in further and share a radical transformation in the way high intensity workouts are conducted that will generate fitness breakthroughs while simultaneously minimizing the risk of exhaustion. Specifically, I’m taking aim at the extremely popular workout pattern known as HIIT—High Intensity Interval Training. Sprinting is a part of the Primal Blueprint Fitness Pyramid, but I’ve been wary of the details around traditional HIIT practices because these workouts are quite often too stressful and exhausting to deliver the intended fitness boost they promise.

Yes, you have to challenge your body regularly with hard efforts to build fitness, but most of us do it the wrong way. When you complete a killer HIIT session at morning boot camp or spin class, at home on your Peloton bike, or with the Tuesday night track group, you get a tremendous sense of accomplishment and a flood of feel-good endorphin chemicals into your bloodstream. Unfortunately, the typical HIIT workout can also be depleting, exhausting, and stimulate an assortment of unnecessary cellular damage and inflammation.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Be redesigning your high intensity workouts, you can get leaner and fitter with higher quality, more explosive, less physically stressful workouts that are easier to recover from and thus can be performed more frequently. In short, a better approach involves transitioning from HIIT to HIRT, High Intensity Repeat Training. HIRT is an acronym coined by Dr. Craig Marker, psychologist, certified strength and conditioning coach, and CrossFit instructor from Florida.

Here’s a compare and contrast that can revolutionize your approach to intense workouts….

Comparing HIIT and HIRT

The problem with a typical HIIT workout is that it’s too strenuous—too many repetitions of hard effort that (each) last too long, and with insufficient rest between hard efforts. This results in cumulative fatigue during the workout, a diminishing quality of performance over the course of the workout, increased cellular damage due to this cumulative fatigue, and extended recovery time afterward. These kinds of sufferfests are a great source of satisfaction and personal growth when you high five your fellow bootcamp classmates after an hour of power, or cross the finish line of a big event in which you’ve trained for months to prepare. But including them as a major and recurring element of your training program is a really bad idea. Unfortunately, the sufferfest mindset is incredibly common these days, perhaps suggesting that the ego has more influence that strategic planning or intuitive decision making.

A HIRT workout stops short of the exhaustive nature of HIIT. The essence of HIRT is to conduct maximum efforts, typically of shorter duration, with much longer recovery, and fewer total efforts than a HIIT session. The word “Repeat” in the acronym suggests that you maintain a consistent quality of effort on every repetition of hard work. This means not only the same performance standard, but also the same level of perceived exertion.

For example, say your workout entails running 100-meter sprints across a football field, and you hit 18 seconds for your first sprint. This is a nice controlled, explosive effort with excellent technique, and you assign a perceived exertion level of around 90 out of 100. Hence, you’ll want to do successive sprints in 18-19 seconds each, preserving explosiveness and excellent technique—delivering what you still discern to be 90 out of 100 on the effort scale. If you have to “dig deep” (the implicit objective, and badge of honor, with a HIIT session) just to arrive at 19 seconds on your fourth effort, that’s it, you’re done. If you notice a slight attrition in explosiveness or breaking form during the effort, you’re done. Typically, this might be a little twinge in the hamstrings or lower back, a tensing of the face or chest, or any other indicator that you have played your best cards of the day.

In Dr. Marker’s landmark article titled “HIIT versus HIRT” at www.BreakingMuscle.com, he explains that after HIIT sessions we bask in self-satisfaction of a job well-done, but disregard the health-destructive consequences of these sufferfests: “[Y]our subjective feeling of the effectiveness of a workout is not as important as what science tells us is important to building an impressive base of endurance and changing your body composition.” (That sound you hear is a slap to the face of highly motivated, goal oriented, Type-A fitness enthusiasts across the land. Don’t worry, I’ve been there, too….)

This admonition applies to everyone from elites to novices. Elite athletes are notorious for constantly pushing the envelope and frequently succumbing to injuries or periods of declining performances. Novices generally don’t concern themselves with training strategies, often leaving their fates in the hands of the bootcamp instructor. Without sufficient experience or reference points, they exercise themselves into exhaustion, believing that pain and suffering are part and parcel of the fitness experience.

The (too often) result? Ambitious, well-meaning enthusiasts burn themselves out and then are down for the count. The most dedicated keep going to their detriment, all the while accumulating fatigue, injuries and even pounds. Others simply stay away from the gym by invisible magnetic force. Alas, the subconscious is very good at avoiding sources of pain and suffering. Can we dump this suffering-and-attrition dynamic already?

Side note for those who love to read about sports: For inspiration, check out this article about the greatest marathon runner in the history of the planet, the amazing Kenyan Eulid Kipchoge. The article describes his training regimen as extremely devoted and incredibly impressive, yet he maintains a relaxed mindset, remains in control of his energy output, and never extends beyond his limits into exhaustion. Even the march to the unthinkable two-hour marathon (Kipchoge’s current world record stands at a mind-bending 2:01.39) comes from a sensible approach instead of an extreme one.

Marker explains that there’s an optimal duration for sprinting where you can obtain maximum benefits with minimal cellular destruction, and this is typically around 15-20 seconds. Try to maintain maximum effort for any longer than that and you’re not really sprinting anymore anyway, since it’s impossible to maintain maximum energy output.

Here’s why this works:

Look at what’s happening physiologically over the duration of a near-maximum intensity sprint of any kind (running, cycling, rowing, or kettlebell swings). During the first five seconds of your sprint, lactate starts to accumulate in the bloodstream. Lactate levels double between five to ten seconds, then double again from 10 seconds to 20 seconds—up to what Marker calls the highest acceptable level. As you increasingly feel the burn, lactate doubles again from 20 seconds to 30 seconds. It doubles again from 30 seconds to 60 seconds, causing cellular destruction, ammonia toxicity, and extended recovery time.

As Marker explains, “The amount of lactic acid produced up to 20 seconds [of sprinting] is still manageable, but the next doubling is over the top. Even a single 30-second sprint spikes ammonia levels almost five times! Why trash the body for no good reason? Rebuilding broken down cells is a costly and time-consuming process. And while it’s taking place, you feel tired and run down, with your ATP short of a full stack.”

You may be familiar with the Tabata concept of interval training, which entails a repeating pattern of work efforts lasting twice as long as rest intervals until you complete a Tabata set of a certain total duration. The original Tabata protocol, developed by Japanese physician and researcher Dr. Izumi Tabata and colleagues at the Japanese Institute of Fitness and Sport in Tokyo, calls for four minutes of a 20-second sprint, 10-second rest, 20-second sprint, 10-second rest pattern. In the original studies, Japanese Olympic speed skaters achieved massive boosts in VO2 Max in a short time with Tabata training. Unfortunately, the original Tabata concept has been widely misappropriated into workouts that honor the 2:1 work-to-rest ratio, but carry on for too long and generate cellular damage and exhaustion: multiple sets of kettlebell swings, pushups, box jumps, running sprints, cycling sprints, and so forth. Bottom line with sprint workouts: a little goes a long way, and too much can really mess you up.

How To Transition From HIIT To HIRT

To transition into a more effective, less stressful high intensity workout pattern, pick the sweet spot of 10-20 seconds for your explosive efforts. Take what Marker calls “luxurious” rest intervals to ensure that your cells have a chance to partially or fully regenerate ATP (takes around three minutes) and minimize the disassembling and deamination that occur when you ask your body to perform again and again with rapidly depleting cellular energy.

Finally, conduct between 4 and 10 sprints. You should be able to manage four shorts sprints even if you’re a novice. If you claim you can complete more than 10 and feel great, you’re better off going faster and doing fewer more explosively.

Keep in mind that a properly conducted HIRT workout is going to feel different than a HIIT sufferfest. It may require an adjustment in your mindset to feel confident and satisfied that you’re training with maximum efficiency and minimal suffering like a “real athlete.” If you’re a focused, driven, goal-oriented type, be vigilant about resisting the addictive allure of the endorphin rush that happens after a sufferfest. Remember, the blissful feeling of powerful pain-killing chemicals flooding your bloodstream is a fight or flight reaction to the extreme stress of the workout. Realize that the genetic purpose of the endorphin response is to help you continue to run for your life instead of lay down in exhaustion! If you abuse this delicate mechanism with a chronic pattern of extreme workouts, you’re going to pay a heavy price. Dr. Tommy Wood calls this overactivation of the fight or flight response, “liquidating your assets,” and I couldn’t agree more.

Several friends who have recently updated their approach to a HIRT protocol report feeling much better in the days following their most challenging sessions—more energy, less soreness and stiffness. That’s how it should be.

Combine the HIRT strategy with recovery-based workouts and walking. See how it goes for you, and let me know. Thanks for stopping in. Share your questions and thoughts below, too.

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The post HIIT vs. HIRT: Reducing Workout Stress To Increase Fitness appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.

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For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering six questions from some of my Twitter followers. Yesterday, I asked the community for questions and got some great ones in return. For instance, how much oily fish should one eat each week? And how does diet and nutrition influence posture and coordination? Third, how should a low-carb diet affect acid reflux? Fourth, is there a good replacement for whey protein? Fifth, does milk with your coffee break a fast? And sixth, how does one stop viewing and using food as an indulgence? I’ll get to the rest next time.

Let’s go:

I’m wondering, should the average person limit oily fish per week? Kresser says eat up to a pound. Masterjohn says fish PUFA should be no more than 4-8 ounces per week.

I’ll defer to the Chrises on matters concerning biochemistry, but here’s how I look at fish consumption:

It’s very self-regulating. I’ll go on wild salmon benders where I’m eating it every single day for a week or two, then none for awhile. Back in Malibu, I used to have my fish guy save King salmon heads for me, which I would then roast—the things were huge, fatty, and extremely filling. Between the brains, the cheeks, the collars, and all the skin, I reckon a King salmon head had about 20-30 grams of omega-3 fatty acids. Maybe more. Every time I ate one of those I didn’t feel like even looking at fish (or fish oil) for a week or so.

Ancestral background matters here. Your average Inuit is going to have a very high tolerance of (and likely requirement for) dietary long-chained omega-3 fatty acids because that’s the environment his or her ancestors inhabited. As someone of Northern European ancestry, I have a higher baseline tolerance for and requirement of long chained omega-3s; my ancestral food environment was very high in cold fatty fish. Someone with South Asian background is going to be better at converting shorter-chained omega-3s (ALA) into the long chained ones, so they don’t need to eat as much marine fat as a guy like me.

What is the influence of diet and nutrition on posture and coordination?

First and foremost, the micronutrients and macronutrients in the food we eat help program and provide substrate for the hormones, neurotransmitters, proteins, and energy used to coordinate movements and maintain posture. Every physiological process has a physical corollary; a good diet full of vital vitamins and minerals and absent toxic foods is a diet that supports good posture, energy generation, and movement.

One specific example is thiamine, a B-vitamin. Extreme thiamine deficiency is a disease called beri-beri, characterized by nerve tremors, difficulty moving, and extreme fatigue (among other serious symptoms). Almost no one in developed nations gets beri-beri anymore, but low level thiamine deficiency is common enough and can most likely result in deficient neuromuscular coordination.

I know that a diet deficient in collagenous materials (collagen powder, connective tissue, bone broth, skin) will worsen the health and resilience of your bones, tendons, ligaments, and fascia—the connective tissues that support and enable your mobility.

And finally, a diet that results in low energy levels, unwanted weight gain, and bad aesthetics will worsen your mental health and leave you down in the dumps—itself an independent predictor of poor posture.

But this is a difficult question to answer with specific references to individual nutrients or foods because no one I’m aware of is running studies on the connection between diet and posture. Just know that “it matters.”

Perhaps I’ll revisit this in greater depth.

What is a low-carbber to do if he deals with acid reflux? I’m told that a high fat diet aggravates symptoms… and it has for me. Is there any way I can stick to a healthy diet without having to resort to a “conventional wisdom” reflux plan?

That’s pretty strange. Normally, low-carb diets are great for acid reflux. There’s actually a lot of evidence showing that low-carb is the best diet for the condition, even a “cure.”

However, there’s also evidence that high caloric density within meals (in other words, huge meals) can worsen GERD severity and high fat intakes can increase the frequency of acid reflux episodes.

How do we square this evidence away?

In one study, the very low carb (under 20 grams a day) anti-GERD diet that treated obese individuals allowed unlimited meat and eggs with limited portions of hard cheeses and low-carb vegetables. That’s a standard Primal diet, but it doesn’t say anything about the fat content of the diet. If you’re eating ribeyes, that could be a pretty high-fat diet. If you’re eating sirloin, that could be a very high-protein and moderate-fat diet.

I’d stay low carb, but try eating more protein and not overeating. Avoid huge meals; don’t drink melted butter.

I’m allergic to whey protein. What can I use instead?

Egg protein powder is a good option. High bioavailability of the protein, good amino acid profile. Although whole eggs do work better.

Does coffee with milk impact fasting effects on keto?

It depends on how much milk you’re using.

Milk itself is rather insulinogenic, owing to its lactose and protein content. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, but anything more than a few tablespoons will effectively “break the fast.” I’d opt for heavy cream over milk. It tastes better in coffee, provokes a much lower insulin response, is mostly just fat, and thus allows the fat-burning metabolism of fasting to continue relatively unabated.

Hello Mark! Thank you for everything! – Question – what can be done to change how food is viewed? As life – not as a indulgent part of our lives?

That’s a good one.

You have to LIVE. You have to stop mulling over the thoughts swirling through your head. You have to go outside and do the things you’ve been considering doing.

I know people who have all the knowledge they’d ever need to know (and some they wouldn’t) about health and human happiness and nutrition and productivity and business, yet they act on very little of it. Instead of taking the lessons to heart and living out the conclusions of the latest study, they just move on to the next bit of research.

Food, like any substance or activity that triggers the reward systems of our brains, can fill a void in a destructive way. Fill that void with meaning, with love, with purpose and direction. The food will still taste good (or even better), but it won’t become an end in itself.

That’s it for today, everyone. Take care. Be well. And write in down below with any further questions or comments!

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The post Dear Mark: Oily Fish Limit, Diet and Posture, Acid Reflux, Whey Replacement, Milk and Fasting, and Remembering to Live appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.

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Good morning, folks. Today’s awesome post is offered up by Primal Health Coach Chris Redig. 

Are you struggling to see results at the gym? Has your strength training hit a dead end? Maybe you’ve noticed that lifting heavy things doesn’t automatically build muscle. It doesn’t automatically get results.

There’s nothing worse than putting in the work but seeing no benefits. Carving time out of a busy schedule to lift heavy things is already a Herculean effort. That time needs to be productive. So, if you’re struggling to get results, here are the ten most likely reasons.

1) You’re Not Fully Motivated (Yet)

Building a lean muscular physique takes considerable work. There’s nothing quick or easy about it. To maintain your motivation, it helps to remember the benefits.

Not only is it fantastic for your health and a great longevity strategy, but it’s arguably the best form of exercise to lose fat.
A lean, muscular physique is useful, visually appealing, and built for adventure. Whether you’re climbing trees with your kids, portaging a boat or carrying someone away from danger, muscles help get jobs done.

Strength training checks all the boxes, and it’s hard to imagine a better use of your time at the gym. But it’s not always easy to make consistent progress. If you’re struggling to get results, your training may lack progressive overload.

2) There’s No Progressive Overload

How do you build muscle? The answer lies in the concept known as progressive overload. When you lift heavy things, you create a significant challenge for your muscles. In response to that challenge, they grow bigger.

So far so good.

But as they grow bigger, the heavy things stop being heavy enough. It may feel heavy enough. You probably don’t enjoy lifting it. But for your muscles, it has stopped being a reason to get bigger.

Consequently, to maintain growth you must strive to increase the challenge. The two best ways to do this are by either increasing the amount of weight you are lifting or increasing the number of reps you are performing.

In other words, if you lift the same weight for the same number of reps week after week and month after month, you are not building muscle. Progressive overload is central to success. To get bigger, focus on lifting heavier.

If you’re not sure how to maintain progressive overload, you’re probably not logging your sessions.

3) You’re Not Logging Your Sessions

But how do you know how many reps to aim for? How do you know how much weight to lift? Initially, the answers will depend on the program you’re following. But once you get started, the answers will be determined by your last session.

So, you need a log book.

First, a log book tracks your progress. It will record how many reps you performed and how much weight you lifted. This is how you know what to do at the gym at your next session. And this is how you know if you’re building muscle.

Second, having a log book will keep you honest. It will force you to train hard. You’ll know the numbers you need to beat. It will prevent you from putting down the bar and thinking, “Well, that was easy.”

Third, it will give you a record of achievement. It takes months to see significant results. That can seem daunting and discouraging. A log book brings those future results into the present. It’s a regular reminder that you’re getting stronger.

Finally, if you start keeping a log book, you may notice that you train inconsistently.

4) You’re Training Inconsistently

Habits first. Muscles second. Nothing short of time and consistency is going to get results. A single hard session at the gym isn’t going to cut it.

Therefore, it’s crucial to build some habits. Going to the gym should be on autopilot. First, this requires a different mindset and a shift in focus. The desire to get results should become an obsession to become consistent.

Second, a fitness journey needs to be sustainable. To be fit requires consistent work. If the work stops, the fitness slips away. Ask yourself, how many times per week do I want to go to the gym 18 months from now? Make gym time sustainable. Become consistent.

But with consistent training comes the risk of training too hard.

5) You’re Training Too Hard

As you progress and strive to beat your last session, you will start failing reps. Failing a rep is exactly what it sounds like. You hit a point where you simply cannot finish another rep without taking a break.

It’s easiest to experience with pullups. After a certain number of pullups, you hit a wall. You can’t get over the bar again without taking a rest. The purpose of strength training is to push that point of failure back further and further.

But you can train too hard. It’s probably not a good idea to constantly fail reps. The goal isn’t to feel wrecked the next day. And if you can’t do another rep, resist the temptation to cheat. Progress shouldn’t come at the expense of good form or range of motion. You don’t want to get sloppy to show fake progress. Your last pullup shouldn’t look significantly different than your first pullup.

Instead, always leave a couple reps in the bank. Stop one to three reps before failure. It’s okay to occasionally hit failure. But don’t spend a day at the gym training to total failure or getting sloppy.

If you’re training too hard, you might also be too focused on fatigue.

6) You’re Too Focused on Fatigue

You’re at the gym lifting heavy things. You’re pouring sweat, out of breath and about five minutes from total collapse.

Good workout?

If you want to build your mental toughness, work capacity or conditioning, then yes. But if your goal is muscle, then it’s questionable. The body adapts pretty narrowly to the stress you impose.

If you’re too focused on fatigue, your body will primarily get better at preventing fatigue. If you want more muscle, then you need to focus on stressing your muscle through progressive overload.

This means you should catch your breath between sets. You don’t need to jump straight from one set into the next just to keep your heart rate up. Take your time. Be ready mentally and physically to lift the weight. Be ready to give your best and most impressive effort each and every set.

Instead of pushing your endurance, try pushing your comfort zone.

7) You’re Stuck Inside Your Comfort Zone

The goal is to feel comfortable all over the gym. Maybe you’ve noticed there are specific areas where all the fit people train. They spend their time by the squat racks and deadlift platforms. There’s a reason they’re over there. Compound lifts work.
They’re time efficient. They improve coordination, movement patterns and flexibility. And they’re useful outside the gym. It’s worth taking the time to learn the challenging lifts. Just take it slow, and do your research.

Owning the difficult lifts will also give your motivation a big boost. Few things are as motivating as stepping outside your comfort zone and mastering a new skill. Stay safe, but don’t stay comfortable.

Weighing yourself can also be very uncomfortable. But is it the right measure?

8) You’re Using the Wrong Measure

The scale doesn’t tell the whole story. Nothing tells the whole story. Progress is slow and hard to see. A fitness coach might ask for weigh-ins, measurements and pics, and even then progress can be hard to detect, until one day it’s obvious.

If you’re starting out or struggling, then you need to build a foundation of improved habits, health and fitness. This is the hardest and most important part of the journey, but it isn’t easy to measure.

Fortunately, it is easy to measure progress in your strength training. You can judge your training by your log book. If you’re getting stronger, then your gym time is productive. The visual results are coming.

If your progress is still stalled, you’re probably training too little.

9) You’re Training Too Little

When you first start strength training, almost any amount of lifting will produce results. Newbie gains are fantastic. You’re constantly setting new PRs and getting stronger. But over time the progress slows and eventually stops.

You could stop right there. Those initial gains are plenty to look, move and feel great. You could focus on other dimensions of fitness or active leisure. And if you have dialed in your diet and lifestyle, you will look completely beach-ready.

But for those who want more, the answer is often more volume. And at this point your training becomes a balancing act. On the one hand, you need to ask “Can I spend more time lifting? Am I recovering? Am I avoiding injury?” And on the other hand you need to ask “Am I getting stronger? Am I increasing my lifts or reps?” There’s no formula. It’s an N=1 experiment.

If you’re struggling to increase your volume of training, it may be time to look at your recovery strategy.

10) You’re Not Recovering

The central pillar of any recovery strategy is diet and lifestyle. As readers of Mark’s Daily Apple, you already know what you want to be eating. Now the hard part is doing it. If past efforts have been ineffective and you’re struggling, I recommend taking a slow approach.

Better and best are not enemies. Many of the benefits of eating a good diet are dose responsive. This means that small improvements in your diet provide real benefits. Plus, those small improvements become habits and generate momentum.

Eating well is a set of skills. And skills need to be practiced.

My own diet transformation was a multi-year journey. Over time bad habits turned into good habits. The good habits accumulated. And one day, my diet was on autopilot. It takes time. It takes consistency. It’s worth it.

Strength training is a key ingredient of looking, moving and feeling your best. I hope some of these recommendations help you break through to the next level. Thanks for reading.

About the Author:

Chris Redig is a health and fitness coach. He loves helping people move, look and feel their best by optimizing their nutrition, movement and lifestyle. He is a Primal Health Coach, a Henselmans Personal Trainer and a Movnat Master Trainer. He has lived, adventured and traveled in 20 different countries and holds a Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs. In particular, he loves to help adventure-enthusiasts build ready-for-anything minds and bodies. He currently lives in Denmark with his wife and two kids. For online coaching or a free consultation, visit www.chrisredig.com. Or you can follow him on Instagram.

To learn how you can become a certified Primal Health Coach like Chris Redig, click the following link and download the free eBook How to Become a Health Coach: 5 Steps to Embarking on a Career You Love.

Thanks to Chris for stopping by the blog today and sharing his coaching wisdom. And thanks to everyone out there for reading today. Have a question for Chris—or a post idea our Primal Health Coaches can weigh in on? Let us know down below. Have a great end to your week.

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The post Top 10 Reasons You’re Not Getting the Results You Want in the Gym appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.

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I’ve been around the block. I’ve spent thousands upon thousands of hours in the gym, on the track, on the bike, in the water. I’ve tasted glory and defeat. I’ve been sidelined with injuries, I’ve gone stretches where I felt invincible. I’ve trained with, and trained, some of the best to ever do it. And along the way, I learned a lot: what to do, what not to do, what matters, what doesn’t.

Last week a comment from a reader gave me a great idea for a post: Give fitness advice to younger Groks. Help them avoid the mistakes I made and capitalize on the wins.

Let’s get right to it.

“Gain As Much Muscle As You Can Through Natural Means.”

Lean mass, which primarily includes muscle mass but also connective tissue and organ reserve, is in my opinion the single most important variable for overall health, wellness, physical capacity, and performance. The more muscle you have, the better you’ll age. The younger people will assume you are. The more capable you’ll be. The less frail. The harder to kill. The better to conceive children, give birth, and be an active parent (and eventually grandparent). You’ll have more energy. Basically, more muscle allows you to resist gravity, and gravity is what slows you down, breaks you down, and makes you feel old.

The more muscle you have when you’re younger, the more muscle you’ll retain as you grow older. Because when you’re older, you can still gain muscle, but not as easily. You’ll need more stimulus and more protein to get the same effect.  And entropy is working against you.

And by “natural means,” I mean don’t take anabolics unnecessarily (unless you have low/lower testosterone and a doctor helps you gain physiological levels via TRT). Don’t spend three hours a day in the gym. Don’t let strength training take over your life.

“Listen To Your Gut. If Something Feels Wrong, or Even Not Right, Back Off.”

I realized that every single time I hurt myself, I knew it was coming on some level. I had a premonition that I shouldn’t train or perform that day. Sometimes that message would come hours before the injury. Sometimes it would come moments before. It was usually non-specific, often nothing more than a vague sense of disquiet. But there was always something.

That time I strained my bicep tendon maxing out on bench, I remember waking up in the morning feeling like I probably shouldn’t go for the PR. Still I went for it and paid the price.

And last year during a set of pull-ups, I’d noticed I was leading with my chin—something I’m usually good about avoiding—and told myself to stop. But I thought I had another rep in me and, sure enough, as I was trying to finish the next pull-up, I felt something to the left of my ear and down around my trap give. I actually did keep the chin neutral but still got hurt. Leading with my chin was my body’s way of indicating that I was reaching the limit. I ignored that indicator and regretted it.

It’s not always a physical sensation or “pain” at all. Sometimes it’s just a weird feeling in my gut that says “this isn’t right.” Listen to that feeling. One day it won’t just be a tweaked shoulder or tendon. It might be downright catastrophic.

“Pull More Than You Push.”

Your phone. Your desk job. Look around at the average person walking around—their shoulders are rolled inward, internally rotated. Are yours? Society pulls our shoulders inward at every turn, and then you go to the gym and do a bunch of push-ups, bench presses, and dips, followed by a few sets of rows. That’s not enough. To maintain shoulder health (and build a strong, stable back from which to exert great shoulder force), you should train with a 2:1 pull:push ratio. That means for every 10 reps of presses (dips, pushups, bench, overhead press, etc) you do 20 reps of pulls (rows, pullups, face pulls, etc). If you already have problems with your shoulder or posture, bump that up to a 3:1 ratio.

“Focus On Compound Movements, But Include Some Isolation/Bodybuilding Movements As Well.”

While compound, multi-joint movements are the best way to build total body strength and athleticism, it turns out that training the “beach muscles” is important too. For instance, an exercise like curls can go a long way toward building up your bicep tendons and ligaments, preparing you for placing more stress on the muscles themselves and helping you avoid injuries down the line.

Plus, they make you look good—which is its own benefit but also motivates you to keep going.

“Compete With Yourself.”

Competition is good. Competition compels us to be greater, to improve ourselves. Just be wary about whom you’re competing with. These days, you have billions of potential competitors. You can hop on social media and find hundreds of people with better bodies, stronger lifts, faster times, and more perfect technique than you. It’s fine to use these people as motivation to improve yourself, but don’t beat yourself up—or, worse, get yourself injured—trying to beat them. Not everyone can do everything. We have different skills, different capacities, different priorities.

What you can and should do is compare your current self to your past self. Are you getting stronger than that person? Faster? Fitter? Leaner? Great. That’s how you do it. That’s what matters most.

“Walk Every Day.”

You won’t get the physiological/fitness effects right away, but they build up over time. Walking every day for the rest of your life is all about accruing compound interest.

Benefits?

From being in nature to improving blood glucose control to better cognitive function to improved insulin sensitivity to fat loss to joint mobility, walking is legitimate exercise.

“Get a Tribe.”

There’s research showing the physiological benefits of training in a group setting, but that’s tangential to my main point: having a fitness tribe—a group of friends, a sport, a training school—creates accountability, which promotes consistency. When someone’s counting on you, expecting you, you’re more likely to stick with the training. When you train with your friends or tribe toward a common goal, it becomes a joyous occasion. And even when it’s downright difficult and miserable, you can endure by drawing on the energy of the others.

“Have Fun.”

If you can figure out a way to train in a way that you love and truly enjoy on an intrinsic level, you’ll never be out of shape.

For some people, that means CrossFit. Or powerlifting. Or bodybuilding. Or running, martial arts, wrestling, parkour, or rock climbing. Dancing, mountain biking, surfing. There are many ways to skin the cat, but what really matters is that you enjoy the act of training for its own sake.

For me, I trained in the opposite manner. I loved the feeling of finishing a race. I liked the accolades and pride I felt and received when I won. But the act of racing? The moment to moment experience of training all those days? Miserable. That should have been an indication that I shouldn’t be doing it. I ignored it, though, and paid a price.

“Train To Support Your Goals.”

These days, as I’m fond of saying, I train to play. I train to support my Ultimate Frisbee match every weekend. I train so that I can get out on the paddle board twice a week. I train so I can try all the fun new fitness gadgets. If I were to do heavy squats and deadlifts 3 times a week, I wouldn’t be able to play Ultimate very well or go paddling whenever I wanted. I’d be recovering. Since my goal is to play, my training has to support that.

Search within your soul and figure out what your goals are, then hew your training to them. Are you trying to get as strong as possible? As fast? To build up your VO2max? To look good naked? Then align your training with your goals.

“Don’t Think You Have To Squat and Deadlift and Press With a Barbell.”

Those lifts are fantastic for building strength and developing athleticism, but they aren’t the only paths. Lunges, single leg deadlifts, kettlebell swings, trap bar deadlifts, and dumbbell presses are excellent alternatives that work many of the same muscles and can even be gentler on the body than the Big Three lifts.

There’s probably way more that can be said on this subject, but that’s where you come in. Down below, let me know what you’d say to your younger self who came to you asking about fitness tips. What would you do differently? What would you keep the same?

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If you’ve been here for any appreciable amount of time, you know how insane my fitness routine used to be.

I used to run 10-20 miles EVERY SINGLE DAY.

A “short ride” would be 100 miles. Uphill.

Rest days? I’d rest when I was physically unable to move.

It wasn’t even a fitness routine because it was counterproductive. It didn’t make me fitter in the holistic sense. I wasn’t even very strong, mobile, or explosive. I was “fit” only in a single domain.

And, sure, I could run and bike and swim long distances faster than most, but it ruined my health as well as took a toll on my family life, my social life, my ability to play and have fun, and my happiness.

These days all those other things are just as important as my ability to churn out physical work, lift heavy things, run sprints, and maintain vitality. Turns out that I don’t have to sacrifice the former to achieve the latter. I can have it all. How?

Well, I had to make some changes, and even today I’m still making them. A new locale has contributed to this evolution, as has a new adventure. (You’ll see me doing it in the video.)

These days I’m committed to a lifestyle that maintains my sharpness, strength and mobility—what will help me continue to live an active and awesome life in the years to come. That looks a bit different than it did fifteen years ago, and it’s more rewarding than ever. Check it out….

Let me know what you think—and what changes you’re making that bring you closer to the sweet spot of strength and well-being. Have a great week, everybody.

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For my entire athletic career, I considered the gold standard of recovery to be sleeping, resting on the couch watching T.V., and generally being still and inactive. Come on, what could be more effective than couch potato mode to recover from the hormonal and inflammatory stresses of marathon training runs or long days of extreme swim-bike-run workouts? I’m kidding (mostly), but it’s not a total exaggeration. Our understanding of fitness recovery has grown exponentially since I was in the elite arena, and it’s exciting to see new and better approaches taking root that genuinely speed recovery and stave off burnout. I’m sharing two such techniques today. They’re simple, mostly free, and accessible to anyone with the most basic fitness opportunities and venues.

Note: Here’s the thing…. This is the stuff you should focus on before considering advanced techniques like exposure to cold or heat, Theragun treatments (although I happen to be a fan of this device), hyperbaric oxygen chambers, etc.

“JFW”

The first recovery technique is to move more instead of just sit around. That’s right, science is validating the idea that if you make a concerted effort to increase all forms of general everyday movement in the hours and days after strenuous workouts, you will help minimize the inflammation and oxidative stress caused by strenuous workouts.

Let’s call this strategy JFW—Just F—ing Walk.

Moving your body through space helps you burn fat better, which will maximize the fat reduction goals of your workouts. Walking also helps boost brain function. A 2017 UCLA study comparing MRI scans revealed that active older folks (over 60 and walking more than three kilometers per day) have faster brain processing speed, better working memory for quick decisions, and better memory consolidation than inactive folks. In his book, The Real Happy Pill: Power Up Your Brain By Moving Your Body, Swedish researcher Dr. Anders Hansen reports that just taking a daily walk can reduce your risk of dementia by 40 percent.

Walking and general movement of any kind improve lymphatic function for a huge recovery boost. The lymphatic system is a plumbing network running throughout your body that detoxifies every cell, tissue and organ through a separate operating system from the cardiovascular system. The lymphatic system operates through a pumping process instead of a beating heart. This means that you’re obligated to move your muscles and joints to turbocharge lymphatic detoxification and avoid the pooling of lymphatic fluid caused by chilling on the couch in the hours and days after heavy workouts. Even the old-time exercise apparatus of the mini-trampoline has come into vogue recently because bouncing around for even a few minutes has been shown to significantly boost lymphatic function.

To help your lymphatic system function optimally, be sure to hydrate adequately at all times. While my original Primal Blueprint presentation suggested that you simply honor your thirst to achieve good hydration, recent science suggests that successful hydration can be a little more complicated. Stacy Sims, Ph.D., a hydration expert who studied thermoregulation at Stanford and is currently a senior research fellow at University of Waikato in New Zealand, is doing some great work in this field. Check out this fantastic infographic. Her research suggests that the female menstrual cycle can influence hydration needs and strategies. Another breakthrough insight is that strenuous workouts have the potential to mute your thirst mechanism; you may become too hot and tired or distracted to notice that you’re actually getting dehydrated. For most minimally active folks, going by thirst might be just fine; the kidneys do an excellent job regulating fluid and sodium balance in the body.

If you are a novice fitness enthusiast, a high performing athlete, or routinely exercise in hot temperatures, a deliberate pre- and post-workout hydration is a strategy worth considering and implementing. Sprinkle some high quality natural mineral salt in each glass of fluid, which will help it become better absorbed in the tissues throughout your body.

“Rebound” Workouts

Joel Jamieson, a noted trainer of world-champion MMA fighters in Washington (8WeeksOut.com—as in eight weeks out from a title bout), and developer of the Morpheus Recovery app, advocates a system called Rebound Training where specially designed workouts can actually speed recovery time in comparison with total rest. The idea that a Rebound Workout can boost recovery is validated through the tracking of Heart Rate Variability. Joel is a pioneer in Heart Rate Variability and has been tracking his fighters and other high performing athletes for decades. Yes, decades, as in dating back to the original hospital grade $30,000 units that required placement of a dozen electrodes on your skin.

The idea that a Rebound workout can beat couch time is an extraordinary revelation. Amazingly, when you drag your tired, stiff, sore body into the gym and do some foam rolling, deep breathing exercises, dynamic stretches, and even very brief explosive efforts, such as short sprints with long recovery on the bike, or “positive-only” deadlifts (lift the weight then drop it to the ground to prevent soreness caused by eccentric contractions), you can stimulate parasympathetic nervous system activity and actually accelerate recovery. The parasympathetic is known the “rest and digest” component of autonomic nervous system, and counterbalances the sympathetic “fight or flight” component.

You can learn more about Rebound Training and see a sample workout here. If you just want to dabble in the concept, know that increasing your walking and general movement in the hours and days after a challenging training session will help boost blood circulation and lymphatic function to speed recovery. I always find ways to walk more and spend more time at my stand-up desk in the 24 hours following a tough Ultimate Frisbee match or sprint workout.

Sample Restorative Workout

The next time you throw down a killer workout, trying heading to the gym the following day and creating a restorative experience.

Start by lying flat on the mat and completing 20 deep diaphragmatic breath cycles. When you’re in the prone position, you can hone good technique by placing your hand on your abdomen and making sure that the abdomen expands upon inhalation. First expand the abdomen, which enables the chest cavity to then expand outward and enable the full use of the diaphragm for a powerful breath. You notice this sequence better when laying down.

After 20 deep breaths, commence 10 minutes of foam rolling, dynamic stretches and flexibility drills.

Then, get a little sympathetic stimulation going with some bike sprints or positive only deadlifts as follows:

  • Exercise bike: Warmup five minutes, then sprint for 10 seconds, followed by 60 seconds of easy pedaling. Repeat for five repetitions.
  • Deadlift: With 70% of your one rep maximum weight, raise the bar three-quarters of the way to the top, then allow it to fall to the ground with minimal muscle engagement. Repeat five times.

The idea with these efforts is that you’ll trigger a brief stimulation of fight or flight sympathetic nervous system activity, but because the effort is so brief, you’ll prompt a compensatory parasympathetic reaction during the recovery period. The net effect of the session is to turbocharge parasympathetic for hours afterward to a greater extent than just chilling on the couch watching Netflix.

Thanks to the gentle nature of the session, you enjoy an increase in energy and alertness from getting the oxygen and blood flowing throughout the body—but without the cellular breakdown and glycogen depletion of a more strenuous workout. You should leave the gym feeling relaxed and a little looser than before the workout.

Implementing “Rebound”-style workouts, along with making a general effort to walk around more in the hours following your most challenging sessions aren’t just fun diversions; they’re part of putting recovery as the central element of your training program.

Final Thoughts…

Speaking of HRV, Jamieson offers a breakthrough insight that has helped me further appreciate the value of tracking HRV over time, and also alleviate some confusion that arose during some data accumulation over the past several years. If you’re a fan of HRV, you know a high HRV on the familiar 1-100 scale is indicative of a strong and rested cardiovascular system. You have a greater variation in beat-to-beat intervals than a lower score, indicating a harmonious balance between fight or flight sympathetic nervous system function and rest and digest parasympathetic nervous system function. A low HRV indicates a more metronomic heartbeat, and sympathetic nervous system dominance over parasympathetic. These are reliable signs of overtraining or a general overstress condition in life, or a weak cardiovascular system in general.

By tracking HRV for several weeks, you can establish a healthy baseline, then gauge your level of stress and readiness to train based on daily HRV fluctuations. Low equals overstressed, high equals healthy. That’s all well and good, but here’s an important nuance I learned from Joel about HRV readings significantly higher than your baseline: An 86 seems better than the usual 72-75, but actually an abnormally high HRV could be an indication of parasympathetic dominance versus a sympathetic-parasympathetic balance. When your parasympathetic kicks into overdrive, it’s possibly because you trashed yourself way beyond healthy limits, and you’re struggling to return to a rested and stress-balanced state. This explained some strange outlier readings where I felt pretty cooked after coming off a jet travel binge or a series of extreme workouts in a tight time frame but delivered a rock star HRV reading.

As I’ve written about before, I’m not a fan of overdoing biofeedback devices. I’ve used them and still do occasionally when I’m attempting something new or just want to check in with some hard data, but too much tech can disconnect you with your intuition—what should always be front and center in your assessments. Dr. Kelly Starrett references scientific research indicating that the single most valuable and accurate metric for your state of recovery is “desire to train.” I wonder how this goes up against the blood lactate meters at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and any ring or watch data you can accumulate. I have confidence it would hold its own in most scenarios.

Thanks for stopping by today, everybody. How do you do recovery? What have you learned over the years in your own study and experience. Have a great end to the week.

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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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