risks of running chronic cardioMark’s Daily Apple veterans are familiar with one of the most controversial and impactful posts ever published to the site, Mark’s 2007 treatise called A Case Against Cardio. The article changed my life and caused me to rethink many of the flawed assumptions about endurance training that have been indoctrinated into conventional stupidity for decades. Follow up posts like this one dig deeper into the do’s and don’ts of cardiovascular exercise, as does the Primal Endurance book and online multimedia education program.

The title of this article is a quote from Paleo movement pioneer Dr. Art De Vany. Far from a tongue-in-cheek wisecrack, De Vany detailed in a 2017 podcast interview on the Tim Ferriss Show how steady state cardio is in conflict with your genetic expectations for health.

This post will provide an update on the mounting science suggesting that steady-state cardio need not, and probably should not be the centerpiece of your fitness endeavor. Plus, I’ll include suggestions to transform your routine steady state cardio workouts into fun, creative sessions that deliver broader and more impactful fitness benefits with less downside risk of drifting into chronic patterns.

Spoiler alert: I’m going to suggest you take your typical steady state jogging session at a chosen pegged heart rate and add some walking (gasp!), pace variations, and alternate activities like explosive bursts and drills that hone balance, flexibility, and mobility.

I’ve been doing steady state cardio for 40 years (gulp) as a high school and collegiate runner, pro triathlete, and Speedgolfer such that heading out the door for a morning jog at a comfortable aerobic heart rate has been programmed into habit at the same level as brushing my teeth.

High Jump as an Eye Opener

In recent months I have rekindled a longtime passion for the fabulous track field discipline of high jump. I’m trying to raise the bar in life in every way, so why not? It’s (arguably) the most beautiful and complex of track and field events because of the disparate skills and technical mastery it requires. You need speed and power for starters, but unlike Usain Bolt in the 100 meters or Carl Lewis in the long jump, high jumpers face the complexity of transferring energy from the horizontal plane (i.e., running fast) to the vertical plane (i.e., jumping high) with a difficult change of direction and different application of forces (represented by the curved approach) required to fly backward and bend the body virtually in half to clear the bar.

Consequently, I’ve been taking the opportunity of my usual ho-hum morning run to perform an assortment of creative drills and skills for high jump, and the experience has been a revelation. My outings are more fun, challenge my central nervous system to execute good technique for complex movements, and stimulate my creative energies instead of just a brain flatline outing with jogging. Actually, there’s nothing wrong with the latter in hyperconnected life, but the novel stimulation of a varied workout provides a greater sense of excitement heading out the door and a greater sense of satisfaction after the session.

Perhaps most importantly, getting off the figurative treadmill (some of you will be getting off a literal treadmill if that’s your go-to gym workout) protects you against the high-risk elements of steady state cardio. We talk about football being too violent of a sport for an evolved society (well, at least I do…), but steady state cardio is right there in the high- risk category. Enthusiasts of all ability levels engage in chronic conditions exercise patterns that lead to breakdown, burnout, illness, and injury to a shocking degree. A survey by Runners World magazine revealed that an astonishing 80 percent of the 30 million runners in America get injured in a given year—even with no tackles allowed on the marathon route!

Risks of Overtraining

More disturbing are the cardiovascular disease risk factors associated with devoted endurance training over the long run. Sisson and I keep a registry of endurance athletes (including numerous world champion caliber performers) who have suffered from serious heart problems either during, or in some cases years after retirement from elite competition. While Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run became a bestseller, I believe the legacy of Homo sapiens as a magnificent endurance machine has been twisted out of context today. Indeed, humans evolved some incredible cardiovascular endurance advantages, such as bipedal locomotion and evaporative cooling. While this gave us an edge against other predators, evolving a complex brain was orders of magnitude more significant to rising to the top of the food chain.

It’s more anthropologically accurate to say that humans were born to move frequently at a slow pace, while possessing the ability to perform magnificent endurance feats once in a while. The amazing YouTube documentary, The Great Dance, is believed to be the first filmed account of a bonafide persistence hunt. The program follows a member of the San Bushmen tribe, modern day hunter-gatherers in Africa’s Kalahari desert, tracking an kudu antelope across the desert for four hours in 100-degree-plus temperatures. Finally, the exhausted antelope is easily caught and speared to death in place—another victory for the endurance kings of the planet! The important take away for me is that the hunter didn’t lace up his moccasins the following day to put in an easy eight-miler like a modern runner might. Life or death endurance feats (indeed, the San Bushmen clan in the flick had not feasted in quite a while due to drought) are in a different category from averaging 50-mile weeks and piling up finisher medals.

Endurance as a Once-in-a-while Endeavor

There’s nothing inherently unhealthy about pushing your limits once in a while to bag an antelope or a 50k finisher medal. It’s both physically and psychologically healthy to get out of your comfort zone now and then, counterbalance the luxuries, conveniences, and excesses of modern life, and trigger a fantastic adaptive fitness response to an extreme challenge. Mark, who finished dozens of marathons in his running career, recommends to aspiring marathoners that they complete just two marathons: The first one is to finish; the second one to improve your time! Then, check “26.2” off your bucket list with the acknowledgement that the stress of repeatedly training and competing in a footrace of that distance is going to compromise your hormonal, musculoskeletal, immune, and endocrine systems without a doubt.

After all, the marathon was introduced as an event in the first modern Olympics in 1896 in Athens to commemorate the saga of the Athenian messenger soldier Pheidippides. As legend has it, 2,500 years ago Pheidippides ran 25 miles from the battlegrounds of Marathon to Athens, burst into the Acropolis and excitedly reported, “Rejoice, we conquer!,” then promptly dropped dead on the spot. Interestingly, Greek historians now assert that the story is not true. Pheidippides is believed to have actually run from Athens to Sparta and back to Athens—a total of 300 miles over the course of four days!—to relay important battle information. It’s believed that a different messenger did the Marathon to Athens jaunt and dropped dead after delivering the news.

 

In any case, we can draw a clear distinction between honoring our Born to Run genetics to keep fit for life versus following the prevailing “chronic cardio” approach to endurance training that compromises health and accelerates the aging process. Like any other muscle, the heart requires an optimal balance of stress and rest to thrive. It’s unthinkable to rip your biceps to shreds doing exhaustive sets of curls day after day with insufficient rest, but we routinely treat our cardiovascular system with much less TLC than our traps and guns.

The Dangers of Excessive Cardio: Your Heart and Beyond

Dr. Peter Attia, longevity expert, host of The Drive podcast, and accomplished ultra-endurance athlete, explains what’s going on inside:

“Challenging endurance workouts cause an increase in both heart rate and stroke volume [amount of blood pumped out per beat of the heart], by stretching the heart larger to pump more blood per beat. This amazing organ can quickly go from pumping three to five liters of blood around our body per minute at rest to 30 liters per minute during very intense exercise. Unfortunately, the right side of the heart, which pumps only against the low-resistance lungs, and is far less muscular than the left ventricle, is more vulnerable to damage from chronic amounts of high cardiac output training. So while short bouts of this intensity don’t appear to cause lasting damage on the heart, prolonged activity does—at least in susceptible individuals. The so-called chronic cardio patterns can cause the right ventricle to become scarred from excessive use and insufficient recovery. This scarring can lead to cardiac arrhythmias, especially atrial fibrillation, and even sudden death in athletes who have no evidence of atherosclerosis.”

Chronic Cardio and Mitochondria

Beyond scarring and inflaming the heart, there are many other ways to contribute to your demise with chronic cardio. You can gather these under the heading of the “Extreme Exercise Hypothesis,” a concept which has recently been scientifically validated and studied with increasing urgency. Beyond blowing out your heart, Attia describes how mitochondria can become damaged by chronic exercise, a scary story of accelerated aging and health destruction to ponder: “When mitochondria are heated up too frequently for too long, proteins become denatured (destruction of the tertiary elements of the molecule, causing dysfunction) and mitochondrial DNA leaks out of cells.”

This phenomenon is highly problematic because mitochondrial DNA is perceived as a foreign agent to your body. They are different from cellular DNA and strikingly similar to bacteria cells. When mitochondrial DNA leak into the bloodstream, your immune system is confused into launching an attack against a perceived invader. This triggers an inflammatory autoimmune response (essentially the body attacking itself), a sustained pattern of which accelerates aging and disease risk. Emerging science on the gut microbiome reveals that this leaking of mitochondrial DNA into the bloodstream is particularly prevalent in the intestinal tract via a leaky gut. As you likely know from reading articles like this one on MDA, leaky gut is driven strongly by eating offensive foods like gluten and toxic seed oils, but endurance training is also a risk factor. When you elevate heart rate and raise body temperature for a prolonged workout, your gut becomes inflamed and permeable as a matter of course to respond to the workout stimulus—especially in hot temperatures. Dangers are no doubt magnified when you try to shove sugary drinks, bars, gels and blocks into said intestinal tract while blood is shunted to the extremities for performance.

“But wait, there’s more!” A 2015 Outside Magazine article titled, Running on Empty chronicled the hidden dangers of ultramarathon running, describing how numerous elite performers suddenly disappear from the face of the earth (or at least the starting line), victims of extreme burnout. A Wall Street Journal article titled, One Running Shoe In The Grave detailed how older athletes have a higher risks of health disturbances related to ambitious endurance training.

A 2015 Velo News article titled, Cycling To Extremes, explained how longtime competitive cyclists are especially vulnerable to developing atrial fibrillation because they can sit and pedal for hours on end with their heart rates pegged at a medium-to-high rate. Hence, they are unrestrained by the pounding that limits a runner’s total weekly exercise output.

Hence, other low impact sports like rowing or cross-country skiing fall into the same risk category as the cyclists. Interestingly, the weightlessness and body temperature stability with swimming lessens the strain on the cardiovascular and other body systems, providing a measure of protection to high volume swimmers.

In the book, The Great Cardio Myth, strength and conditioning expert Craig Ballantyne details how cardio exercise is ineffective for weight loss, heart disease prevention, and longevity; rather, it can have an opposite effect in each area. In cardiologist Dr. James O’Keefe’s TED Talk, “Run for your life! At a comfortable pace, and not too far,” he explains that aerobic health and disease protection are easily optimized with a couple hours of easy cardio per week, and that anything beyond that seemingly paltry total departs from the category of “health” and “longevity” and into the realm of potentially compromising health, increasing disease risk and literally accelerating cellular aging. What’s more, marketing forces brainwash serious enthusiasts to believe they aren’t really legit until they finish a marathon or triathlon. For well intentioned novices heading to the gym, they are subjected to a boot camp experience (literally!) to the extent that they associate the gym, and a fitness lifestyle, with pain and suffering.

A Better Way to Train

Alas, if you love endurance training and racing for the pursuit of peak performance, the enjoyment of nature, social connection, and the psychological satisfaction and confidence gained from pushing yourself, these huge benefits must not be discounted. It’s just a matter of rejecting the conventional stupidity of “more is better” and adopting a Primal Endurance-style holistic approach featuring healthy eating (escape carb dependency to become fat- adapted), aerobic emphasis with strict heart rate guidelines, complementary fitness activities such as flexibility/mobility exercises and brief, explosive exercises, and maintaining exceptional overall stress-rest balance in life. With a correct approach, you can preserve your health, have more fun, and still manage to perform well at endurance or ultra endurance activities.

Granted, it’s an extremely tricky balance for the Type-A subjects who populate the starting line. Sedentary observers from the peanut gallery laud the “focus and discipline” exhibited by their endurance athlete neighbor. Ironically, most of the focus and discipline required to excel in endurance sports must be directed toward restraint, stress-rest balance, and backing off when necessary.

Things are getting better as more and more enthusiasts appreciate the sensibility of a less stressful approach focused on aerobic development and minimizing the exhausting, depleting workouts (Hawaii Ironman legend Dave Scott describes them as “kinda hard”) that compromise health and increase burnout risk. It’s heartening to see the rise in popularity for the work of aerobic training pioneer Dr. Phil Maffetone, author of The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing. Phil has been talking about the now widely accepted “180 minus age” MAF (stands for Maximum Aerobic Function; it’s also a play on Phil’s last name) nearly 40 years. He’s coached some of the greatest endurance athletes of all time, including triathlon legends Mark Allen, Mike Pigg and Tim DeBoom. Alas, Phil’s urgent message to slow down has received more lip service than strict implementation until recent years. As more and more athletes accumulate results with a sensible approach, the tide is finally turning.

In the second part of this article, we will cover ways to depart from steady state suffering to enjoy fun, challenging workouts that broaden your fitness competency without the downside risks of chronic cardio. Check back next week, and get ready to jump for joy!

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The post “Don’t Jog, It’s Too Dangerous.” Evolving Your Cardio for More Benefit, Less Risk appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.

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posterior chain exercisesThere is an epidemic of chronic lower back pain.https://bmjopensem.bmj.com/content/bmjosem/1/1/e000050.full.pdf‘>2 They did deadlifts, goblet squats, lunges, planks, and step-ups. This was a progressive program, meaning they started with lower weights and added resistance as they progressed in strength. Loads were between 6 and 10-rep max.

After 16 weeks, they were stronger, their pain had dropped by 72%, their disability score had improved by 76%, and their overall quality of life (every 4 weeks they completed a self-assessment) had skyrocketed.

Another study from the same year had similar results.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26864586/‘>4

Planks can be done just about every day. They’re a great way to start the morning or break up sedentary time.

Kettlebell Swings for Lower Back Pain

These are not to be taken lightly. Whereas planks and deadlifts are relatively linear and non-dynamic, KB swings take a lot of precision to get right, especially if you have lower back pain. A lot can go wrong with a poorly-done kettlebell swing.

This is a hip hinge and hip extension exercise. All the power should be coming from your glutes and hamstrings with your lower back a stable lever for transferring the force. If you use your arms to “swing” the kettlebell, you’re doing it wrong. Arms should be passive.

Keep the weight on your midfoot/heel. If the weight gets “in front” of you and you start going onto your toes, your lower back will bear the brunt.

At the height of the swing, maintain upright posture and a straight torso. Do not lean back—this takes the emphasis off the hips and places it on the lower back.

When the weight is coming back down, accept it by sticking your butt back and hinging your hips. Don’t “bend over”; get those hips back.

Stick with a weight you can swing for 20-30 reps at a time. You’re not going for any records here. You just want to get the blood flowing and the hips moving. One effective method is to keep a kettlebell in your office and do a minute of swings every hour.

There are other posterior chain exercises you can do to improve lower back pain, but these give the biggest bang for the buck. They should serve as the foundation for your journey back to pain-free life.

Do you have lower back pain? What worked for you? What didn’t work?

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The post Posterior Chain Training: Exercises for a Strong Lower Back appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.

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We need to fight for our right for recess, even if we’re adults, no matter what country we’re in. And I can’t think of a better person to remind us how important it is to go outside and play than our friend Darryl Edwards.

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how to improve running formThe idea that technique is essential for the simple act of running is finally starting to catch on. By maintaining a balanced center of gravity and maintaining a strong foot, you generate maximum propulsive force and minimize impact trauma with each stride. This allows you to transform from a rookie sloppy jogger to someone who looks and feels like an athlete. In this article, we dive into why we pay attention to running technique, with videos on how to improve running form with a few simple drills.

Runners and joggers of all ability levels jumped into the conversion around a post I wrote about proper running technique. I noticed quite a few comments and questions on the video along these lines:

  • Is trying to run like a deer — springing along with active feet — necessary and appropriate for a jogger?
  • Are these technique tips just the domain of sprinters?
  • Will I get “tired” trying to maintain the correct form as described for an entire marathon? Or should I just shuffle along to save energy?

Here is the deal. Executing proper technique is critical at all speeds and durations, for a two main reasons. First, you minimize impact trauma and obtain the best return on investment for whatever energy you muster to make forward progress. This applies whether you are running a marathon in two hours (like the superhuman Eulid Kipchoge), or four hours, or jog/walk for six hours.

Second, if you activate strong feet, you maximize the spring-like potential of the Achilles tendon, making that 26.2 mile journey much less arduous and far more enjoyable. Same for a 100-mile journey! Watch how Zach Bitter’s feet remain active and snappy for nearly 12 hours at his American record track run. Granted, the visual is completely different depending on how much impact force you generate with each stride.

Another example is Usain Bolt, who was discovered to generate over 1,000 pounds at impact, while a casual jogger might impact the ground at forces of only 1.5-3x bodyweight. The jogger’s stride pattern will be a scaled down version of Bolt’s powerful stride down the track lane, where he covered nine feet, eight inches (2.95 meters) per stride!

We have a natural inclination to try and advance the body forward while running. However, correct technique entails applying force directly into the ground upon each stride, allowing the spring-like effect of a proper landing to propel us forward naturally. This is akin to the high jumper’s challenge: instead of following the natural inclination to try and jump right over the bar and into the pit, correct technique entails jumping straight up into the air and allowing the angular momentum from the curved approach to catapult the jumper up and over the bar. That’s how you jump two feet over your own head like the legendary Stefan Holm.

How to Improve Running Form: 3 Steps to Untraining Bad Habits and Retraining Proper Form

Christopher Smith is the greatest Speedgolfer of all-time, renowned PGA teaching professional, and an expert in advanced motor learning methods for athletic performance. He asserts that the following three elements give you the best chance of unwinding, modifying, and improving dysfunctional habit patterns and ingraining new ones:

  1. Slow Down: Execute the desired technique corrections at a slower speed and/or less load than normal. Your mind/body system will be better able to feel the modifications at a lesser speed, creating your own personal internal model.
  2. Eliminate pressure, anxiety, and stress (and the accompanying expectations), so you can practice new motions without fear of failure.
  3. Cognitive engagement and brain assimilation: This is where drills are so valuable. Drills help hard-wire good technique into your central nervous system. The technical term for this is “myelinate”—encasing your nerve endings in a protective coating so they become adept at firing in the correct pattern repeatedly. Sloppy, repetitive training of old habits will simply reinforce the old habits.

Improved Running Form is Yours to Keep

What’s difficult for many runners is to reprogram the neural patterns that you are familiar with for something new. Retraining new movements feels awkward and unnatural at first, until your body realizes that the new way is much more safe and efficient.

For these reasons, I emphasized the point on the video that there is no turning back once you learn good technique. Even when you are innocently jogging for warm up, you need to maintain that strong foot so your brain will remember when it’s time to speed up. So when you are out there running, turn down the earbuds and concentrate on new movement patterns until they become automatic.

Perform drills as often as possible—at least a few of them every time you run. The following drills require you to exaggerate various elements of good technique so that they flow beautifully when you put everything together and start running. These are very challenging moves that our master filmmaker Brian McAndrew and I have segmented into an “Intermediate” video and “Advanced” video. That’s right, there are no easy drills! These running drills are especially valuable if you’re a beginner – you’ll train proper form from the get-go, before you’ve taken on habits that don’t do you any favors.

Focus on Quality Over Quantity for Effective Running Drills

It’s of paramount importance that you execute the drills perfectly from start to finish. If you experience even the slightest bit of fatigue causing your form to waver, stop the drill, jog it out and end the workout. For example, notice on the advanced video’s bicycle drill how I land straight up and down every time, balanced over my center of gravity just like when running. Hey man, that’s the beauty of having multiple takes on the set! In real life, it’s easy to over or under rotate on the bicycle move such that you land with your spine angled backward, behind your center of gravity (too early) or with spine angled forward, in front of your center of gravity (too late)—particularly when you get tired or distracted (e.g., while jabbering into the lavalier mic to make a video.) When this happens, you will feel a jarring sensation in your legs or spine that is not pleasant and potentially injurious.

Please enjoy each video a couple times at home to really study the impact positions and technique tips before you go out and attempt them. I’ve added a few more helpful comments for each drill as follows:

Running Form Drills – Intermediate Drills To Improve Technique and Protect Against Injury

  • Hopping
  • High heel, high toe
  • High knees

Hopping

This is the bread and butter of the running drill world! It’s not that strenuous and very scalable as you get fitter. Once you get some experience, you can try to get those extra few inches of knee height and work those hip flexors; this is a muscle group that gets so terribly compromised when you sit at a desk for hours. When I’m feeling my best, I’ll try to hold the high knee position for an extra beat to enhance the degree of difficulty.

High Heel, High Toe (aka Buttkickers)

Don’t worry about forward progress, just focus on getting the heels up to your butt. You can easily do this drill in place at your cubicle. Did you know that one of the greatest human running machines of all time, Walter George, did a bunch of his training running in place while working at a print shop? This old-time legend destroyed the world record in the mile in 1886 with a stunning 4:12, in a match race that was witnessed by 30,000 screaming fans betting heavily on the outcome. This time held as the world standard for an astonishing 30 years.

High Knees

Stand tall throughout and notice the huge penalty when your bodyweight collapses even a smidge into the ground, instead of preserving the spring potential of the Achilles.

Advanced Running Form Drills – Advanced Drills To Improve Technique and Protect Against Injury

  • One-legged sprint
  • Bicycle
  • Hamstring kickouts
  • Backwards sprinting

One-legged Sprint

Keep that dead leg ramrod-straight and try to get the toe to gently brush along the ground. It’s easy to lose focus and have the dead leg start to participate unwittingly with a little knee bend, then a little more knee bend. The drill really does wonders when the leg is completely straight.

Bicycle

Start gently with miniature pedal revolutions until you get the hang of it. Go ahead and skip a few potential takeoffs to make sure that every single takeoff is executed perfectly and landed perfectly. Oh boy, is it fun when you can get into the rhythm of taking off on opposite legs with no break. A stint of these is as tough as blasting a real live 10-20 second sprint.

Hamstring Kickouts

Here’s another drill that is really scalable. You can start without even leaving the ground and executing the motion while walking as demonstrated. Your hamstrings are often the last muscle group to become really resilient and adapted to sprinting. Okay, the calves get a vote, too (That’s why you’ve got to watch the calf stretch/heal plantar fasciitis video).

As with the hip flexors, your hamstrings get traumatized by sitting in a chair all day. When asked to become a prominent source of power for the running human weekend warrior, it’s no wonder the hammy strains and tears are one of the most common athletic injuries. I enthusiastically recommend doing a few kickouts at the end of every single workout you conduct to keep them strong and flexible! I also do them at airport gates and rental car check-in counters to keep the hammies happy.

Backwards Sprinting

Who knew that putting the engine in reverse could be the single best trigger for optimal sprinting technique? Just shift back into drive and carry on with the same technique attributes in place: high knee, high heel, and dorsiflexed foot.

We talk so much about the importance of sprinting in the Primal Blueprint, and these drills can stand alone as an effective sprint workout before you even unleash your first proper sprint. Truth be told, I required several days of recovery after filming because we were out there for quite a bit longer than my average sprint session. All in tireless devotion to bring you some awesome drills that will spice up your sprint workouts, improve your technique, and help you become more resilient against injury.

You can pick and choose your favorite drills and intersperse them into workouts frequently, or go through the complete cycle once in a while for an excellent high intensity workout. You can even choose a few to work on for a few minutes here and there as microworkouts.

Enjoy these drills and make up some new ones if you wish! Don’t overdo it at one session to the point of technique breakdown, but do a sampling of them every time you finish a run workout or have a break at the gate before your connecting flight. Thanks for reading, and let me know if you notice changes in your running efficiency.

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The post How to Improve Running Form: Introductory And Advanced Running Drills (With Video) appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.

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proper running formRunning is the most simple and straightforward of fitness activities, so we generally don’t pay much attention to learning and refining proper running form. Consequently, there’s a widespread problem of joggers and runners with extremely inefficient technique that can lead to slower times and increased risk for injury.

Unfortunately, when you plod along at a jogging pace, the penalty for inefficient running form and lack of explosiveness is minimal. In contrast, when you sprint, you try to generate maximum explosive force with each footstrike, so even the slightest technique inefficiency or wasted motion delivers a severe performance penalty. Sprinting, Primal Blueprint Law #5, is a great way to clean up technique errors and drift in the direction of proper running form.

Read More: See The Definitive Guide to Sprinting, Part 1, and The Definitive Guide to Sprinting, Part 2 for everything you need to know about sprinting.

Here, we’ll break down the components of proper running form. If you struggle with some of the technical explanations, watch the technique instruction video to help you grasp the concepts.

The Fundamentals of Proper Running Form

The basics of proper running form are pretty simple: Your body should be in stable position with your center of gravity balanced over your feet at all times. The classic image you see on trophies or in clip art of a runner with legs extended way behind or in front of the body represent egregious technique errors.

Instead, check out this slow motion video of the greatest sprinter of all-time, Usain Bolt. Wait until the sprinters get up to speed and are standing tall, then notice how Bolt and the other sprinters preserve straight and elongated spines at all times. Their feet land right underneath their bodies with every stride. The sprinters never lurch forward unless they’re diving for the finish line tape!

Proper Running Form: Like Riding a Bike?

The illusion that you must run forward—extending your legs or torso forward to cover ground—leads to overstriding at all speeds. If you alter the position of your torso relative to your moving legs, you’ll have a significant energy cost to recalibrate for the next stride.

Instead of trying to cover huge chunks of ground with forward-lurching efforts, envision running like you pedal a bicycle: Your upper body is upright and stationary (like sitting upward on the bike seat); feet cranking the pedals in a smooth circle, then feet returning to the same position under the seat with every revolution.

For the most efficient energy transfer on each stride, focus on getting your feet onto the ground and off the ground as fast as possible—as you would to pedal a bike faster. You can also strive to run like a deer or a canine companion, who exhibit a stable center of gravity (albeit over four legs, not two), incredible explosiveness off the ground, and zero wasted energy.

3 Common Running Form Mistakes

The biggest issues I see that disrupt proper running form:

  1. Upper body instability: Leads to unecessary side-to-side motion of the torso, arms, and pelvis
  2. Destabilized core: Leads to overstriding
  3. “Lazy feet”: You land and sink into the ground instead of exploding off of it

When you implement proper running form, you’ll feel lighter on your feet and more explosive right away. Let’s cover each of the fundamentals of proper running form so you can begin striding like a beautiful deer.

How to Correct Upper Body Instability

When your spine compresses and your neck retracts toward the shoulders during running, you lose kinetic energy, promote inefficient breathing, and instigate a fight-or-flight activation. Dr. Kelly Starrett, creator of The Ready State, author of the bestselling injury prevention and rehab masterpiece, Becoming A Supple Leopard, and all-around legend of the elite athletic performance scene, explains:

“We’ve seen up to a 30 percent decline in VO2 max due to compromised breathing and a misaligned load anywhere along the spine. When runners fatigue, they become destabilized. The pelvis gets overextended and their man-bellies hang out. Mechanically, the nervous system becomes compromised and unable to generate maximum force, or transfer energy into the ground. Furthermore, when the 11-pound head is destabilized and the neck is destabilized, the athlete defaults into a shallow, ‘stress-breathing’ pattern. This over activates the sympathetic nervous system—the fight-or-flight response—and makes workouts more stressful than they should be, and more difficult to recover from.”

Hold your head high and onward we go! To correct upper body instability while running:

  1. Keep the torso and head quiet and tension-free at all times. Pay special attention to keeping the cervical spine elongated.
  2. Keep the hips and shoulders forward-facing. Don’t swivel or rotate from side to side, and don’t rock the pelvis forward and backward.

The only energy output from your upper body should be to pump your arms for momentum. The faster you run, the more energy you’ll exert to pump the arms. At jogging speed, you essentially relax your arms and achieve a gentle, natural counterbalance swinging of the arms to help balance the swinging of the legs. When you sprint, you drive the arms forward and backward powerfully.

Regardless of running speed, you don’t want your shoulders to lurch forward, nor should any part of your arms or hands cross the centerline of your body. Envision your arms pumping back and forth in one plane like a locomotive engine or oil well.

All the energy for arm swinging should come from the larger muscles in the shoulders, while your hands, forearms, and upper arms should be completely relaxed instead of tense. Sprinters make a point of extending the fingers to prevent a natural inclination to make a fist and tense the forearms. For the arm swing, pick an angle, such as 90 degrees, and preserve that angle throughout the arm swing. Avoid the common error of straightening your arm on the backswing, as this results in a loss of energy backwards.

How to Correct a Destabilized Core

While we emphasize relaxation instead of tension, realize that you need to generate explosive forward propulsion from your extremities from a stable base—your core and pelvis area. Again, the urgency of keeping your core and hips stable instead of loosey goosey is minimal while jogging, but extreme while sprinting.

Correcting a destabilized core seems simple, conceptually:

  1. Make a concerted effort to slightly engage the core muscles throughout the stride pattern, especially at impact, and especially as you start to run faster.

This will preserve that straight and elongated spine as well as prevent the disastrous error of energy collapsing into the ground. This energy collapse is quite common and can cause the hips to become un-level upon each stride impact. Remind yourself to engage your core muscles—pull in those abdominal muscles—as you run. This will also help keep your spine elongated and your neck straight.

How to Correct “Lazy Feet” or Shuffling

To maximize explosiveness and minimize energy loss on each stride:

  1. Dorsiflex the foot as soon as you launch off the ground. Aggressively flex the ankle and foot upward as high as you can (up to 30 degrees, toward the shin) as soon as your foot leaves the ground.
  2. Through the stride pattern prior to the next impact, point the toes forward with the sole nearly parallel to the ground. This achieves an energy coiling effect in preparation for the next footstrike, where you’ll transfer that energy onto and off of the ground ground as quickly as possible.

You can also visualize the instructions above in the context of pedaling a bike. Pushing the pedal forward requires dorsiflexion of each foot in order to keep your feet on the pedals while completing the circle.

The opposite of dorsiflexed feet: lazy feet, which occurs when one leg leaves the ground and that foot remains relaxed in a drag through the air, toes pointed toward the ground.

When that uncoiled foot hits the ground on the next stride, there is no kinetic energy to leverage. The foot lands, spends much more time on the ground than a spring-loaded foot would, and the impact of your entire bodyweight transfers onto the pavement or trail. Then you recover from the impact, summon a bit of force, and get your foot off the ground again. This practice wastes potential explosive energy that could be returned by consciously (at first) dorsiflexing the foot.

Watch the clip above to see the slow motion of lazy foot. Look carefully and you’ll notice a barely perceptible collapsing of energy into the ground, even on that very slow jogging stride. Due to the energy collapse, the foot spends more time on the ground than it does with a quick stride generated by “strong foot” running.

Pretend that your running surface is hot lava. As soon as your dorsiflexed foot hits the ground, explode off the ground before you get burned. “On the ground, off the ground” is a great mantra as you move at any running speed. While a sprinter drives the knees high into the air, exploding off the ground and taking long strides accordingly, a jogger makes smaller circles and takes shorter strides. Nothing changes in your running form as you speed up except you take longer, more explosive strides.

Watch the clip above to see how my technique looks the same at a variety of speeds.

Every time you jog, run, or sprint, strive to achieve the bicycling over hot lava technique and you will soon ingrain the “strong foot” running form to the extent that it will feel terrible to jog with lazy feet. Good luck and enjoy a more graceful and explosive running experience.

Have you tried these or other running form corrections with success? What’s worked and what still feels difficult? Share in the comments below.

Tremendous credit and appreciation for these lessons goes to retired U.S. Olympic team 1500-meter runner Michael Stember, who presented his running technique clinic several times at our PrimalCon retreats in Oxnard, CA. Michael captivated the crowd each time with an incredibly passionate and precise clinic on how to run properly. Now he does the same making sushi in Brooklyn, NY.

Recommended Related Reading and Videos:

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plankWhen you ask most people what it takes to be fit, you get some pretty wild answers. Hours on the treadmill or pounding pavement every day. Hours in the weight room. Obsessing over how to turn every moment of the day into an opportunity for some kind of workout move.

I never liked what I heard, and after many decades of overtraining, I decided it was time to come up with a sane alternative—Primal Blueprint Fitness as I’ve called it over the years. It boils down to three logical steps all rooted in ancestral patterns people lived for hundreds of thousands of years:

All told, it’s a handful of hours a week, most of it moving frequently. In addition to those 4-5 hours a week of walking or other light movement, throw in an hour’s worth of strength training and 15 minutes of sprint time. There you go. Do that, and you’ll be in darn good shape.

I’ve written over the years about ideas for moving frequentlywalking, hiking, and various ways to keep your walking routines interesting. But it’s not just about walking. Moving frequently can mean a lot of things after all.

Today I’m sharing a whole host of video how-tos and routines that touch on all of those three Primal Fitness Laws—but especially #4 and #5. Sit back, watch the ones that speak to you, and see how they’ll shake up how you’re working out….

First off, let’s review the Primal Essential Movements:

The 4 Primal Essential Movements

Pull-Up

Push-Up

Squat

Plank

For those who have these moves down and want to step up the effort, variations are one tool.

Advanced Variations On Basic Moves

One-Leg Push-Ups

Dead Stop Push-Ups

Now let’s move on to resistance training workouts.

Lifting Heavy Things

My Favorite Way To Lift Heavy Things

Deadlift

That brings us to Primal Law #5: Sprint Once In a While….

Sprinting How-Tos

My Sprinting Workout

Running Form Primer

Now that you’ve got the basics, let’s move on to quick workouts you can do anywhere.

Quick Workouts

Microworkouts

On the Road Warrior Workout

More About My Personal Routine

How My Routine Has Changed

My Take On “Ab” Workouts

How I Rest: Matters for Ancestral Fitness

My Favorite Way To Play… After All These Years

Thanks for stopping in, everybody. Have thoughts or questions about any of the above moves or routines—or anything fitness related? Shoot me a line below. Have a great week.

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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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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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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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The post Definitive Guide To Sprinting, Part 1: Benefits of Sprinting appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.

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